Remembering Dick Patrick, who fought for Canadian freedom in WWII despite oppression as an Indigenous man

Dick Patrick joined the Canadian Armed Forces at the age of 22. (Omineca Express/Submitted by Coquitlam Heritage - image credit)
Dick Patrick joined the Canadian Armed Forces at the age of 22. (Omineca Express/Submitted by Coquitlam Heritage - image credit)

Dick Patrick was 22 years old when he signed up to join the Canadian Armed Forces, and soon after fought in the Second World War.

He was one of 3,000 Indigenous people who enlisted at the time.

During his time, he was awarded the Military Medal for gallant and distinguished conduct. In Belgium's village of Moerbrugge, he and his crew held an important river crossing while taking on heavy fire. As German troops advanced, he volunteered to strike out on foot to determine where those troops were, leading to the capture of more than 50 German soldiers.

"I am forever grateful to my hero and my big brother Dick and all his comrades," Patrick's younger sister, Arlene John, told CBC's Daybreak North.

"They fought bravely, side-by-side in sacrifice for everyone's freedom."

Patrick died in 1980.

Life after service

Patrick didn't speak much about his time in the military, John said.

Even after his sacrifice and commendation, when Patrick returned to Canada in 1946, he faced racism and discrimination.

A member of the Saik'uz First Nation, a Dakelh community in B.C.'s Interior, he went back to the nearby community of Vanderhoof, where a restaurant refused him service because he was Indigenous.

He wouldn't leave, and the police were called and took him to jail. Because he tried to return to the restaurant and demanded equal treatment, he was taken to Oakalla Prison 11 times.

"He really fought for it," John said.

Bill Poser/Wikimedia Commons
Bill Poser/Wikimedia Commons

Patrick was no stranger to discrimination and colonial practices — he was a residential school survivor.

He was forced to attend Lejac Indian Residential School, near Prince George, B.C., which made headlines in the late 1930s when four boys were found frozen to death after they ran away. According to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, Patrick left shortly before that incident.

"He is remembered by his family and community for his courage in fighting for Indigenous rights back home," Murray Rankin, minister of Indigenous relations and reconciliation, said in a statement.

When Patrick met King George VI, who gave him his medal, he tried to explain the hardships Indigenous people faced in Canada, according to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

John says that on Remembrance Day, she hopes people acknowledge and appreciate the sacrifice people like her brother made, despite the treatment they received in Canada.

"They should remember our veterans with kindness and with prayers, love," she said.

"We just pray that [people] don't have to go through that again, ever."