News, Remembrance Day

National Aboriginal Veterans Day: A time to remember

From the First World War to the war in Afghanistan, Aboriginal people have served in the Canadian forces

Video by Rachel Aversa

By Thomas Gotzamanis

Nov. 8 is a time of reflection for many.

It’s a day to remember the countless Aboriginal people who served in the military, risking their lives to help Canada.

According to Veterans Affairs Canada, over 3000 Indigenous people had served in the World Wars.

“They served in every single branch in the armed forces,” said Scott Sheffield, a history professor at the University of Fraser. “Recruitment officers often wanted to get their hands on Indigenous recruits because they thought they would make excellent snipers or scouts because of the idea of these racialized expectations.”

While Indigenous people were treated as lesser when in their reserves, they were treated as equals in battle by their fellow soldiers.

“Their colleagues in the front lines didn’t give a damn about their skin colour,” said Sheffield. “They were treated like ‘one of the boys’ so that was a meaningful experience to them.”

But this experience shifted the expectations of reality that faced these Indigenous soldiers once they returned home.

“When they came back, Boom. You’re a status Indian again,” said James Dempsey, a professor at the University of Alberta. “They weren’t treated the same as they were on the battlefield.”

Sheffield reflected on how Canadians should remember the actions of these indigenous soldiers.

“Remembering is not just a single day event,” said Sheffield, “It is an active and ongoing commitment.”

“There are very few First Nations [veterans] or veterans that live among us today from the Second World War. When we lose them, we lose that kind of direct connection to that experience, so I think that puts more on us to remember today.”

An unknown soldier is honoured during Remembrance Day. There were thousands of unknown soldiers who passed away during the World Wars. (Rachel Aversa/RSJ)

Read More: Tommy Prince

Tommy Prince served in the Second World War and the Korean War and was awarded a total of 11 medals for his service.

Prince was also a nominee for the five dollar bill. A petition to make Tommy Prince the face of the five dollar bill raised over 1500 supporters in its first 48 hours after it launched on June 21.

Explore our interactive timeline breaking down Tommy Prince’s early life, his military service, and his life after the wars.

November 13, 2020

About Author


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *