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Honouring Indigenous people’s military service with National Aboriginal Veterans Day

The contribution of Canada’s Indigenous people to Canada’s military has gained attention thanks to a day of observance separate from Remembrance Day. 

National Aboriginal Veterans Day, held on Nov. 8, was established in 1994 to recognize the military contributions of Indigenous people during Canada’s major conflicts of the 20th Century.

Elder Brian Knight shares reflections of indigenous military service from his lineage.
Thursday, November 8, 2018
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Photo by Rorie Stannard

Calgary’s version of the yearly event was held at The Military Museums, and featured presentations, as well as traditional dancing to warrior songs.

The ceremony began at 9 a.m. with dancing, followed by a speech from Elder Brian Knight, who said his grandfather and father were both veterans who passed down their stories. 

“This [ceremony] is a part of my closure for my grandpa and my dad,” said Knight. 

He said his people honour their veterans at the start of every very Pow Wow, a gathering with singing, dancing, and socializing, and have done so for decades.

“There’s a lot of different cultures from all over the world now [in Canada], so it’s time we put away our differences and start doing what we really should be doing: honouring our veterans, honouring our loved ones, and remembering them,” Knight said.

Carolyn Bennet, the federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous relations, made a speech to the audience of over 70 people about honouring Indigenous veterans who haven’t received recognition in the past.

“Today we gather together to pay tribute to First Nations, Inuit, and Metis people, past and present, who have served our country with pride,” said Bennet.

Seth Candral performs during opening ceremonies at the Military Museum for National Aboriginal Veterans Day.
Thursday, November 8, 2018
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Photo by Rorie Stannard

Despite the challenges Indigenous people faced, including systematic racism while enlisting and serving, and the denial of veteran benefits upon returning, they still “bravely” fought to protect the freedom that is known to every Canadian citizen today, she said.

Indigenous veterans are honoured by their families and communities across Canada, and “it is now our time to tell those stories,” Bennet said.

Rozanne Ross, an Indigenous resident who attended the ceremony, said that she felt proud of the contributions made by her people and that it was “nice” to have a separate day to honour them.

“The reason they celebrate [Aboriginal Veterans Day] is also because when our veterans came back, they weren’t treated the same,” she said.

Glenn Miller, a retired veteran who served for 25 years, had a presentation for guests about the contributions made by Indigenous people, and his work in finding the missing pieces in their stories.  

Aboriginal Veterans Day is an opportunity “to learn of the great contributions made by the indigenous warrior community across Canada,” said Miller.

Seth Candral performs during opening ceremonies at the Military Museum for National Aboriginal Veterans Day.
Thursday, November 8, 2018
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Photo by Rorie Stannard

Residents should speak to Indigenous veterans and learn their stories first-hand to honour them, recommended Miller.

“Canadians should take the time and opportunity when and where they can to learn about the Indigenous warrior contribution from their own local resources.”

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