Indigenous leaders, artists and the Prime Minister himself invoked aboriginal contributions to the military on November 11, which was Veterans Day in the United States and Remembrance Day in Canada.
On Saturday, November 9, veterans of First Nations, Inuit and Métis descent celebrated Aboriginal Veterans Day to acknowledge the Indigenous Peoples who have flocked to military service. Artist Andy Everson, Northwest Coast Artist from K’ómoks First Nation in British Columbia, created a poppy for indigenous veterans to call their own.
“Share far and wide to remember indigenous veterans everywhere!” the artist proclaimed on his Facebook page. And the world has done so, thousands upon thousands of times. Everson is known for, among other works, having created art for numerous Idle No More posters, treaty-related commentary via Star Wars imagery, and other references that tie in Native history with contemporary politics.
First Nations, Inuit and other leaders lay wreaths along with Prime Minister Stephen Harper in a ceremony at the National War Memorial in Ottawa on November 11 honoring those who had served. Regional Chief Bill Erasmus of the Assembly of First Nations, who oversees veterans issues for the AFN, participated in the ceremony.
“As we do each year at this time, we pause and reflect on the sacrifices that every one of our Veterans has made to ensure a safer and better country for all of us,” he said in a statement from the AFN. “We shall never forget the memory of all our First Nation Veterans that are no longer with us.”
An earlier ceremony was marked by more than 100 people on Monday at the National Aboriginal Veterans Association Monument “to commemorate native aboriginal contributions to Canada’s war efforts over the years,” the Ottawa Citizen reported, sharing numerous images of the moving moment in a slide show.
Even the skies were celebrating, as this year Veterans/Remembrance Day coincides with the Taurid meteor shower.
Indigenous fighters were memorialized all over Canada on Saturday November 9, as well.
“Today, we are marking this special day by honoring the First Nations men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice to help defend the freedoms that all people enjoy in this country,” said Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo in a statement on November 9. “First Nations citizens enlisted in record numbers during those difficult times and to this day continue to help and serve Canada with pride and distinction. All First Nations across Canada proudly support our First Nation Veterans and their families. We remember with the highest respect the remarkable contribution and dedication of all those brave men and women whom we lost in past conflicts.”
Aboriginal veterans hold a special place in Canada. It was Shawnee Chief Tecumseh and his followers who were largely responsible for the defeat of the Americans during the War of 1812.
“Canada might not exist and we might all be Americans without the First Nations warriors who fought with the British in the War of 1812,” reads a 2011 statement on the website NationTalk.ca. “The tribes of the Iroquois League, the Caughnawagas from near Montreal and the western tribes led by Shawnee chief Tecumseh played a pivotal role in many battles with superior reconnaissance skills, accuracy and fearlessness in combat. They also gave the British a decided psychological advantage.In the two World Wars, First Nations people were exempt from conscription, were not considered “citizens” of Canada and did not have the right to vote.”
That service notwithstanding, “4,000 First Nations men volunteered for service in WWI and over 300 died,” the statement pointed out, and “20,000 First Nations volunteered for service in WWII and over 200 died. These numbers represent about 30 percent of First Nations men eligible to serve.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, too, acknowledged aboriginal contributions.
“Across the centuries, Canadians have always answered the call to defend their nation,” he said. “During the War of 1812, English and French-speaking Canadians joined with First Nations allies and British forces in defending Canada against invasion. This year, November 11 marks the bicentennial of a critical battle of that war, the Battle of Crysler’s Farm, where early Canadians from Upper and Lower Canada, as well as First Nations allies, fought with courage and determination to defend their homes and communities.”