First Nations always show respect for veterans at any Gatherings year round. Those who have gone before, and who have made the greatest sacrifices, always lead the Grand Entry at pow wows, and at conferences where First Nations and Metis people gather to celebrate history and culture or to discuss matters of vital interest and make important decisions. The contributions which are made by First Nations and Metis veterans are recognized and saluted for the protection, the provisions and the peace which the veterans have sacrificed themselves for the sake of others.
“A warrior does not judge his or her greatness by the achievements they have made but by the obstacles which they have overcome. Those obstacles provide an opportunity for a warrior to prove greatness and they are welcomed as a test to prove that one is worthy of being a warrior.”
The Band Halls of many First Nations in Manitoba, the Hall at the Indian and Metis Friendship Centre in Winnipeg, and many other gathering places throughout this province are adorned by the portraits the veterans of World Wars, the Korean War and other conflicts which required First Nations and Metis people to serve the country of Canada and its freedoms. Names like Sgt. Tommy Prince, and his fellow soldiers who readily went off to serve our freedoms and safety which line the walls of the Board Room in the Brokenhead Ojibway Nations Band Office provide just one example of the honour and respect which First Nations pay tribute to on a daily basis.
First Nations people have always remembered the tremendous contributions and sacrifices which have been made by these great leaders, but this has not always been the manner in which this greatness has been perceived by the mainstream of Canadian society. Not that many of us are familiar with the deep disappointment and hurt that Sgt. Tommy Prince felt when he was turned away from shopping at “the white store” near his Reserve just days after returning home from receiving the highest honour the British Empire can bestow on a soldier.
First Nations people feel deep passion and loss for those First Nations veterans who returned home from the Second World War and the Korean War and were forced to relinquish their “Indian Treaty status” because it made them ineligible to enjoy the same rights as other GIs who could, for example, receive enormous assistance for housing that was denied to native veterans because “Indians received free housing under the Indian Act” (with their 30-year waiting lists, sigh!). Many First Nations veterans gave up their status as Indians in order to provide a home for their families who had been anxiously waiting for their safe return.
Times are changing and Bill C-31 restored status to many of these veterans, but public recognition of the contribution of First Nations and Metis veterans has always lagged far behind the testament we bestow on other Canadian veterans, who, to a man, agree that the native soldiers and seamen and airmen they fought alongside were just as worthy. The federal government is negotiating with native veterans groups to come up with compensation for remaining veterans and their survivors.
Remembrance Day is that special one day when it gets personal and I think of Dave Nanowin, a friend I made, a veteran from Norway House First Nation who lost his eyesight during the Second World War. David has long since passed away, but he is most remembered by his family and their memories, as most veterans are. Children and grandchildren like my friends Ray, who is a Probation Officer, Dennis, a bus driver, Valerie, a school teacher, Ron a writer/musician and Corrine, an immigration official.
Dave Nanowin went off to war when he was called and he returned home to a country where he wasn’t allowed to vote and required a pass to leave his home on the Reserve. But the freedoms that Dave Nanowin was fighting for eventually came to him, and he was able to vote and shop wherever he wanted by the time he was 50.
The fact he was a native Elder able to lead the way for five offspring to find the success they were able to find is testament to the provider that he was.
And we are all grateful to Dave, and all other Canadian veterans, who protected us and kept the peace.