National Indigenous Veterans Day was commemorated on Nov. 8 at Calgary’s Field of Crosses, recognizing the important role that Indigenous members of Canada’s Armed Forces played in global conflicts over the past century.
The ceremonies also recognized the work that still has to be done to address systematic injustices that forced Indigenous Canadians to give up their treaty status and rights in order to serve.
“I believe today is that the situation on reserves, we’ve been subjected to a lot of confinement situations, residential school, and also the onslaught of Christianity, and sometimes making us into somebody we’re not,” said Clarence Wolfleg, a veteran of the Canadian Army.
“It just reminds me today, that in spite of those challenges, the soldiers went and served their country with honour just like their grandfather warriors. In spite of all this kind of stuff we go through, you always wanted to step forward because of this land that we have—we’re fortunate to be in freedom.”
Major (Ret.) Kent Griffiths, speaking during the ceremony, said that many of the Indigenous veterans who survived conflicts were forced to give up their veteran’s benefits to rejoin their families on reserves—making identifying the number of Indigenous veterans in Canada a difficult task.
“There are certainly more First Nations and Metis fallen in the field of crosses. However, they are not easy to identify without traditional aboriginal last names, or some history from the family or the friends of the fallen,” Griffiths said.
“Our researchers continue to strive to provide more names and details each year.”
At Calgary’s Field of Crosses, Indigenous soldiers George Coming Singer, Mike Foxhead, Albert Mountain Horse, Henry Norwest, and Teddy Manywounds are among those remembered for their sacrifice.
During the ceremony, Wolfleg sung his personal going-into-battle song, which he said he kept with him through the 279 battles he fought over 17 years while a member of the Royal Horse Artillery and the UN peacekeeping force in Cyprus.
“Those words are to honour those [warriors], and battles yet to come. So that’s really what it is. Warriors take those songs, and the power of those songs brings them back. I’m here,” he said.
The song he said he currently keeps reflects peace, brought about by blessing Calgary’s Peace Bridge which is located on the other side of Prince’s Island Park along Memorial Drive.