Members of the Canadian Forces, local municipal, provincial, and federal politicians, dignitaries, and every-day Calgarians joined with Indigenous veterans to commemorate Indigenous Veterans Day.
The annual event, which is held on Nov. 8, honours Indigenous military veterans and those who gave their lives in military service, while also reminding Canadians of their often forgotten service.
The remembrance ceremonies at the Military Museums featured remarks by Cheryle Chagnon-Greyeyes, Adrian Wolfleg, Clarence Wolfleg, alongside Mayor Jyoti Gondek and Calgary Centre MP Greg McLean.
Clarence Wolfleg said that Indigenous Veterans Day events were a reminder of the pride Indigenous people have in military service.
“The military is a good place to get out of your shell, do what you need, be a good shoulder, and also do service for your country,” he said.
Wolfleg served with the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery in the mid-1960s, and is a veteran of U.N. Peace Keeping missions. He later served as a RCMP Supernumerary Constable, Alberta Special Constable, and Chief of Police for the Siksika Nation.
“You’re standing amongst very proud people in our military, and that’s where we remember those that are fallen, those that didn’t come back,” Wolfleg said.
“They’re still marching with us in spirit. That’s what keeps you moving on.”
Acknowledgement of Indigenous military service increasing, but more to be done
McLean has been attending the Indigenous Remembrance Day ceremonies since they began at the Military Museums in 2018.
“It’s special—it’s obviously honouring people that have been overlooked in the military service, and it’s good to recognize how important they were to our success as a nation,” he said.
He said that ensuring that Indigenous veterans receive recognition is something the Canada as a nation needs to do better.
“It’s odd because when you get involved in public life, there’s things you didn’t know before you got involved in this, and when you learn about this, these are things we need to fix, and how do you fix it?” McLean said.
“This is one of those issues we’ve got to do better at, something where the scars are still quite evident, and how do we make sure those scars are healed properly and we do a lot better job with the generations to come.”
He said part of that is recognizing how poorly treated Indigenous veterans have been treated once they returned to Canada, historically having fewer rights and supports.
“Canadians need to know about when you serve your country and then you come back with different rights than the other people you serve with—it’s a stain, and a stain we need to fix,” McLean said.
Mayor Gondek said that the City of Calgary flew flags at half-mast to honour the Indigenous veterans for their service and their sacrifices.
She spoke to the elusive nature of records about Indigenous veterans, with Canada having only estimates of the number of Indigenous veterans that served in the Canadian forces.
“We honour the service, the courage, and sacrifice of all veterans. Those who are at home, those who are around the world, and those who have spanned the generations,” the mayor said.
“Lest we forget.”
Completing the picture of military history with Indigenous perspectives important to Military Museums
Jackie Jansen van Doorn, Executive Director of The Military Museums Foundation, said that it was important to begin hosting Indigenous Veterans Day ceremonies as a way of communicating the history of Indigenous veterans as part of Canada’s military history.
“We started this because there is a lot of indigenous veterans, and we we feel that we can’t just tell Canada’s military story with only one lens—we need to be able to focus on everything,” van Doorn said.
“We’ve taken it as our personal initiative to research more residential schools and the connection to cadets, and be able to talk about those hard histories.
“Our commitment from the start of this whole initiative was just to have more enlightenment and more knowledge, and be able to open the conversation to everyone.”
She said that the interest in Indigenous Veterans Day has grown since 2018, with larger spaces required to be used to host the ceremonies. As a museum foundation, she said, they’re aiming to grow the event further and to incorporate more focus on residential schools and that impact on the military community.
As part of the day, The Military Museums hosted one-on-one interpretation walks through the museums to talk about Indigenous military history in Canada.
“We can really just bring people in and show that tangible history, show the physical objects that we have here, talk about what’s missing, talk about what’s here, why we have it, and the importance of different artifacts and what they mean to us as a culture,” she said.
For more information on Indigenous veterans and their service in Canada’s military, see themilitarymuseums.ca, and the Government of Canada’s veterans website at www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/people-and-stories/indigenous-veterans.