Almost 50 years ago have passed since Canada was last involved in a major war. The young people who fought in those wars are now elders or have since passed on. Of the ones who remain, they are reluctant to talk about their wartime experiences, but one need only look into their eyes every Nov. 11 to recognize its effect.
For the young people of today, those wars were over a long time ago and sometimes we do not recognize the contribution our Indian veterans made to Canada
and to our communities.
Some of their contributions include the highest enlistment numbers per capita among ethnic groups in Canada, or any other group. Indian soldiers enlisted voluntarily, because of treaty provisions which said Indians would never be forced to fight the Crown battles. Indian languages were used to send coded messages across enemy lines and the final evidence is the number of Indian soldiers buried in European soil.
For their home communities, changes were about to be made as a result of their sacrifices. It has been said that because of their bravery overseas, the Canadian government decided to look into conditions in which Indian people lived.
Indian soldiers, on their return to their home reserves, were finally given the right to vote. Many became leaders in their home communities. After they were treated as equals overseas, why should they return to a second-class existence in Canada?
As a result, in 1949, a committee, composed of representatives from the Senate and the House of Commons, was struck. Its task was to make revisions to the Indian Act. It was to be the first revision since the legislation was enacted in 1867. Finally, Indian people had direct access to the political processs that governed this country.
As a young person, I watched every Nov. 11 as our Indian veterans from the reserves fell into formation. Doc Swanson, Bob Bird, Ed Sanderson, Prisque Penny, Margaret Stonechild, Bob Dieter, Victor Daniels and Lawrence Dieter, to name a few. Their bodies fuller, their step not as high as those young men that once marched in that same formation.
But the determination on their faces, the reverence in which they held the Canadian flag, the sombre manner in which they laid the wreath and saluted their fallen comrades was just as powerful.
Many of our Indian veterans have passed on, my father included. This Remembrance Day, let's thank the ones we have remaining for their contributions to Canada and our communities.