Observing Indigenous Veterans Day

In a day marked with solemnity and traditional ceremonial songs, Métis and First Nations people of Saskatchewan gathered at Batoche to honour Indigenous veterans. The Batoche National Métis Veterans Memorial Monument, which is engraved with more than 5000 names, had wreaths laid at its base in remembrance of the “sacrifice that some have made who didn’t come home” said Métis-Nation Saskatchewan president Glen McCallum. The gathering at Batoche included the Act of Remembrance read in Michif, Cree and English along with prayers offered by Indigenous elders and a moment of silence. Elder Norman Fleury ended the ceremony by thanking Métis and First Nations veterans and active service members.

“We give thanks to all those who sang beautiful songs in memory of our relatives…,” Fleury said. “We’re still here, we’ll always be here and we give thanks for that to our creator.”

Aboriginal Veterans Day was established in Manitoba in 1994. It is estimated that more than 12,000 Indigenous people served not only in the major conflicts of the 20th century but also in times of peace. Minister of Veterans Affairs of Canada MacAulay said in the 2021 Indigenous Veterans Day that, “No matter the barrier that the government and their chains of command had put in place, Indigenous Veterans have always stepped forward to serve.” The date November 8th is the day set aside to acknowledge and remember the more than 200 years of military service by the Indigenous communities of Canada. From the War of 1812 to the War in Afghanistan, Indigenous soldiers have served with bravery and honour.

The colonial legacy and racism that still impacts the Indigenous peoples in this country, has made it necessary for many of these veterans to fight to get the recognition and benefits that were readily available to their non-Indigenous comrades. Indigenous veterans and their families were not ‘authorized’ to lay wreaths at the National War Memorial at Remembrance Day ceremonies until the mid-1990’s, and it was not until 2003, after decades of lobbying that First Nations veterans were offered compensation. Métis veterans would have to wait another 16 years before they were offered compensation. Métis soldiers were told that they and their families would be looked after when their military service ended, but in reality, Veteran Dave Armitt said in 2021, “it was pretty much that if your skin colour was dark you were considered to be either a half-breed or First Nations, and you were told to go along your way, go back to your traplines or do whatever you want to do, there’s nothing here for you.” He went on to say, “For me, Indigenous Veterans Day is about paying respect to those who went before me and paid the ultimate sacrifice over in a foreign land, and those that came back and never got the supports they should have had upon return, and really to reconnect with my Métis roots.”

Although not citizens of Canada at that time in history, many First Nations, Inuit and Métis voluntarily stepped forward and enlisted to lay down their lives if necessary, at war in a foreign land. Prime Minister Trudeau stated, “Despite their service and sacrifice during these conflicts, many Indigenous Veterans endured hatred and systemic racism while serving. When they returned to Canada, they did not receive the same benefits, honours, and respect as non-Indigenous Veterans. The Government of Canada is working to ensure that all Indigenous service members and Veterans receive the recognition and the support they deserve – we owe it to them.”

A veteran, regardless of skin colour, is still a veteran.

Carol Baldwin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wakaw Recorder