Indigenous Veterans' Day marked in Dryden, across the Northwest

The service and sacrifice of Indigenous veterans is being remembered by many across Northwestern Ontario and the entire country.

In Dryden, a ceremony was held Tuesday marking the day at the with a service at the Cenotaph, which included a prayer and traditional drumming. National Indigenous Veterans Day is marked annually in Canada on Nov. 8.

Carla Conway, executive assistant for the Dryden Native Friendship Centre said about 50 people attended the ceremony, including students from two high school classes.

“It’s an important event to celebrate the contributions the Indigenous veterans made during World War I and World War II and since then,” she said, “The Indigenous veterans were so often forgotten. To remember them is important to us.”

Conway said a lot of the older veterans have now passed, but a couple of younger veterans were at the ceremony. She said the staff made a four directions wreath that was presented at the Cenotaph. It was shaped like a medicine wheel and included different medicines: sage, sweet grass, tobacco, and cedar.

The event ended with a walk back in the chilly weather to the Friendship Centre for a wild rice soup and bannock lunch.

Indigenous Veterans Day was first commemorated in Winnipeg in 1994, according to a release sent out by the Ontario Native Women’s Association, “to ensure that Indigenous men and women Veterans were finally recognized for their contributions to WWI, WWII, and the Korean War serving Canada honourably and risking their lives defending shared values of peace, freedom, and democracy.”

In total, more than 12,000 Indigenous men and women volunteered to serve in these wars, ONWA added.

ONWA pointed out the additional sacrifice many Indigenous veterans experienced, including losing their Indian Status because they joined the military. When the soldiers returned home, they discovered they had unequal access to veterans benefits and did not receive the same supports as non-Indigenous veterans which included land, education, and financial support. ONWA said it's important to celebrate these “forgotten soldiers” who stood up to protect our rights, freedoms, and liberties by sacrificing their own.

“Each day our hearts need to be reminded of the importance of their roles in building a Canada that is a prosperous and free Turtle Island. We also need to remind all Canadians that their sacrifice cannot be diluted or lessened,” said Cora McGuire-Cyrette, ONWA's executive director.

McGuire-Cyrette stressed the importance of recognizing the bravery and resilience of Indigenous veterans as equitably as all Canadians who served in all conflicts recognized on Remembrance Day, on Nov. 11.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Derek Fox asked the public to take time to honour veterans and those who continue to serve.

“This week we honour all our warriors who have come to the defence of Turtle Island in world wars and conflicts across the globe. We honour the sacrifice of all those who have fallen in battle, and we are thankful for those who continue to serve today,” he said in a statement.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau noted that “Indigenous Peoples' legacy of courage and service continues today: there are more than 2,700 Indigenous members serving in the Canadian Armed Forces.”

The federal government added in a news release that First Nations, Inuit and Metis Peoples continue to make vital contributions to Canada's military. The Canadian Rangers monitor the north and remote areas of our east and west coasts, and assist in local rescue operations.

Federal Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu said, "From the beaches of Vimy, to the shores of Dieppe, to the mountains of Afghanistan, Indigenous Veterans have served with honour and courage in the Canadian Armed Forces. Indigenous peoples are at the heart of Canada's military history, and today we honour their service and sacrifice. Today, I encourage all Canadians to learn about the stories of Indigenous Veterans, so that they may never be forgotten."

Ontario’s Minister of Indigenous Affairs, Greg Rickford, noted the sacrifices Indigenous people made to defend the freedoms we enjoy today.

“First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples have a long and proud tradition of military service to Canada, which continues today. Indigenous people are active in Canadian military operations around the globe, from NATO duties in Europe to United Nations peacekeeping operations,” he said.

Eric Shih, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Thunder Bay Source