Marking Indigenous Veterans Day
Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/11/2021 (568 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Nov. 8 was Indigenous Veterans Day in Canada. Indigenous people have been significant contributors to Canada’s military efforts over many decades. The government of Canada estimates that as many as 12,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit people served in the major conflicts of the 20th century.
To understand more about the importance of Indigenous Veterans Day and the historical context, I sat down with Unkan (grandfather) Wanbdi Wakita, who is president of Indigenous Veterans Manitoba.
As part of IMV, Wakita takes part in ceremonies and flag raisings on both Indigenous Veterans Day and Remembrance Day. The organization spends time throughout the year providing education, participating in ceremonial flag raisings and speaking to school children about being a veteran.
“We get messages to children about how important it is to protect our land. We never want to have a war in Canada,” he said.
At the heart of Wakita’s enlistment in the Canadian Armed Forces during the 1960s was his family’s long history of serving and protecting the land.
“We have a large military family in my family, right from way back in the 1700s,” he said.
“This is our land — all across Canada we have land — we want to treasure our land and protect our land the best way we know how.”
Wakita’s family served in both world wars and he and his siblings also joined the Canadian armed forces ,with Wakita becoming a peacekeeper. His eyes lit up when he told me his 18-year-old grandson is joining the armed forces. In many ways he was proud to serve — enduring the gruelling physical training and trying to give back and contribute to a greater good.
“We’re proud of that. We’re proud of being Indigenous. We’re proud of protecting Canada.”
In other ways he feels conflicted, particularly in seeing the impact on loved ones who served and how Indigenous veterans were treated after coming home.
“It’s a kind of giving of yourself,” he explained.
He had friends who died while serving and saw other veterans succumb to mental health issues after returning home. He said Indigenous veterans were often not treated fairly in return for their service.
After the First World War, Indigenous veterans were excluded from An Act to assist Returned Soldiers in Settling upon the Land, which provided farmland to returning veterans. After the Second World War, Indigenous veterans were to be entitled to the same benefits as non-Indigenous veterans but subsequent reports have established these supports were not always provided fairly or as deserved.
Wakita said he saw veteran family members struggle with getting their pensions. He himself has health issues stemming from his service for which he has struggled to get adequate help and coverage.
Wakita emphasized that all this context is important to talk about while remembering the vast contributions of Indigenous veterans at this time of year.
Chi-miigwech to Unkan Wakita for sharing his experience and knowledge with me and I want to thank all our veterans for their contributions, sacrifices and service.
Southdale constituency report
Audrey Gordon is the PC MLA for Southdale.