Nov. 8 marks Indigenous Veterans Day, a day meant to honour and remember the thousands of First Nations, Inuit, and Metis people in military service.
A ceremony filled with both military and Indigenous tradition was held at the Neeginan Centre to mark the day.
“We honour these veterans today and these families, we honour ourselves and who we are in this country,” retired corporal Melvin Swan told Global News.
Swan is a residential and day school survivor and served in the military. He carried the sacred First Nations veterans pipe during Wednesday’s ceremony.
“Today I’m a warrior, today I represent the grassroots, the spirit — not only of this pipe, but all those veterans that have come before me,” Swan said.
“So I carry that with a certain amount of pride, distinction.”
Master Cpl. Errol Mckay with the Royal Winnipeg Rifles says it’s important for the younger generation to remember and honour those who came before them.
“It’s s really important for us younger generation to really acknowledge and recognize all the generations that came before us and all the accomplishments that they’ve done,” McKay said.
“There’s many Indigenous soldiers who are really decorated in terms of military service, and being able to follow in their footsteps is really humbling and something to strive for.”
Veterans Affairs Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor also attend Wednesday’s ceremony at the Neeginan Centre. She noted the challenges and unjust treatment Indigenous veterans have faced before, during, and after their years of service, and reiterated it’s something the federal government is committed to working on.
“We recognize that many Indigenous veterans when they were serving faced discrimination and systemic racism when they were serving and also when they returned home,” Petitpas Taylor said.
“So it’s really important to make sure that we make amends.”
It’s something Elder and veteran Wandbi Wakita would like to see. He says there’s a long way to go when it comes to supporting Indigenous veterans, especially with employment and housing supports.
“I’d like to see those kind of changes, especially when there’s racism and discrimination in there,” Wakita said.
“I’d like to see those changes to really honour those (Indigenous) veterans the way other veterans were honoured.”
Wakita, a residential school survivor, joined the army when he was 17, following in the footsteps of his father and uncles who served in both world wars and in Korea.
He says Indigenous Veterans Day is about remembering, reflecting, and also, educating.
“(The day) means that we would remember all the veterans who went to war,” Wakita said.
“Starting from way back — the 1812 war — to remember those veterans who never came home back to Canada, to remember what the Indigenous veterans had to go through when they did come back from the war. That’s what I remember.”
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