Ceremonies in Vancouver, Winnipeg honour aboriginal veterans
Published Sunday, November 8, 2015 9:42PM EST
Indigenous soldiers have fought in the Canadian Forces since the First World War, but some First Nations leaders say the veterans haven’t always been treated like heroes upon their return.
At an Aboriginal Veterans Day ceremony held Sunday in Vancouver, attendees heard tales of First Nations soldiers who returned home from war only to be sent back to reserves and treated like second-class citizens.
"Veterans who came back lost their status and lost all of their rights,” B.C. Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said. “It was a real struggle for them to regain those rights through the courts.”
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The Canadian flag flew alongside First Nations flags during the Vancouver parade to honour the estimated 7,000 indigenous soldiers and untold number of Inuit, Métis and non-status Indians who fought for Canada during the First World War, Second World War and Korean War.
Ceremonies marking Aboriginal Veterans Day were also held in Winnipeg and the Alderville First Nation in Ontario.
It’s estimated that about 500 First Nations troops from Canada died in WWI and WWII.
After years without proper recognition or respect, some aboriginal veterans say they feel times have changed.
Winnipeg Centre MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette joined the military nearly 20 years ago, and while he didn’t initially find it as tolerant as he would’ve liked, he says acceptance of aboriginal soldiers is now commonplace.
"Today, it's a very welcoming place. I even have my hair braided long, and I have absolutely no issues with cultural awareness, with people accepting me for who I am and what I can bring to the table,” Ouellette, who remains active in the Naval Reserve, told CTV Winnipeg.
Joseph Meconse, who joined the military decades ago at the age of 20, says he has been recognized for his decade of service.
After ending up in jail, Meconse joined the army and served for 10 years at posts in Germany and Cyprus. When he eventually came home to work as a corrections officer, it was as a decorated soldier with a slew of medals.
"They presented this because I earned it,” Meconse said. “I had to do my share for the people. Not for myself, for the people.”
Aboriginal Veterans Day began in Manitoba in 1994 before spreading across the country. It is commemorated every year on Nov. 8.
With files from CTV Winnipeg and CTV Vancouver
CTV National News Chief Anchor Lisa LaFlamme leads Remembrance Day coverage on Wednesday, Nov. 11 on CTV, CTVNews.ca, CTV News Channel and CTV News Go