Government of Canada honours Indigenous soldiers in the Netherlands
13 September 2023 – Ottawa, Ontario – Veterans Affairs Canada
The full story of Canada’s long military history includes many contributions from First Nations, Inuit and Métis people. They sacrificed so much to safeguard our peace and freedom—we owe it to them to ensure they get the recognition they deserve.
Earlier this year, a group of Canadian, Indigenous and Dutch individuals created the Indigenous Legacy Project, a research and remembrance based initiative to identify and mark the graves of Indigenous soldiers buried in cemeteries across the Netherlands. The Liberation of the Netherlands was Canada’s last major contribution to helping the Allies to victory during the Second World War. More than one million Canadians and Newfoundlanders served in the conflict—over 3,000 of them were Indigenous.
Veterans Affairs Canada is recognizing the importance of this initiative by supporting a delegation to the Netherlands. There, they will honour, acknowledge and feast the spirit of the deceased Indigenous soldiers through traditional ceremony, to recognize the contributions of Indigenous Peoples in the Second World War and thank the group responsible for the Indigenous Legacy Project.
The delegation includes family members and representatives from 13 of the recently identified Indigenous soldiers, Elders, representatives from Aboriginal Veterans Autochtones, and the Deputy Minister of Veterans Affairs Canada, Paul Ledwell, on behalf of the Honourable Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence. This is an opportunity for those connected to the Indigenous soldiers to honour their ancestors and reconnect with their shared history.
Rifleman Joseph Chalifaux, from Kinuso, Alberta, member of Royal Winnipeg Rifles, died on 7 April 1945 at 28 years old.
Private Daniel Cheer, from Brackendale, British Columbia, member of Seaforth Highlanders of Canada, died on April 12, 1945 at 24 years old.
Sapper John Culbertson, from Oshawa Ontario, member of 8th Field Squadron, Royal Canadian Engineers, died on 30 April 1945 at 33 years old.
Private John Decoine, from Wabasca, Alberta, member of Royal Canadian Regiment, died on 1 May 1945 at 33 years old.
Private George Irons, from Curve Lake, Ontario, member of 48th Highlanders of Canada, died on 13 April 1945 at 35 years old.
Private John Laforce, from Sahanatien, Ontario, member of Royal Regiment of Canada, died on 4 April 1945 at 26 years old.
Rifleman Philip Laforte, from Lac du Bonnet, Manitoba, member of Royal Winnipeg Rifles, died on 7 April 1945 at 33 years old.
Rifleman Gabriel Lamirande, from Saint-Vital, Manitoba, member of Royal Winnipeg Rifles, died on 14 April 1945 at 31 years old.
Private Norman Joseph Letendre, from Lac Ste. Anne, Alberta, member of Loyal Edmonton Regiment, died on 12 April 1945 at 24 years old.
Private Robert Odjick, member of Royal Regiment of Canada, died on 17 April 1945 at 26 years old.
Welby Patterson, from Ohsweken, Ontario, member of Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada (Princess Louise’s), died on 14 April 1945 at 22 years old.ù
Sapper Sanford Saulis, from Maliseet, New Brunswick member of 1st Field Company, Royal Canadian Engineers, died on 10 August 1945 at 33 years old.
Private Edward Underwood, from Saanichton, British Columbia, member of 1st Battalion, Canadian Scottish Regiment, died on 17 November 1945 at 27 years old
“It is a true privilege to get to know the stories of these brave soldiers. No matter the barrier that the government had put in place, Indigenous Peoples have always stepped forward to serve. They fought in important battles that we still remember today. They sacrificed so much to safeguard our peace and freedom. For so many, enlisting required leaving everything behind and overcoming significant discrimination that persisted even after service with the denial of rights, benefits and commendations available to other Veterans.”
The Honourable Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence
“Members of the Aboriginal Veterans Autochtones stand in silence to commemorate the loss of those Indigenous soldiers who died during the Second World War. During conflict, soldiers, regardless of skin color, religious beliefs or sexual orientation were equals and they died in the name of freedom. For those Indigenous family members attending this is a first step in reconciliation for past hardships and with hope, we shall move forward in the quest for equality.”
Robert Thibeau, Aboriginal Veterans Autochtones
"We've searched all over Holland for First Nations, Inuit and Métis soldiers buried in the region. After an outpouring of interest, and much collaboration, we've been able to identify 81 Indigenous soldiers so far. It's a privilege to welcome some of their descendants to our country as we recognize and commemorate their many sacrifices."
Martin Reelick, President, Royal Canadian Legion Branch 005
The Liberation of the Netherlands was Canada’s last major contribution to helping the Allies to victory in Europe during the Second World War. As many as 175,000 Canadians took part in the campaign and more than 7,600 of them lost their lives.
The Indigenous Legacy Project is a partnership between The Royal Canadian Legion Branch 005, located in the Netherlands, and Aboriginal Veterans Autochtones with support from Faces to Graves the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and Veterans Affairs Canada.
So far, 22 graves at Holten Canadian War Cemetery, 41 at Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery and 18 at Bergen-Op-Zoom Canadian War Cemetery have been identified as Indigenous. Research is ongoing as the project continues.
Current grave markers in Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries are marked according to the service records and don’t include visual indication of Indigenous status.
The Canadian Armed Forces unveiled new Indigenous spiritual symbols for military headstones in June 2022.
Veterans Affairs Canada
Director of Communications
Office of the Minister of Veterans Affairs
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