As we reflect on the contributions of the veterans who risked their lives to fight for freedom, many Canadians don’t know the sacrifices of the First Nation men and women who enlisted.
Many First Nation enlistees had been subjected to residential school for an average of eight years – removed from their families, culture and Nation. Yet they bravely and voluntarily stepped forward to fight for the Crown. In some cases, they used their first language as a “code” to communicate strategy and sensitive information. These men and women were integral to the victory in many ways. Yet despite those significant contributions, upon their return from the war, many of these heroes were subjected to racism and isolation.
When non-First Nation men and women returned from war they were given opportunities that enhanced their lives. First Nation men and women heroes were also offered opportunities but that offering carried a higher price – for some, isolation from their home communities; the creation of “have” and “have not” classes on First Nations; and, for some, a requirement to renounce their First Nations status. Our warriors returned home to a new form of subjugation.
First Nations communities continue to go to great lengths to honour the sacrifices of their veterans by recognizing and honouring them at community and organizational events by inclusion. You would be hard pressed to go to a powwow and not see a veteran in the grand entry or any grand entry. This is just one way.
We remember the sacrifice of our veterans and it is important to remember that we still need warriors and allies who will fight for change. Our modern-day “change warriors” fight on a different battlefield but still fight against stereotypes and entrenched racism.
To properly honour those who fought for freedom, we need to continue to support and respect those who fight for equality, understanding and respect today.
Thank you to the men and women who fought for peace – and thank you for the men and women who fight for change.