Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Aboriginal veteran proud of his service

He holds no bitterness despite discrimination

  • Print

A stroke put the aboriginal veteran in the hospital for three months. Racial discrimination -- including "jokes" about "drunken Indians" -- plagued him during his time in the Canadian Armed Forces. But nothing can stop Melvin Swan from sharing his message of remembrance.

"I carry a torch that's got to go on," Swan said before getting help putting on his military uniform for Aboriginal Veterans Day on Thursday.

"I've experienced a lot in my life and buried a lot of veterans," said the widower, who suffered his stroke in April. "I think of them at this time of year."

The Winnipeg veteran, who served in the military for 12 years, won a landmark Canadian Human Rights Commission case in 1994.

He was harassed during his military career because of his aboriginal ancestry.

At the human rights tribunal, he listed incidents of being treated differently or hearing negative comments about "Indians." They included references to drunken Indians and comments such as "Indians aren't so bright, eh Swan?"

Some tribunal witnesses insisted the comments were meant as jokes. That wasn't the point, the tribunal wrote in its judgment. The context or intention of the perpetrator was not the issue.

"The issue is the perception of the individual who is victimized. Lack of objection and even participation in the activity do not imply consent or cloak otherwise objectionable behaviour with propriety... individuals may feel powerless to do anything but accept the behaviour because of their desire to fit into the peer group."

The tribunal ruled the employer has a duty "to respond promptly and effectively to complaints of harassment with a thorough investigation and with sensitivity to the person complaining."

It said the Forces' "glossing over" the complaint and not investigating was "not good enough."

It ordered the Forces, which was adopting a zero-tolerance policy for harassment at the time, to give Swan a written apology, $2,500 plus interest for hurt feelings and damage to his self-respect, plus legal costs. It also ordered the Forces to make changes to the harassment policy being developed.

The treatment he received hasn't soured Swan on the military. This week, he and veterans of all ages will polish their shoes, don blazers and badges to visit classrooms across Canada as part of the Historica-Dominion Institute's Memory Project speaker's bureau.

"It's my job and my duty to honour those veterans," said Swan, 54.

It's the right thing to do as a warrior, he said.

"Warriors are people (who) protect the people, the culture, the language and the treaties," the Ojibwa-speaking man said.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 9, 2012 A9

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Key of Bart - Evil Las Vegas

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • PHIL.HOSSACK@FREEPRESS.MB.CA Winnipeg Free Press 090528 STAND UP...(Weather) One to oversee the pecking order, a pack of pelican's fishes the eddies under the Red River control structure at Lockport Thursday morning......
  • Bright sunflowers lift their heads toward the south east skies in a  large sunflower field on Hwy 206 and #1 Thursday Standup photo. July 31,  2012 (Ruth Bonneville/Winnipeg Free Press)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Should panhandling at intersections be banned?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google