Ministers of Veterans Affairs, Indigenous Services, National Defence, Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs mark Indigenous Veterans Day
Ottawa, ON – Indigenous Peoples have made many important contributions to Canada’s military history, dating back to the years long before Confederation. During the War of 1812, thousands of First Nations and Métis fighters would stand alongside British troops and Canadian settler militias to defend their homelands against invading American forces.
More than a century later, over 4,000 Indigenous People would serve in uniform during the First World War. The patience, stealth and marksmanship for which many of these soldiers were known often helped them become successful snipers and reconnaissance scouts, and earned Indigenous service members at least 50 decorations for bravery during the conflict.
When the Second World War erupted in 1939, Indigenous Peoples again answered the call. By the end of the conflict, more than 3,000 First Nations members, as well as an unconfirmed number of Métis and Inuit, had served in uniform. In addition to the impressive contributions they again made fighting on the battlefield, they also took on important new roles. One notable example of this was working as “code talkers” First Nations radio operators who communicated sensitive radio messages in their own languages so they could not be understood if intercepted by the enemy. Another example is the contribution of Inuit communities who played a vital role during the Second World War by voluntarily gathering animal bones and carcasses, which were then shipped to southern Canada to be made into munitions, aircraft glue and fertilizer. Inuk Elder Qapik Attagutsiak is the last known person who helped with this war effort.
It must be acknowledged that this legacy of service was built despite discriminatory measures that made it difficult for Indigenous Peoples to enlist and that continued following their service. Canada continued to deny the right to obtain benefits that were available to non-Indigenous Veterans. Other Veterans gave up their First Nation status to receive these benefits, a choice no one should have to make.
Over the years, more than 12,000 courageous Indigenous people stepped forward to serve in the Canadian military in times of war, military conflict and peace. From the muddy trenches of the Western Front during the First World War to the frontlines of the current COVID-19 pandemic, Indigenous armed forces members have made many lasting contributions for which we will always be grateful.
On Indigenous Veterans Day, Canada honours the contributions and sacrifices of all First Nations, Inuit and Métis service members. This year, the National Flag on the Peace Tower in Ottawa, and on all Government of Canada buildings and establishments across the country, is being lowered to honour and acknowledge the sacrifices Indigenous veterans have made for our country. We remember those who gave their lives and recognize our Veterans, as well as salute the many Indigenous Canadian Armed Forces members who continue to wear the uniform today.
“No matter the time and place – and despite the barriers that the government and their chains of command have put in their way – Indigenous peoples have always stepped up to serve in uniform. From the battlefields of France to patrolling the North today, they have played a vital role in protecting Canada for generations. On Indigenous Veterans Day, we thank them for their service, and we honour those who have given their lives with our flag on their shoulder.”
The Honourable Lawrence MacAulay, Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence
“Throughout their long and proud history of military service, whether at home or abroad, Indigenous Veterans in Canada have filled a wide variety of roles, and have made countless contributions and sacrifices. This day is to honour them, their families, and their communities, and for us to remember and thank them.”
The Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Indigenous Services
“Today, we recognize and honour the First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Peoples of Canada for their vital contribution to the fabric of this nation. Indigenous peoples have a long and proud history as part of Canada’s military. Their contributions to the strength and unity of our armed forces, both past and present, have been instrumental in keeping our country safe and preserving our rights and freedoms.”
The Honourable Anita Anand, Minister of National Defence
“Today, we honour and thank the First Nations, Inuit and Métis Veterans in Canada, as well as their families and communities. The story of Indigenous military service through times of conflict, crises, and peace is a proud and impressive one, and our country is forever indebted to them for their contributions and sacrifices, and for the profound impacts their service has had on the course of our shared history.”
The Honourable Marc Miller, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations
“Today we pay tribute to the thousands of Indigenous Veterans who have served and continue to serve, in times of war and peace. The contributions of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis individuals are critical to Canada's effort to promote and protect peace and security. We shall not forget those who have sacrificed so much in service to Canada.”
The Honourable Daniel Vandal, Minister of Northern Affairs
Veterans Affairs Canada
Office of the Minister of Veterans Affairs
Department of National Defence
Office of the Minister of National Defence
Office of the Honourable Patty Hajdu
Minister of Indigenous Services
Office of the Honourable Marc Miller
Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations
Director of Communications
Office of the Honourable Daniel Vandal
Minister of Northern Affairs
Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada
Indigenous Services Canada
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