Ef­forts un­der­way to hon­our Canada’s In­dige­nous vet­er­ans

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - Canada & World - KELLY GERAL­DINE MAL­ONE

Fran­cis Pe­gah­magabow went to a re­cruit­ment of­fice al­most im­me­di­ately af­ter war was de­clared in 1914.

The Ojibwa sniper from Wasauks­ing First Na­tion of Parry Is­land would serve with the 1st In­fantry Bat­tal­ion and went on to be­come one of the most dec­o­rated sol­diers in the First World War.

When he re­turned to Canada, his rep­u­ta­tion as a brave sol­dier counted for very lit­tle and he didn’t re­ceive the same rights or ben­e­fits as his white com­rades.

“They’d gone from be­ing a sol­dier to just an In­dian again,” said Scott Sheffield, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of Fraser Val­ley and au­thor of a re­port on First Na­tions vet­er­ans that prompted a fed­eral govern­ment apol­ogy in 2003.

In­dige­nous peo­ple were part of ev­ery 20th-cen­tury con­flict Canada was in­volved in and served in the Cana­dian mil­i­tary at a higher per-capita rate than any other group.

About 4,000 First Na­tions men served in the First World War. Af­ter the ar­mistice of Nov. 11, 1918, they re­turned to Canada still un­able to vote and largely shut out of the mea­gre ben­e­fits on of­fer.

Al­though vet­er­ans were el­i­gi­ble to bor­row money through the govern­ment for farm land, it was al­most im­pos­si­ble for First Na­tions vet­er­ans to qual­ify.

“Worse than that, around

80,000 acres of re­serve land that was good for farm­ing was ac­tu­ally taken away from re­serves, mostly in the Prairies, and largely given to white set­tler vet­er­ans,” Sheffield said.

That didn’t stop In­dige­nous peo­ple from tak­ing up the call again when Canada joined the Sec­ond World War — about 4,300 en­listed.

Thomas (Tommy) Prince, a mem­ber of the Bro­ken­head Ojibwa Na­tion in Man­i­toba, en­listed in 1940 and even­tu­ally was as­signed to the Cana­dian-Amer­i­can First Spe­cial Ser­vice Force, known as the Devil’s Brigade.

He be­came a leg­endary sniper, was awarded mul­ti­ple medals and also served in the Korean War.

Back in Canada, Prince ended up liv­ing in shel­ters and on the streets of Win­nipeg un­til his death in 1977.

Af­ter the Sec­ond World War, In­dige­nous vet­er­ans couldn’t get in­for­ma­tion from trained vet­er­ans af­fairs coun­sel­lors, and had to go through their In­dian agent. It was dif­fi­cult for them to con­nect with non-In­dige­nous com­rades be­cause they weren’t al­lowed in le­gion halls.

They were also un­able to get a loan-grant com­bi­na­tion that helped vet­er­ans set up ca­reers and busi­nesses. But In­dige­nous men and women con­tin­ued to en­list and serve in the mil­i­tary — from NATO du­ties dur­ing the Cold War to more re­cent tours in Afghanistan.

Now an ef­fort is un­der­way to hon­our their sac­ri­fice.

Randi Gage, a Sag­i­naw Chippewa from Michi­gan and a United States army vet­eran, or­ga­nized the first Abo­rig­i­nal Vet­er­ans Day in Man­i­toba in 1993. She wanted a day to hon­our them in their own com­mu­ni­ties but still al­lowed them to gather for Re­mem­brance Day cer­e­monies.

“To see the pride in those guys, it still gets me to­day,” she said, start­ing to cry. “It started the dis­cus­sion. It started peo­ple talk­ing.”

The fed­eral Stand­ing Com­mit­tee on Vet­er­ans Af­fairs has launched a study of ben­e­fits for In­dige­nous vet­er­ans. Mean­while, the Cana­dian War Mu­seum in Ot­tawa is hold­ing a pho­to­graphic ex­hi­bi­tion, pre­sented by the Em­bassy of Bel­gium, to cel­e­brate the di­ver­sity of those who fought for the Al­lied ef­fort. It in­cludes im­ages of Maori sol­diers from New Zealand, Sikhs from the In­dian Army Corps, and a photo of In­dige­nous re­cruits and el­ders from File Hills, Sask.


Re­cruits from File Hills, Saskatchewan pose with el­ders and a govern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tive in a 1915 photo.

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