Home News and Politics Bereft of Support: Indigenous Veterans Defied All Odds with Remarkable Service, Only to Face Neglect Upon Returning Home – British Columbia’s Shameful Reality Revealed

Bereft of Support: Indigenous Veterans Defied All Odds with Remarkable Service, Only to Face Neglect Upon Returning Home – British Columbia’s Shameful Reality Revealed

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Bereft of Support: Indigenous Veterans Defied All Odds with Remarkable Service, Only to Face Neglect Upon Returning Home – British Columbia’s Shameful Reality Revealed

The History of Indigenous Veterans and their Struggle for Recognition

For decades, Indigenous veterans were denied the opportunity to participate in Remembrance Day ceremonies as a group or lay wreaths. This exclusion highlighted the lack of recognition for their significant contributions to Canada’s military efforts.

According to Richard Vedan, a Secwepemc veteran, former Air Force social work officer, and professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia, the Canadian public is unaware of the level of contribution made by Indigenous veterans. He explains that First Nations, Inuit, and M├ętis served with distinction but faced severe inequities upon their return.

Under the Indian Act, Indigenous veterans received minimal benefits and were subjected to draconian control by Indian agents. They received only a fraction of the benefits given to other veterans.

After years of being denied participation, a group of Indigenous people in Winnipeg came together on November 8, 1994, for the first Aboriginal Veterans Day, now commonly referred to as Indigenous Veterans Day. This day is now observed nationwide every year on November 8.

The Contributions of Indigenous Veterans

Veterans Affairs Canada estimates that over 12,000 Indigenous people served during the First and Second World Wars and the Korean War. Today, nearly 3,000 Indigenous people actively serve in the Canadian Armed Forces.

The Challenges Faced by Indigenous Veterans

Enlisting in the military posed unique challenges for Indigenous people due to historical mistreatment and discriminatory policies. Land dispossession, the Indian residential school system, and the Indian Act made it difficult for Indigenous individuals to join the Air Force or Navy. At the time, these branches required individuals to be of “pure European descent and of the white race.”

Despite these hurdles, many Indigenous people chose to enlist, driven by a sense of loyalty and a desire to prove their dedication to Canada. However, their loyalty was not reciprocated, as they were not Canadian citizens at the time. Vedan acknowledges the conflicting emotions and the sense of obligation felt by Indigenous veterans.

The Experience of Richard Vedan and his Father

Richard Vedan comes from a family with a military background. His father, Hector, was a Second World War veteran and a residential school survivor. Hector joined the military to seek employment opportunities, but he had to conceal his Indigenous identity by using a different last name to avoid losing his status.

Richard Vedan enlisted in 1966, just six years after Indigenous people were granted the right to vote. However, he was unaware of his Secwepemc heritage at the time. Vedan emphasizes that the military taught him valuable skills, but he also recognizes that traditional ceremonies, such as fasting ceremonies or big house ceremonies, could have provided similar benefits.

The Inequities Faced by Indigenous Veterans

Upon their return, Indigenous veterans faced mistreatment and denial of benefits. Any benefits they received were administered by Indian agents, and the government seized reserve land to allocate it to non-Indigenous veterans. While Indigenous veterans hoped that their service would improve their rights in Canada, their expectations were not met.

The denial of veteran benefits and support made their transition back to civilian life even more challenging. Vedan describes the double binds faced by Indigenous veterans, which negatively impact their health and socioeconomic conditions. Despite these obstacles, many marginalized individuals still see education, sports, or military service as the only avenues for economic and social mobility.

It is crucial to acknowledge the sacrifices and contributions of Indigenous veterans and address the ongoing inequities they face. By recognizing their service and supporting their well-being, Canada can begin to address the historical injustices and promote reconciliation.

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