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A goose feather with a "warrior spike" and hand-painted poppies on it is laid beneath the National Aboriginal Veterans Association Monument in Ottawa in 2013. Grande Prairie is hosting its first Indigenous Veterans Day ceremonies Nov. 8, 2018. Grande Prairie is officially commemorating the first Indigenous Veterans Day Nov. 8. The 25-year-old annual event honours the legacy of Indigenous Peoples who have served. Veterans Affairs Canada stated that Indigenous Peoples have “a long and proud tradition of military service to our country.”

“The story of Indigenous service in the First and Second World Wars, the Korean War and later Canadian Armed Forces efforts is a proud one,” the federal website stated. “While exact numbers are elusive, it has been estimated that as many as 12,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit people served in the great conflicts of the 20th century, with at least 500 of them sadly losing their lives.”

The local event Thursday is being hosted by the ANAVETS and the Grande Prairie Friendship Centre. Organizer Renee Charbonneau said that the city and Peace Country region have seen many Indigenous Peoples serve historically. From the First World War to present, Charbonneau estimated that 60 soldiers from this area, approximately 30 Métis and 30 First Nation, were killed-in-action during different wars. Indigenous Veterans Day allows for all who served from those communities to be honoured here.

“They [Indigenous veterans] still honour Remembrance Day. This isn’t instead of, it is in addition to, Remembrance Day,” Charbonneau said.

“It was originally founded to allow Indigenous Peoples to commemorate and celebrate their war dead in their unique way,” she added

Veterans Affairs Canada reported that more than 4,000 Indigenous people served in uniform during the First World War and “over 3,000 First Nations members, as well as an unknown number of Métis, Inuit and other Indigenous recruits, had served in uniform” by the end of the Second World War.

Several hundred Indigenous people served in uniform during the Korean War and many have served in “post-war” times, such as serving with NATO in Europe during the Cold War. More recently, Indigenous Peoples served “hazardous duty in Afghanistan during our country’s 2001-2014 military efforts in that war-torn land” Veterans Affairs stated.

To serve in different conflicts, Indigenous Peoples often had to overcome additional challenges like learning new languages, adapting to cultural differences and having to travel great distances from their remote communities, Veterans Affairs stated.

“A lot of people don’t understand the sacrifices that our Métis Nation and First Nation Peoples made,” said Charbonneau. “They had zero [obligations] under the laws of the day to enlist. And when they decided to go to war, they had to give up their status in order to join the military. That was the rule of the day.”

Charbonneau said that Indigenous veterans often returned home from war to inequalities and were sometimes unable to identify with their communities. Indigenous veterans were also met with “layered” intergenerational traumas, from both the legacy of residential schools and post-traumatic stresses from war, she said.

“To know that these people loved this country enough to still put their [lives] on the line, it gives me goose bumps thinking about that,” Charbonneau said. “And so it became very important for us to find that special way to honour those soldiers and their service and their sacrifice.”

“We can’t afford to let our history be lost,” she added.

Charbonneau is also the project lead for the Métis Nation and First Nations Memory Walk Gardens. The gardens will be fully finished in roughly five years’ time, Charbonneau said. Once it is unveiled, she said she believes the local historical site will offer a lot to […]

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