FIRST NATIONS WAR VETERANS FOUGHT FOR FREEDOM OF OTHERS
The Second World War created the modern nation we call home.
While Canada was forged in the military and industrial action of the war, for First Nations people it was a major turning point that would change our way of life and begin the decolonization of our people.
Following the war, the veterans came home and returned to life on the reserve, but they would also bring change. One veteran told me that, although they had marched across Europe and liberated whole countries, they came home only to be “Indians” again.
But the veterans persevered. They had seen the outside world, won the respect and admiration of their white comrades and weren’t prepared to return to the old ways of doing things.
In our research we came across incidents and pushback from the veterans. At a band meeting, one veteran called the Indian Agent a “little Hitler,” to the delight of his friends.
In 1957, the Union of Saskatchewan Indians evolved into the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians. The veterans were now taking leadership positions.
John Tootoosis was elected the first leader, and he was followed by David Knight, Wilfred Bellegarde and Walter Dieter, all of whom were Second World War veterans.
They were followed by David Ahenakew, a Korean veteran. Walter Dieter went on to be the first leader of the National Indian Brotherhood; his vicepresident was Omar Peters, who was also a veteran.
But they also left comrades behind in graveyards across Europe, and many veterans returned home with both mental and physical wounds.
Many young men would not grow old and return to their home fires.
Thomas Bear, from the Flying Dust First Nation at Meadow Lake, was killed in Italy and is buried in the Ravenna War Cemetery along with other Canadian and allied soldiers. The Italian campaign began before D -Day and saw some of the most bitter fighting of the war.
The Canadians had to pursue the German army, and following the surrender of the Italians, the Germans fought town to town, street to street and building to building.
Fusilier Bear, with the Princess Louise Fusiliers, was killed in action during the winter of 1945. He was 26 years old, and his parents were Magloire and Marguerite Bear.
Sargeant Harvey Dreaver, from Mistawasis First Nation, was with the Regina Rifles and was killed in action at the battle for the Leopold Canal in Belgium.
Following the D -Day landing, the allies required a deepwater port to supply their armies. The port of Antwerp was the closest, and the Canadians were dispatched to secure this important target.
Sargeant Dreaver was killed by a sniper and is buried at the Abegem war cemetery in Belgium. His parents were Joseph and Evelyn Dreaver. His father, Chief Joe Dreaver, was a decorated veteran of both world wars. His uncle, Frank Dreaver, was killed in action in 1917, and his name is inscribed on the Vimy Memorial as one of the 11,000 Canadians who died in France with no known grave.
Trooper John Donald Dumont, of Peepeekisis, was captured and along with 17 Canadian POWS executed in cold blood by the German 12th SS Panzer Division.
During the Battle of Normandy, Canadian troops suffered some of the worst war crimes committed by the Nazis. German SS troops murdered 156 Canadian troops.
Following the war, the Germans were tried for war crimes, and Colonel Kurt Meyer, of the SS Commandos, was charged for inciting his troops to kill unarmed prisoners of war. He was tried and found guilty and sentenced to death. The Canadian government commuted his sentence to life in prison.
John Dumont was a trooper in the First Hussars and was murdered at age 28. He was the son of Francis and Agnes Dumont. It has also been suggested that he was a descendant of Gabriel Dumont.
Our people took up the war effort alongside the rest of the country. The Canadian armed forces came from the farms, factories, fishing boats and
First Nations across the nation. Together they fought for the freedom of others and the promise that tyranny could be destroyed.
Tomorrow we will come together as the beneficiaries of a generation that gave of themselves, so we could live in freedom.