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Aboriginal veterans quietly honoured across Canada

Three days before Canada’s Remembrance Day, Canadian Rangers in Owen Sound, Ont. Held a sunset ceremony to observe National Aboriginal Veterans Day on November 8.

The Rangers were on a week-long military training course but they took time off from their program to hold the simple ceremony, according to a report by Sgt. Peter Moon, in the NetNewsLedger.

Forty-eight Rangers from the 18 First Nations from across Northern Ontario who were on a search and rescue training at the 4th Canadian Division Training Centre at Meaford, near Owen Sound took part in the event.

The Rangers, together with CAF instructors formed a large circle around a ceremonial fire. The Rangers offered tobacco and prayers. They laid a commemorative wreath and placed red poppies on a log near a small makeshift corrugated iron firepit. No long parades, no throngs of officials or large media coverage.

“It honoured our veterans. I was proud to be part of it and I bet everyone felt the same as me,” Master Corporal Albert Sutherland of Constance Lake who laid the wreath on behalf of the Rangers, was quoted in the story.

It was just one of the other small ceremonies held all over the country this week in honour of aboriginal veterans. November 8 marks National Aboriginal Veterans Day in Canada. It was first celebrated in 1994, as a way for indigenous people to celebrate, honour, and remember their veterans who fought for Canada over the centuries in their own way.

More than 7,000 aboriginal people served in the First and Second World Wars, as well as is the Korean War, according to Veterans Affairs Canada. More than 500 indigenous soldiers died in those conflicts, and much more were wounded.

The numbers do not include Inuit, Metis, or non-status Indians. Some estimates put the total number of fallen aboriginal people that served in the Canadian Armed Forces closer to 12,000.

National Aboriginal Veterans Day, is actually not officially recognized by the federal government, according to Betty Ann Lavallee.

Lavallee’s father and two grandfathers served in the military. She signed up with the Army in 1980 and today she heads the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples.

There is an ongoing debate on what National Aboriginal Veterans Day should represent.

Lavallee said there were many aboriginal veterans who “fell through the cracks” when they came home from the wars in Europe and Korea. In some cases, they were denied services and support, including land and educational benefits that were received by non-aboriginal veterans.

Some aboriginal veterans lost the benefits provided to aboriginals living on reserves.

In 2000, the federal government apologized to aboriginal veterans and their families. The government offered $20,000 per veteran as compensation, although a national roundtable actually recommended that the amount should be $120,000. Many veterans were upset although they took the money for fear they would not survive a long court battle.

“We sort of got lost in the shuffle because there’s so few of us. This is just another way to celebrate our people and their accomplishments,” she said in an interview with the Canadian Press.

Author: Nestor Arellano

Nestor Arellano is editor of Vanguard Magazine. Nestor is a seasoned journalist who has written extensively on defence and military industry issues as well as technology and business developments. He is also associate editor of Vanguard's sister publication, IT in Canada.

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