Honouring Aboriginal Veterans
"We should look at this Monument as bringing home the memories and history of the Veterans and the Fallen who served with such honour and distinction in all branches of the armed forces. We respect and honour these brave warriors." . . . Governor General Adrienne Clarkson
June 21, 2001 Confederation Park, Ottawa
Photo Courtesy of Mark Kelly
May 27, 2001
"I have listened to many, many stories about our elders and what they have done and what they received once coming back home. It's enough to make a person feel very, very sad at all times."
How can it be, that they gave so much, but were given so little in return? In fact, when they came back they were treated like dirt. "I think if we had had the same fair share break as any other veteran that came out of World War Two that today our population would be stronger, smarter and healthier."
That's the true tale of the Aboriginal veterans who fought for Canada in the 'great wars'.
"They did their part for a nation they really believed in. They went out and fought in foreign lands but they had to give up their Indianness to become citizens of Canada. Once this had happened, they returned home to find out they could not live or get any kind of support from the reservation they had come from. They found out they could not get the support from any of the resources here in the community as a Canadian citizen -- returning from World War Two", said veteran Arthur Eggros when he testified last November before a CRTC hearing in Burnaby, BC.
Until now their efforts to find justice seem to have been thwarted at every turn. However, on June 21st 2001 you will be witness to the start of the repayment of the debt of dignity, we all owe. National Aboriginal Day is a date marked by many on their calendars, but this time it also enters the history books.
You will see the flag, the weathered and worn faces, the Aboriginal feathered staff and the honour guard. As dignity is restored, then we can say to ourselves and Canada, "What took you so long?".
As Governor General Adrienne Clarkson unveils a National Aboriginal Veterans Association War Monument in Ottawa's Confederation Park - Aboriginal veterans, those few still alive, and the many who didn't survive, finally start receiving the respect and recognition they deserve.
The monument, nearly 30 foot high made of bronze and limestone will cover four segements of history, depicting a different era - World War I, World War II, the Korean conflict, and present day peacekeeping.
Sure, you can watch it on tv, but there's something more personal you can do. Turtle Island Native Network and the United Native Nations invite you to join the fundraising drive to help support our veterans, to help offset their costs to go to Ottawa to participate in this historic event.
Turtle Island Native Network and the UNN have each agreed to donate five hundred dollars to kick-start the fundraising activities. Funds collected will go to the BC Chapter of the National Aboriginal Veterans Association. President Bob Kelly and Executive Director Arthur Eggros have authorized this to be an official activity in support of Aboriginal veterans in British Columbia.
If you are worried there may not be enough time to make a difference, the campaign funds can be donated even after June 21st and will go toward meeting all the costs of organizing the historic trip, and the many other expenses, as well to help the ongoing efforts of the veterans.
Let's remember the veterans support us all by taking part in many of our community activities. You can donate to this worthy activity by sending a cheque or money order c/o Scott Clark, the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre. Please make sure to give your name and address so they can mail you an official receipt for income tax purposes, if you require one. The address is, Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre Society 1607 East Hastings Street Vancouver, B.C. V5L 1S7
For further information about the volunteer work done by Aboriginal veterans and to offer your help, you can contact Bob Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org or Arthur Eggros at email@example.com by e-mail.
By the way, when you are considering whether or not to donate, please keep in mind the monument ceremony in Ottawa does not signal the end of the struggle for justice. More work must be done because Canada has yet to settle on the issue of outstanding compensation owed for lost land and rights that greeted Aboriginal veterans when they returned from war.
If you or your organization wonder how to justify the donation, may I suggest you have your accountant put it under the category of 'the price of freedom'.
The sentiments of many are echoed in the words of veteran Arthur Eggros, "You know, it's time for them now to be recognized as the great warriors that they are".
Perhaps you are in a position to help in another way. Veterans Affairs Canada is asking for help in finding information about Aboriginal code talkers who served Canada during the Second World War.
The folks at Veterans Affairs got interested in this after the United States honoured Navajo code talkers for their contributions. Aboriginal code talkers in Canada have not received special acknowledgement from Canada for their contribution during WW II.
"Unfortunately, not much is known about the Aboriginal code talkers that served Canada during the Second World War because they were not an organized military unit, like the Navajo code talkers of the United States. In Canada, code talking in Aboriginal languages occurred in Various military units but no one specific unit was organized for that purpose. For this reason there does not seem to be much information chronicled by historians about Aboriginal code talking in Canada and I am hoping you, or someone in your organization, can help," wrote Andrea Rudniski of Veterans Affairs Canada, Prairie Region who has begun researching this with the hope of honouring them in some meaningful way.
If you have information to pass on about Aboriginal code talkers in Canada, call Andrea Rudniski at 204-984-6295 or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org by e-mail.
NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: This article is dedicated to George Robert Kennedy Sr., Oneida and all the warriors who fought in the World Wars and Korea on behalf of Canada and the United States.
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