Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Aboriginal Veterans Day

"The thousands of miles that aboriginal soldiers travelled over the course of more than two centuries to help defend this country make up a thousand memories, so many of which have been ignored or lost. Yet these are the details of our history which we must remember, which we must commemorate."- Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson, June 21, 2001.

The day just past was November 8, 2011.
That is significant.
Every November 8, I have sent out an email to the staff at whichever school I have worked at, sharing with them that this day is Aboriginal Veterans Day in Canada. This is the day which has been set aside to honour the sacrifices of First Nations, Metis and Inuit men and women who volunteered to serve in the Canadian Armed Forces over the course of the various wars and military actions this country has involved itself in. I have encouraged the staffs to learn about the day and share it with their students. I have no idea if anybody ever has, beyond me.
November 8 was not set aside because Aboriginal Veterans wanted their own, separate day. I would like to clear that up now. Aboriginal Veterans fought in Canada's wars, lost their lives in Canada's wars, stood shoulder to shoulder with Canadian men and women. When they returned home, they were barred from receiving the same benefits that other soldiers received, saw their Aboriginal rights extinguished, which meant that they could not even return home to their communities. In some cases, those homes, their reserves, were carved up and sold to non-Native veterans who had earned the right to affordable land by fighting in Canada's name.
Aboriginal Veterans started their own associations to lobby for their rights. I remember hearing a story once that they could not really get help from the Royal Canadian Legion because there was a long while that Aboriginal people were not allowed to go into places that served alcohol. Places like legion halls. I cannot verify the truth of this. Whether it is true or not, it is true to the people that shared it with me, which tells me that there was an understanding of that.
My understanding of November 8 is an understanding of exclusion. Aboriginal Veterans were not permitted to take part in official Remembrance Day ceremonies, so they set aside a day of their own. A day to remember the sacrifices our Elders made in the name of the Canadian nation. Not just the sacrifices they made on the battlefield, but the ones they were forced to make when they returned home.
To date, Manitoba is the only province that officially recognizes Aboriginal Veterans Day, but if you do a search on Google, you will see videos and references to ceremonies all around the country.
In all the areas you won't find reference to it, one is particularly notable.
You won't see any references to Aboriginal Veterans Day in our public schools. At least I haven't found any yet.
I was later asked why we don't teach this, or acknowledge it. I had no answer beyond no one cares, and the truth is that is the truth. My understanding of it anyway. Non-Aboriginal people AND Aboriginal people have that narrow, colonial view of Aboriginal people. No one cares because no one challenges it. No one is teaching our stories, our histories.
As I have stated, this is my understanding.
Go look up Aboriginal Veterans Day. Learn it, please.
Teach it.

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