Acting Commander Canadian Army marks Indigenous Veterans Day
November 8, 2021 - Defence Stories
Major-General Michel-Henri St-Louis, Acting Commander Canadian Army and Defence Team Champion for Indigenous Peoples
As Defence Team Champion for Indigenous Peoples, I have the honour of voicing our collective gratitude on behalf of the Canadian Armed Forces as we join together to salute Indigenous veterans.
In the time since Canada first became a nation, thousands of Indigenous Peoples have served with bravery and distinction. We revere figures such as Francis Pegahmagabow, Mary Greyeyes Reid, and Thomas George “Tommy” Prince. Through them, we commemorate the service of all Indigenous veterans. They heeded the call even when the country they served did not treat them as equals.
For those who came home, the war was over, but they had other battles to win. Indigenous soldiers who returned from the First World War were deemed ineligible for tracts of farmland offered to other veterans on the grounds that they were already receiving government benefits not afforded to Canadians.
Following World War Two and the Korean War, they were eligible for services and benefits, but only in principle. Many of their applications were not treated fairly, and the federal government would not recognize these inequities until the 1990s.
Indigenous Veterans Day was inaugurated in 1994 in Winnipeg at a time when Indigenous Veterans were not being recognized as part of Remembrance Day ceremonies. This is why Indigenous Veterans now have a national platform of their own for recognition of their contributions.
We lost an important piece of that history in January with the passing of Private (Retired) Philip Favel at age 98. Hailing from the Sweetgrass First Nation, Pte (Ret) Favel left his father’s farm in 1942 to join the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps. He would go on to serve as a driver on several fronts, including France as part of the invasion of Normandy and earn seven medals, including the French Legion of Honor Medal.
Back at home, Pte (Ret) Favel would be a leading figure in the fight for equal compensation.
Fittingly, a portrait of Pte (Ret) Favel was unveiled at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa last year, and remains a part of its national collection. While this is hardly adequate compensation for his service and activism we can be grateful that his memory is preserved.
His memory lives also in the Indigenous Veterans who have followed in his footsteps. They have enriched the Canadian Armed Forces in their advocacy of incorporating Indigenous dress and spiritual practices into the institution, and so many other ways. Thanks to them, we are better and more representative.
They in turn have passed the torch to others who continue to guide us in the work still to be done.
To all our Indigenous veterans, past and present, thank you, Marsee, hyshka’, Ayhay, Nakurmiik, Wela’lioq.
Major-General Michel-Henri St-Louis
Acting Commander Canadian Army and Defence Team Champion for Indigenous Peoples
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