A wreath honouring Aboriginal servicewomen from World War II was laid by Mishkeegogamang’s Isabelle Mercier during the Remembrance Day ceremonies at Waverly Park in Thunder Bay.
“We had the honour to have the Aboriginal servicewoman from World War II here in Thunder Bay,” Mercier said after the Nov. 11 ceremony. “Thirty-five per cent of our people signed up voluntarily in World War I, thirty-three per cent of our people signed up in World War II. Their service is to be honoured as all service when a country is in need.”
Mercier recalled how former prime minister John Diefenbaker recognized the outstanding service provided by Aboriginal people during Canada’s wars.
“He said if the number of people who were eligible to serve in World War I and World War II had signed up to the amount that the Aboriginal peoples had signed up, there would have been no conscription ever in Canada,” Mercier said. “It’s a great achievement.”
Mercier served with the Canadian Forces in the navy, army, reserves and cadets.
“It was an honour to do so and the lessons learned are valuable to all,” Mercier said.
Laura Buker, assistant professor at Lakehead University who is originally from the Sto:lo Nation in B.C., honoured her parents during the Remembrance Day ceremony.
“My father served in the Canadian Army in World War II with the Calgary Highlanders,” Buker said. “And my mom was a First Nations woman who went to work for Boeing in Vancouver. She was a Rosie the riveter.”
Buker’s uncles also served in the navy and the air force.
“My dad had a rough go there, like many service people in Canada,” Buker said. “He was in the Juno Beach campaign and also (battled) through France and Belgium before he was severely wounded.”
Buker encouraged people to remember how Aboriginal people and others fought to protect the “freedoms here in Canada.”
“It’s a special time of honouring every man and woman who stepped forward to serve our country to make sure our country is protected,” Buker said.
Regional Chief Stan Beardy also acknowledged Aboriginal veterans on Nov. 8, which was acclaimed as Aboriginal Veterans Day in 1996.
“Today is a special day where we honour and remember our Aboriginal veterans,” Beardy said on Nov. 8. “For many Aboriginal veterans who fought in the world wars, they were not honoured or acknowledged for their sacrifice until many decades later. It’s important that we honour these brave men and women for their strength and sacrifice, not only in November each year, but always.”
Although Veterans Affairs Canada states that more than 7,000 Aboriginal people served in World War I, World War II and the Korean War, an Aboriginal veterans group estimates that about 12,000 Natives served in the three wars.
“First Nations citizens enlisted in record numbers during those difficult times and to this day continue to help and serve Canada with pride and distinction,” said National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo. “All First Nations across Canada proudly support our First Nation Veterans and their families. We remember with the highest respect the remarkable contribution and dedication of all those brave men and women whom we lost in past conflicts.”
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