Debates of the Senate  
2nd Session, 40th Parliament,Volume 146, Issue 67.
  Wednesday, November 4, 2009
 
First Nations Veterans
Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck: Honourable senators, in light of Veterans Week and of a National Day of Remembrance on November 11, I draw special attention to the sacrifice and continuing struggle of First Nations veterans in Canada.

Often forgotten, First Nations veterans enlisted and fought side by side with non-Aboriginal soldiers in both world wars and the Korean War. It has been widely noted that Aboriginal Canadians exhibited the highest levels of volunteerism, even though they were exempted from conscription.

In World War I, about one in every three able-bodied Aboriginal men enlisted. In total, approximately 12,000 Aboriginal Canadians participated in both world wars and the Korean War. On the home front, First Nations communities purchased Victory Bonds, donated to the Red Cross and worked in munitions factories. On the front lines, First Nations veterans were integrated into the military unit. They were treated as equals, with respect and dignity for their extraordinary sacrifice.

However, upon returning to Canada, their optimism for a better life was quickly dashed as the harsh realities of government administration, prejudice and discrimination were imminent. Aboriginal veterans continued to be treated as second-classcitizens. First Nations veterans were told to return to their reserves and talk to their Indian agent for benefits.

Inequalities became commonplace as First Nations veterans did not receive equal access to benefits information, equal dependents allowance benefits and were greatly disadvantaged by land compensation outlined in the Veterans' Land Act. While non-Aboriginal veterans were promised $6,000 and the prospect of purchasing land through the Government of Canada, First Nations veterans were promised only a maximum of $2,320, and they were more or less confined to farming on reserve lands, with no real ownership.

In addition, First Nations veterans faced hardships in securing other benefits, such as a re-establishment credit, vocational training benefits or university education benefits. During the war, Indian agents often withheld full dependents allowances from the spouses of enlisted Aboriginal soldiers because it was believed that "Indian women did not know how to spend money correctly."

Honourable senators, for years, First Nations veterans in this country have fought the uphill battle for just compensation for their services and an apology from the Government of Canada. In 2002, the Government of Canada looked like it would finally make amends for their years of neglect. In the Aboriginal Veterans Compensation Package, the government provided surviving veterans and spouses with a maximum of $20,000 per veteran. This package fell short of claims of both First Nations groups and of the Department of Veterans Affairs' own estimate of $120,000 as fair compensation.

Many veterans did not want to take the money but feared they would not be around long enough to wait through a lawsuit process or another round of compensation negotiations.

Honourable senators, this day, surviving First Nations veterans feel cheated and disheartened as the country that they risked their lives for in war has yet to recognize the grave injustices its policies have caused for a generation of brave Canadian Aboriginal heroes.