Remembering and sharing the contributions made by Indigenous peoples who served in the Canadian Armed Forces during the 20th Century and acknowledging those who continue to serve our country can play a significant role in reconciliation today.
“After the World Wars ended, Indigenous service was often overlooked and underappreciated. Indigenous veterans led various important movements in the second half of the 20th century to have their contributions acknowledged,” explains Dr. Whitney Lackenbauer, Canada Research Chair in the Study of the Canadian North and an honorary lieutenant colonel of the 1st Canadian Ranger Patrol Group, who has been studying the role of Indigenous people in the Canadian Military since his undergraduate days.
More than 12,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit people served in the Canadian Armed Forces during the First and Second World Wars and Korean War. Yet, while fighting for this country’s freedom, they did not enjoy the freedoms and benefits as their non-Indigenous counterparts. These soldiers faced racism, prejudice, and discrimination. Indigenous Veterans Day was first celebrated in Winnipeg on November 8, 1994, from where it became a national day of remembrance.
Professor Lackenbauer explains that commemorating Indigenous Veterans Day answers the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action by recognizing the contributions of Indigenous people to Canada's history.
“As Canadians take steps on our shared journey of reconciliation, it is appropriate to have a distinct day when we remember and acknowledge all the Indigenous peoples who have served and protected Canada across generations,” he adds. “Honouring past contributions helps to open up new and exciting possibilities for a future in which Indigenous peoples take their rightful place in Canada’s history as founding nations who have made and continue to make strong and unique contributions to our country.”
Sharing stories of hope
Sam Huyer (Peter Gzowski College), a third-year Indigenous Studies student, joined the military through the Raven Program, a national initiative hosted by the Royal Canadian Navy that prepares Indigenous people for careers in the military. He then attended the Royal Military College of Canada, after which he became a combat engineer through the Canadian Enforcement Military School of Engineering.
“I'm proud to be an Indigenous veteran, and yet at the same time, I'm a little skeptical about what Indigenous veteran means – not just in the sense of how we view Indigenous veterans but how we engage with Indigenous veterans,” shares Sam. “So, for me, having a day like Indigenous Veterans Day is extremely important not just to recognize Indigenous Veterans who have served our country in the past but to give hope to those serving now. It is important to recognize Indigenous veterans as a key part of Canadian ideology and practical societal change.”
Like Prof. Lackenbauer, Sam believes that Indigenous Veterans Day not only serves to celebrate the stories and leadership of Indigenous veterans but also enables us to continue to learn from past injustices and the barriers faced by Indigenous people in the military.
“I think that as Indigenous veterans, it's our duty to keep educating and keep expressing our views and make ourselves present in everyday life, and talking about Indigenous heroes like Frances Pegamagabow or Tommy Prince,” Sam adds. “It is also important to talk about the everyday Indigenous person who speaks up and says, ‘I want to serve my country even though this country was not kind to my community or my people. I recognize that I have a duty to my country to help create a quality and equitable lifestyle’.”
On-campus opportunities to reflect
On Friday, November 10, the Trent community is encouraged to participate in campus observances for both Indigenous Veterans Day and Remembrance Day. Ceremonies will be held in Peterborough and Durham, and will commence at 10:45 a.m.
Peterborough: The Great Hall, Champlain College
Durham: Atrium Building B
Visit Trent Remembers for more resources and information.