This week is Veterans’ Week with Indigenous Veterans’ Day on November 8 and Remembrance Day being celebrated on November 11. It’s an important time to reflect on the contributions of Indigenous, Black and other racilised minority group soldeiers during wartime in Canada’s history.
Every year, Canadians celebrate the courage, dedication, and lost lives of veterans of World Wars and other wars of large scale. Citizens attend ceremonies, school choirs sing songs of memorialization, and we wear poppies symbolizing the honour of those on the frontline. However, there is a history of Indigenous and Black soldiers that sometimes, until recently, have been forgotten.Indigenous soldiers faced many biases and challenges when they decided to fight for Canada. Many of them had to travel far distances just to enlist. Once part of the military, many of them had to learn English and adapt to a new culture. During World War I, White Canadian men were conscripted for the war. This excluded Indigenous peoples as they were not considered ‘Canadian’ – but many volunteered anyway. They fought abroad and upon returning from the war, many Indigenous soldiers still faced the same discrimination prior to fighting for Canada. During WWII, when Indigenous soldiers returned to Canada, many of them realized they had lost their Indian Status. Despite their service to the nation, their rights were taken away and they did not receive the same recognition and benefits as their White counterparts.
The story of Indigenous service in the First and Second World Wars, the Korean War and later Canadian Armed Forces efforts is a proud one. While exact numbers are elusive, it has been estimated that as many as 12,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit people served in the great conflicts of the 20th century, with at least 500 of them sadly losing their lives.”
– Government of Canada 2023
Historically, Black Canadians have a tradition of military service. Black militia members volunteered their services to various war efforts such as the British cause and the War of1812. However during World War I, racism made it difficult for Black Canadian soldiers to enlist in the Canadian Army. In 1916, the largest Black military unit in Canadian history was formed – the No. 2 Construction Battalion. Because their white counterparts did not want to fight alongside them, they were relegated to non-combat roles such as chopping wood, building roads and/or railways, or raising funds. In July 2022, Prime Minister Trudeau made an apology to the descendants of Black men who served with the No. 2 Construction Battalion.
Learn more about Indigenous and Black Canadian contributions here: