November 8, 2018 – Ottawa – National Defence / Canadian Armed Forces
Lieutenant-General Jean-Marc Lanthier, Commander of the Canadian Army, issued the following statement to mark Aboriginal Veterans Day:
Today, as the Defence Team Champion for Indigenous Peoples, I am honoured to acknowledge and salute the many remarkable contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis people – past and present – who have served in Canada’s military.
Whenever our country has been in need, Canada’s Indigenous communities have made tremendous sacrifices. The World Wars and the Korean conflict saw more than 12,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis people serve in Canada and overseas.
One in three able-bodied Indigenous men enlisted to fight in the First World War. In some communities, every man between the ages of 20 and 35 signed up to serve. At least 50 decorations were awarded to Indigenous members for their bravery and feats of valour.
Indigenous women and men also participated in every major Canadian battle and campaign of the Second World War, from the Dieppe landings to the Normandy invasion. Mary Greyeyes, from Muskeg Lake Cree Nation in Saskatchewan, was the first Indigenous woman to enlist in the Canadian Army in 1942. She served in the Canadian Women’s Army Corps in Canada and Britain.
More than 200 Indigenous members died during the Second World War, and some 18 decorations were awarded for bravery in action. Some took on the roles of snipers and scouts and some were involved in clandestine missions. The little known “Code Talkers”, like Charles “Checker” Tomkins, a Métis from Alberta, transmitted secret messages in Cree. Their covert role has only in recent years begun to receive long overdue recognition.
In Afghanistan in 2006, Corporal Jason Funnell, a member of the Haida Nation of British Columbia, braved intense enemy fire to rescue comrades trapped in a disabled vehicle, his actions earning him the Military Medal of Valour from the Governor General of Canada.
This proud tradition and these heroic actions, of which I have named but a few of the multitude of examples from the past two hundred years, demonstrate how Indigenous Peoples, time and again, have sacrificed and prevailed through their service.
Together with the Canadian Army Sergeant Major, Chief Warrant Officer Stu Hartnell, I invite all Canadians to join us in honouring Indigenous Veterans today.
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