Indigenous veterans who served in the military and in times of war and those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country were honoured and remembered in Winnipeg on Tuesday.
November 8 is recognized nationwide in Canada as National Indigenous Veterans Day, a day to recognize contributions to military service in this country by First Nations, Inuit and Métis people.
It is also a day to pay respects to those Indigenous soldiers who fought in combat including the First and Second World Wars and the Korean War, and those who lost their lives while serving their country.
Hundreds gathered at the Minto Armoury building in west Winnipeg to commemorate National Indigenous Veterans Day with wreaths lain in honour of Indigenous veterans who lost their lives in service, as well as remarks from several Indigenous veterans.
Although exact statistics can be hard to find, it is estimated that more than 8,000 Indigenous people served in the First and Second World Wars and the Korean War, and some estimates indicate that as many as 12,000 Indigenous people have served in the Canadian Armed Forces.
It is also estimated that more than 500 Indigenous soldiers died and many more were wounded or taken prisoner in the First and Second World Wars.
Retired Cpl. Melvin Swan spoke publicly on Tuesday, and said he believes that every veteran despite their background should always be shown the “utmost respect” by all Canadians.
“It’s a matter of respect and recognition in this country, in this city and in this province,” Swan said.
“I ask that respect and honour is shown to all veterans.”
Despite their service, many Indigenous veterans who returned home after both the First and Second World Wars were often not afforded the same benefits and opportunities that non-Indigenous veterans received once they were discharged, including many First and Second World War veterans not even being able to vote in federal elections after serving.
Swan said many of those veterans who no longer fight on the battlefield are still “warriors” because they continue to fight for the rights of Indigenous people in Canada, and for Indigenous soldiers and veterans to be recognized.
“We have warriors fighting today, because it’s not always about picking up arms, it’s about making peace and sharing this land and reconciliation,” Swan said.
The Manitoba Métis Federation also commemorated National Indigenous Veterans Day on Tuesday with a ceremony at the Royal Canadian Aviation Museum of Western Canada in Winnipeg.
“On Indigenous Veterans Day, we honour the sacrifices of the young men and women who fought for our country, when at the time the country was not fighting for them,” MMF said in a release.
“Today, we recognize the families who watched their children go overseas to join the war efforts, knowing that some would not return home.”
And on Tuesday in a statement, Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson and Indigenous Reconciliation and Northern Relations Minister Alan Lagimodiere thanked all Indigenous Veterans, and those who continue to serve in the military.
Today, on Indigenous Veterans Day, we honour all First Nations, Inuit and Métis veterans who provided their services to Canada,” Stefanson said. “We remember the Indigenous peoples who lost their lives, whose lives were forever impacted, and their families and communities who have lost loved ones.
“We also extend our deepest gratitude to all current serving Indigenous members of the Canadian Armed Forces for their continued heroism and dedication to Canada.”
— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun