Indigenous veterans still struggle for proper recognition

When it comes to remembrance it is important to take the time and recognition for all veterans that have served in Canada’s military.

Indigenous people have been a part of Canada’s military efforts since the War of 1812, and numbering in the thousands during WWI and II, and the Korean War.

But when it came time to return home, many Indigenous people encountered battles they were not prepared for. Losing their right to live on the reserve, being absent for the allowable four years, and not being compensated for their service, it has taken many years for proper recognition. National Indigenous Veterans Day on Nov. 8 was only recognized in 1994.

But for many Indigenous veterans the fight is still tough when it comes to receiving aid and recognition.

“The history between the British Empire, Canada, and the Indigenous people hasn’t really been even close to favouring Indigenous people,” said Chuck Isaacs, veteran and president of the Aboriginal Veterans Society of Alberta. “It is about time that the Canadian Government engaged Indigenous veterans and provided them with funding to organize themselves to be able to reach out into their own communities. There are reserves where Afghan war vets haven’t left their parent’s basement for years because they have problems and there is no support in their communities.”

Speaking to the trouble veterans have, Isaacs notes that as the technology changes, many reserves are without the means to access those changes.

“There’s organizations that claim to service the northern area in very rural areas,” said Isaacs. “But that’s not the reality of it. Everything is online, so you have people that are in their 80s and 90s being told to ‘go online’ and follow a link. And while they are doing that the paperwork that is required is a four-page document. By doing that they are making a lot of programs inaccessible for the old and rural living veterans.”

Isaacs spoke towards his own experience with PTSD, noting there is a certain degree that every veteran carries with them.

“Whether they know it or not they have a part of PTSD,” said Isaacs. “When I came back, I did ok for a numbers of years. But then I would have a lack of sleep, for a decade I only slept for two hours a day. It breaks down your brain, basically turns it into lactic acid and causes a whole range of problems with pain inside your body. I have gone through some treatments and learned to adjust my lifestyle so that I can live a life that is reasonably joyful. But there are still times where little things come up. The hyper vigilance of PTSD causes you to laser focus on each of these things as they happen. If that happens too much, it gets hard to focus and complete any task.”

As an Indigenous veteran Isaacs hopes to see more unity going forward towards reconciliation, both for the history and the honour of those that fought for Canada.

“I think it would be about time that they celebrated the fact that the Indigenous soldiers stood shoulder-to-shoulder through the history of this continent,” said Isaacs. “Indigenous soldiers deserve a lot of the recognition for that, but at the very least they deserve to be front and center at any Remembrance Day ceremony.”

Ryan Clarke, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Lethbridge Herald