Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Ottawa, 2011.

Remembrance Day and Aboriginal Veterans Day Give Indigenous in Canada Their Due


In the United States November 11 is Veterans Day, but today in Canada it is also Remembrance Day, akin to Memorial Day in the U.S.—a day to honor the fallen.

Those who did not return home are being memorialized today across Canada. Indigenous veterans were also celebrated on Sunday November 8, recognized and remembered for their unique military contributions.

“Since the American Revolution (from 1775–1783) and the War of 1812, First Nations have willingly volunteered to fight and protect the freedoms and democracy of all peoples,” noted Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day in a statement. “Many served with great distinction and were recognized for their bravery and special contributions.”

In Canada, as in the United States, indigenous people enlist in the military in higher proportion than other groups, and they excel.

"Many of our aboriginal veterans were highly decorated, and we take great pride in that fact,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip from the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs to CBC News. “And we commemorate this very special day, here on November the eighth, to draw public attention and to pay respects to the families."

The federal government honored them in a statement on November 8, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau included indigenous veterans in the national ceremonies in Ottawa, in which AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde also participated.

“On Aboriginal Veterans Day, we pause to honor the immense contributions and sacrifice of the Indigenous Peoples of Canada, serving our country in times of conflict and in times of peace,” said Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett and Minister of Veterans Affairs Kent Hehr in a statement. “As ministers responsible for Indigenous and Northern Affairs, and for Veterans Affairs, we are always moved to see the pride in, and gratitude for, Indigenous Veterans expressed at ceremonies and in communities across the country.”

Indigenous people, they pointed out, were important allies during the War of 1812, keeping Canada out of the hands of the Americans, “helping lead a united front to victory,” they said. Indigenous people further went on to serve in World War I and World War II, as well as the Korean War.

“Their wartime participation over the last century was proportionately amongst the highest of any other group in Canada, and their contributions have shaped the Canada we know,” the ministers’ statement said. “Today, an extraordinarily diverse contingent of more than 1,200 First Nations, Inuit and Métis people serve with the Canadian Armed Forces, representing many distinct cultures and over 55 dialects. They continue to make Canada proud through their service at home and abroad.”

In addition to celebrating indigenous people’s contributions over the weekend, they are among those being honored on November 11 at the National Aboriginal Veterans Monument in Ottawa. The attention is especially significant as the country works to mend relationships with First Nations, Métis and Inuit that were torn apart during the boarding school era and other issues related to colonialization, the government’s statement noted.

“We must never forget the sacrifices and accomplishments of indigenous veterans, especially as we move forward in our journey of healing, reconciliation and a renewed relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples,” the ministers said. “Reconciliation is about all Canadians making efforts to better understand the role Indigenous Veterans have played in Canada, and expressing their heartfelt gratitude. It is our hope that Canadians across the country join us in honoring them today."

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