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Andrew Swan, MLA Minto
November 3, 2015

First Nation Soldiers

Mr. Speaker, as we move towards Veterans' Week, I'd like to take a moment to remember our First Peoples in Canada's military who sacrificed their lives for the freedoms which we enjoy today, yet so often take for granted.

Aboriginal soldiers made very significant contributions to the world wars, and yet for a very long time their stories were never told. Despite the federal government's refusal to offer full citizenship, more than 7,000 First Nations people enlisted to serve our country in the First and Second World Wars and the Korean War. Because only those who fell under Indian status were counted, the number of Inuit and Metis people who served are unknown.

In Manitoba, opportunities like Remembrance Day and Aboriginal Veterans Day allow us to remember heroes like Sergeant Tommy Prince of the Brokenhead Ojibway Nation, one of the most decorated First Nation soldiers in Canadian history.

While serving, First Nation soldiers had to overcome prejudices and perceptions, and adapt to a military hierarchy that worked exclusively in English. Despite these struggles, First Nation soldiers left a remarkable record of wartime accom­plishment, some of which has only been acknow­ledged in the last few decades. Many drew on traditional hunting skills and wilderness experience to acquire near legendary status as snipers and scouts.

The returning soldiers hoped that their sacrifice and achievements on the battlefield would lead to greater recognition from the federal government, a re-evaluation of their treaty rights and improved living conditions. Sadly, many soldiers, especially those without Indian status, were not given the postwar benefits they deserved, nor did their return alone initiate a new era of civil rights for First Nations people. Many First Nations veterans became politically active and their voices contributed greatly to the ongoing advancement of First Nation rights. In the years since the world wars, First Nations people have been active members of the Canadian Armed Forces, helping to establish peace around the world.

War should never be glorified, but those who made the ultimate sacrifice must never be forgotten. This includes Canada's First Peoples, whose cultural, political, spiritual and military contributions to our country deserve to be recognized and honoured.

We are proud of the accomplishments of our First Nations soldiers and their communities.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.