The Queen and Darrel Byron have something to celebrate.
During a ceremony on Salt Spring Island on Aug. 4, Byron was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in honour of his services to the community of Ladysmith and to the Cowichan Valley.
Byron, who volunteers in the area, never expected to win a medal.
“It’s a shock — who would have thought. You know, why me?,” Byron explained. “A lot of things played through my head, and I thought there were people out there more deserving than I was.”
Byron, who is 65, was nominated four times for this award.
“It’s something I never expected, and to have four nominations was humbling.” Byron said. “But I guess people are out there watching, and obviously there they are.”
Byron is involved with the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 171 in Ladysmith and the RCMP and has organized the Highland Games twice. But it was his mother’s death that sparked a new volunteering adventure.
“My mother passed away about seven years ago, and I had no idea who I was up until that time other than my name,” he said. “Mom was native, but we never knew that. She always said she was Spanish. When she passed away, I starting asking questions and then I found out she had her native status, so I started looking for more information.”
Byron began to dig into his mother’s past and found he had a lot more relatives than he could have imagined. He then began to help other natives and elders discover their own family history.
“The majority of my relatives from my mom’s side came from the Interior, and it just branched out from there,” said Byron. “I’m finding relatives all around here. And through the course of action and over the years, I’ve assisted elders who don’t have the luxury of having computers or can’t read or write. I’d be on the phone and asking who they were, who their parents were and I’d look it up. Just helping them get status and getting medical assistance.”
Byron says he is just happy to help others uncover family bonds.
“It shouldn’t have been my responsibility, but they fell between the cracks, and I felt good about being able to help them. They were my blood,” he said.
It is because of his family that Byron has such a strong sense of community involvement. Raised on Salt Spring Island, Byron says everyone had to help on the farm.
“It is probably because of the way we were raised,” he said. “We never had money and we worked on the farm. We were taught to respect our elders and help out. As a teen, I would chop and carry wood inside for elders for free. You were supposed to help out on top of your own work … we worked, and if we didn’t do it, we were in trouble! But that’s the way it is; you help out your fellow man.”
Byron, who has obtained his full status, had his family come to the medal ceremony.
“The president of the Aboriginal Metis Society came over and made the presentation,” he said. “On the day of the presentation, I just had a small gathering. It was the long weekend, so some people could not be there. I said ‘let’s go ahead; my family is here and that’s what matters to me.’”
Byron, who is the Sergeant-at-Arms at the Ladysmith Legion, has lived in Chemainus since 1988.