National Indigenous Veterans Day, celebrated every year on November 8th, is dedicated to honouring the brave Indigenous people who served in the armed forces during the First and Second World Wars and the Korean War.
November 8th is a day to remember the courage and sacrifices of these veterans. Indigenous veterans have an important place in history, yet stories of their involvement are not widely shared.
Here are five facts to learn about National Indigenous Veterans Day:
1. Indigenous veterans were not recognized during Remembrance Day activities for decades
Though many First Nations, Inuit, and Metis soldiers participated in the war effort, they were left out of Remembrance Day commemorations and activities. The first National Indigenous Veterans Day was held in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 1994—approximately 80 years after the First World War started.
2. Voluntary enlistment among Indigenous people was high
Indigenous people were not conscripted because they were Canadian citizens. Though they weren't required to participate in the armed forces, many Indigenous people enlisted anyway. In addition to joining the war efforts, these soldiers faced other challenges, including travelling from their remote villages to enlist, learning English, and dealing with racism from other soldiers. Despite these issues, several Indigenous soldiers went on to win medals for bravery in action.
3.First Nations soldiers did not receive veterans' benefits until 2003
Fighting alongside Canadian soldiers and subjecting themselves to the same conditions, dangers, and risks, Indigenous soldiers were not granted veterans benefits upon their return home. It wasn't until 2003 that the Government of Canada finally provided veterans benefits and support to First Nations soldiers—though Metis soldiers have not received them.
4. It's estimated that 12,000 Indigenous people served in 20th-century war conflicts
Between the three big wars in the 1900s, approximately 12,000 Indigenous soldiers enlisted to aid Canada's war efforts. Most men who were eligible joined the armed forces, feeling compelled to enlist and fight for democracy. Despite colonization, Indigenous people joined the front lines alongside Canadian soldiers.
5. Indigenous communities raised funds for war efforts.
Restrictive government policies left Indigenous communities saddled with hardships, and many able-bodied men left their communities to enlist, which only contributed to the plight of struggling Nations. Yet, in adversity, Indigenous communities banded together to raise war funds. Between dances, sales, rodeos, exhibitions, collecting scrap tires and iron, and other fundraising endeavours, Indigenous groups raised approximately $44,000 during WWI and $23,500 during WWII.
Honouring the Sacrifices of Indigenous Soldiers
On November 8th, celebrate the contributions of Indigenous soldiers. Look up local events to attend, read books, and find ways to commemorate the legacy of Indigenous soldiers past and present.
If you want to learn more about National Indigenous Veterans Day, read this article: https://www.trentu.ca/education/sites/trentu.ca.education/files/documents/Resources_VeteransDay_Nov8_revAug2022.pdf