Open Letter – Remembrance Day
November 11, 2008
Re: Remembrance Day
On a day when Canadians from all walks of life pause and reflect on the supreme sacrifices of so many men and women who fought and died for our freedom, The First Nations Leadership Council would like to join with them in recognizing and saluting the contribution of veterans, and specifically First Nations veterans, to serving their country and fellow citizens.The contributions of First Nations soldiers to Canada’s armed forces cannot be understated. From the 1800’s to the present day mission in Afghanistan, First Nations soldiers have been on the front line in Canada’s military. More than 7,000 Aboriginal men and women volunteered to serve in the First and Second World Wars as well as the Korean War. More than 500 First Nations soldiers lost their lives in the conflicts. At least 68 medals for bravery were awarded to First Nations Soldiers in the First and Second World Wars. In 1943, King George VI bestowed British Empire Medals upon four Aboriginal Bands, including the Kitkatla Band in B.C. for their contributions to the war effort. To this day many First Nations soldiers lay buried in the battlefields of Europe.
Unfortunately, many First Nations Veterans faced discrimination upon returning home from the World Wars and Korea. Though eligible for certain benefits, many did not receive them because of bureaucratic hang-ups, or unfriendly Indian Agents. Other benefits like land settlement money and education were denied. Such discrimination spurred First Nations veterans to organize and lobby the government to make changes to the Indian Act and federal policy. In fact Native veterans were instrumental in status Indians finally receiving the right to vote in 1960. After years of lobbying, the government of Canada finally offered a settlement package to veterans or surviving spouses in 2002. It was too late for many, too little for some, but it was finally an acknowledgement that many brave soldiers did not receive the hero’s welcome they deserved.
Today First Nations participation in the armed forces continues with Aboriginals making up about 1.4% or almost 1300 of the members. Theirs is a service born of the pride of their ancestors, and nation. They carry with them the warrior spirit and proudly serve with distinction and honour. They are today’s role models, and tomorrow’s leaders.
On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, commemorating a moment 90 years ago when troops laid down their arms to end World War one, we join all Canadians in paying tribute to the courage and valour of those who served, and those who serve today. We ask all First Nations to remember and honour the legacy of their armed forces veterans.
FIRST NATIONS LEADERSHIP COUNCIL
On behalf of the FIRST NATIONS SUMMIT:
Grand Chief Edward John
Grand Chief Doug Kelly
On behalf of the UNION OF BC INDIAN CHIEFS
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip
Chief Robert Shintah
Chief Lynda Price
On behalf of the BC ASSEMBLY OF FIRST NATIONS:
Regional Chief A-in-chut (Shawn Atleo)