Wednesday, November 7, 2012

It Means 'The Fighting has Ended': Aboriginal Veterans' Day

"Sadly, it took more than fifty years for the government to recognize the wartime contributions of the Aboriginal Peoples, on the home front and battlefront alike. Overseas, Aboriginal soldiers fought proudly alongside Canadian men of many other races, fuelled by a shared purpose and pride.  Upon their return to Canadian soil, however, many First Nations, Inuit, and M├ętis soldiers found that this equality no longer held. They received no warm welcome. In fact, many came back to find that their land had been taken away or divvied up among non-Aboriginal farmers to increase wartime crop production, never to be theirs again. They also found that they would not share in the same benefits that other members of the Canadian forces enjoyed, including educational and vocational training, employment offers, and housing." 

It saddens me that I need to post this again. Without our stories, we are invisible; without our histories, we lose ourselves. If we don't make the effort to share with you that which we know, so that you might, in turn, share with others what you have learned... I posted the following words last year here on the blog:

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

Our stories, our truths are not just the stories of Aboriginal people, they are stories of how Canada came to its current state of being. Our veterans and their history, the good and the bad, is a reflection of Canada and needs to be known so that all of our students have a full, complete understanding of this country, its current reality and what it could be. I shared it last year. I will likely share it again next year. 
"In Cree we say 'Kahgee pohn noten took' on Remembrance Day. It means, 'the fighting has ended'." 
-IrenePlante, veteran's widow

1 comment:

  1. Robert, thanks for the reminder. We have announced at our school through a variety of ways that today is Aboriginal Veterans Day. I will email you for some advice on how to acknowledge this at our assembly tomorrow as well.