Submitted by High Prairie School Division
On November 8, the High Prairie School Division honoured the courageous Indigenous veterans who bravely served Canada. It is estimated that as many as 12,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people served in the great conflicts of the twentieth century.
Many Indigenous men brought unique skills with them when they joined the military. Patience, stealth, and marksmanship were finely tuned traits for those from remote communities where these skills were necessary for survival. These attributes helped many Indigenous soldiers become successful snipers and reconnaissance scouts, with at least 50 earning decorations for bravery. During WWII, a small group of Indigenous soldiers was recruited by the Canadian High Command to be part of a top-secret operation. This operation was attached to the American Air Force and involved using a Cree coding system to transmit and relay information. The Allies’ enemies were never able to break this code.
Although these Indigenous soldiers bravely fought alongside the other Canadian soldiers on the same battlefields and under the same conditions, they were not treated the same back home.
Until 1951, Indigenous veterans were not able to enter Legion Halls. Until 1995, they were denied the right to participate in Remembrance Day ceremonies and lay wreaths. Many Indigenous veterans returned home to discover they were no longer considered Indigenous and therefore had their treaty rights revoked, as according to the Indian Act, “Indians absent from the reserve for four years were no longer Indians.” Many status Indigenous soldiers had previously given up their treaty rights and became enfranchised so that they could fight in the war. However, returning Indigenous veterans did not receive the same financial benefits as non-Indigenous returning soldiers. Many Indigenous soldiers returned to their communities to find that their lands had been sold to the Soldier Settlement Board for Non-Indigenous Veterans who wished to farm. Many veterans were forced to re-enlist because they could no longer sustain life at home under these changed conditions.
The conditions imposed by the Canadian government on Indigenous veterans had long-lasting effects. Identities were affected, and divides were created among families and communities. Many families to this day are still fighting to regain their treaty rights. It took until 2003 for the Government of Canada to provide veterans benefits to First Nations soldiers who had been denied them in the past, and until 2019 for Métis veterans. Also in 2019, the federal government issued a formal apology, admitting that Indigenous veterans had experienced prejudice and poverty, and that the benefits offered to soldiers after the war did not meet the needs of Métis and Indigenous people
Today more than 2,700 Indigenous members continue to serve in Canada’s armed forces, as they have for over 200 years.
Let us remember and honour those who bravely served in the war, as well as the veterans who suffered prejudicial treatment and lack of respect and recognition after returning from service.