For many years, at the Remembrance Day service, I would see Lil’wat Councillor Maxine Bruce in attendance, laying a wreath to honour her father, who served in WWII.
(And I thought, how great it is that we come together to honour people, all people, on this day.)
And then I read 21 Things You Didn’t Know About the Indian Act.
And learned that :
“Although Indians were exempt from conscription [during World War 1] because they were not considered ‘citizens’ of Canada and did not have the right to vote, an estimated 4000 Indigenous people enlisted in World War 1. They enlisted as a means of escaping the harsh living conditions on the reserves and to protect their treaty rights. An additional motivation was the fear that if the Allies lost the war, the treaties held with the Crown would cease to exist.
Being stationed together overseas was the first time Indigenous people from different communities across Canada had an opportunity to discuss living conditions on reserves… In retaliation [for post-War attempts to come together to advocate for better living conditions], the government amended the Indian Act in 1927 to ban Indians from forming political organizations….
The fact that so many Indigenous people served with distinction in World War II was one of the reasons that the federal government concluded that the time had come for all Indigenous Peoples to have the full rights of citizenship after the war ended… [but] it remained a requirement that Indians waive their rights as status Indians before being granted the right to vote. There was little pressure from status Indians for the right to vote given the significance of what they were asked to forfeit in exchange. It was not until 1960, under the leadership of Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, that the right to vote was extended, unconditionally, to all Indigenous Peoples.”
And this made me admire and love Maxine’s testimony more. Laying that wreath was a reminder to us all of who fought for us. And how dishonoured they have been, where they should have been met with honour.
Media is finally turning its lens on these stories – giving many of us the chance to no longer be ignorant of (or to ignore) the fact that systemic racism applied, even when a person wore the uniform of a nation and volunteered to fight, and put their life on the line. Indigenous veterans were denied benefits. They were denied access to the post-war social supports, like membership of or attendance of the Legion where a lot of the benefits were learned about.
There were not honoured or recognized for their service – because they have been living under the oppression of a system that was built around marginalizing and invisibilising and dehumanizing them. (You can’t read 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act and use language that is any softer. Honestly.)
As reported in the Globe and Mail: “The participation of Indigenous veterans in the Canadian military over the years has been significant, according to Veterans Affairs Canada. The department estimates that as many as 12,000 Indigenous people served in the two World Wars, and at least 500 lost their lives.”
Here, Tanina Williams shares an honouring of Lil’wat veterans, who served for years, who served on the frontlines : Pete Williams, Joe Joseph, Harold Gabriel.
Wreaths will be laid and Indigenous veterans honoured in a service at 1pm in front of Ullus on November 11th.
And wreaths will be laid also, at the Pemberton Legion at 11am. The Pemberton Legion this year has chosen not to have a parade on November 11, nor to open the lounge after the service. Those attending are asked to gather in front of the Legion by 10:45am, and to please wear a mask and respect one another’s personal space.
COVID-19 concerns have kept us all so isolated over the past 2 years – and several current local cases are good cause for us to continue to take precautions and take care with one another. And it feels as though so much has been revealed (to those of us who have been ignorant), about the flaws and failures of the system we live under, its failure to treat everyone with dignity, humanity, honour.
It is my hope that when we are able to gather again, en masse, and embrace each other without concern, that we’ll come together with a deep sense of solidarity and reconciliation – and a committed to lifting each other up in peace.