Last week, Canadians across the country marked Remembrance Day, in honour of the brave people who have given service in the military in the past or continue to do so today. One relatively new concept is Indigenous Veterans Day which marks the contribution that Indigenous Veterans have made to the Canadian military throughout history, often despite simultaneously facing oppression.
A flag raising ceremony took place outside the Municipal Centre on November 8 to mark the special occasion of Indigenous Veterans Day, with local Indigenous resident Finian Paibomesai in attendance. Paibomesai gave a speech as part of the occasion and also read a poem. His father was a veteran. Another Indigenous resident, Phil Seymour, laid the wreath to mark the occasion. Phil’s father was also a Canadian veteran.
“I’m very happy that you guys have come here today to honour the [Indigenous] Veterans Day,” Paibomesai told the crowd at the flag raising. “It’s not what we should probably be doing… this should not be a one day affair. It should be in your minds every day.” Finian expressed a wish that the freedom currently enjoyed by Canadians will remain forever, and that it may one day be a reality in every part of the world as well. Paibomesai also discussed how his father taught him at a young age that we should all be proud of who we are, and proud of Canada too.
Councillor Kristin Strackerjan, a veteran of over 25 years herself, spoke at the flag raising ceremony as well. “Thank you to the thousands of Indigenous veterans, the numbers of which will never truly be known because many served without recognizing their status. Those who volunteered to fight for a country that has not often recognized your worth, and your value. You were equals in the battlefield and in the trenches of the first world war. You fought alongside the other Canadian soldiers in the second world war, in Korea and Afghanistan, and today in the many roles that the Canadian Armed Forces play. Your skills often surpass those with whom you are fighting.”
Councillor Strackerjan continued by acknowledging that many Indigenous veterans gave up their culture and status to serve, and were often not treated fairly by the government following their service, despite serving honourably. She ended with a hope that we continue to work toward Truth and Reconciliation.
Mayor Peckford’s Statement
“On behalf of the Municipality of North Grenville and Members of Council, I would like to take this opportunity to honour the contributions First Nations, Inuit and Metis have made to Canada’s war effort. Today, there are currently over 2,700 Indigenous people serving in Canada’s military. We want to take the opportunity to thank the thousands of First Nations, Inuit and Métis who have played a critical role in Canada’s military and continue to make Canada proud through their service at home and abroad.
Recognizing Indigenous Veterans Day on November 8 allows us to better understand and commemorate the many accomplishments and sacrifices of the estimated 12,000 Indigenous Peoples who volunteered their services in war and peacekeeping.
As we move towards reconciliation, this day is also an opportunity to reflect upon how horribly the Government of Canada treated Indigenous people who served. Many were forcibly disenfranchised – particularly in the First and Second World Wars. This meant that by volunteering to serve, they were unwillingly stripped of their Indian Status and treaty rights which had multi-generational impacts on their spouses, children and grandchildren.
Further, despite serving on the front lines, Indigenous troops were also regularly denied access to full veteran benefits and a wide variety of support programs that were made available to non-Indigenous veterans after returning from war. This was a profound injustice and totally unacceptable.
Yet, in spite of the historically complicated relationship with Canada, Indigenous Peoples continued to step up to serve and fight on the front lines, often at great peril to themselves with their loved ones never certain if they would return.”
Out of respect for Indigenous Veterans Day, representatives from Municipal Council, The Royal Canadian Legion, and the local Indigenous community gathered for a flag ceremony where municipal flags were lowered to half-mast.
Lest we forget.”