A ceremony commemorating Indigenous Veterans Day took place at Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre in Halifax on Tuesday.
It included a reading of the poem In Flanders Fields in Mi’kmaq, as well as a performance of the Eagle Song for Veterans by Raymond Sewell.
Indigenous Veteran’s Day has been held separately from Remembrance Day since 1994 to highlight the contributions of First Nations people in Canada’s military history.
While addressing the crowd at the ceremony, Navy veteran Deb Eisan from the Batchewana First Nation said an estimated 7,000 First Nations people served in the First and Second World Wars as well as the Korean War.
“At the time of the First World War, First Nations Status Indians were exempt from conscription because they were not considered citizens of Canada and did not have the right to vote,” she said.
“It was not until 1995, 50 years after the Second World War, that Indigenous people were allowed to lay Remembrance Day wreaths at the National War Memorial to remember and honour their dead comrades.”
Federal Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu was in attendance, and told Global News in an interview that it’s critically important to bring more awareness to Indigenous Veterans Day.
“Many Indigenous people served over many wars and served this country alongside non-Indigenous combatants … and oftentimes their service and the sacrifices that they made alongside some of the discrimination that they faced is not recognized by the country,” she said.
Denise John, a Victim Support Navigator for the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre, said remembering Indigenous veterans goes beyond just one day.
“November the 8th and November 11th is not the only day that we celebrate and honour our veterans, we honour our veterans every day. You know when we go to our gatherings we honour our sma’knis (veterans) because they gave a great sacrifice for us. They went to war to honour the treaties. So looking at our sma’knis, you have to honour them every day,” she said.