Image of Cameron Brant
Image of Lieutenant Cameron Brant
Credit: Mississaugas of the Credit Public Library

Indigenous Veterans Day is observed in Canada on November 8, in recognition of Indigenous contributions to military service, particularly in the First World War, Second World War and the Korean War. National Aboriginal Veterans Day was first observed in Winnipeg on November 8, 1994 and has since spread nationwide.

Indigenous peoples have served in times of war and peace for more than 200 years in the War of 1812 to Afghanistan and continue to serve. For many years, that service was often overlooked and underappreciated.

Learn more about Lieutenant Brant, Maxwell King, Tom Longboat and Mathew Solomon Mandawoub.

It is estimated that more than 7,000 Indigenous people served in the First and Second World Wars and the Korean War, and an unknown number of Inuit, Métis and other Indigenous people also served. Some estimates indicate up to 12,000 may have served in the Canadian Forces in the past century.

Many Indigenous people also currently continue to serve in the Canadian Armed Forces in Canada and on operations around the world. They continue to uphold the proud legacy of service started by past generations.

John Tory Mayor of Toronto - Proclamation

Indigenous Veterans Day

November 8, 2022

WHEREAS First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples have a long and deep history of military service in what we now call Canada. Today, on Indigenous Veterans Day, we commemorate and acknowledge all Indigenous Peoples who have served and continue to serve in the Canadian Armed Forces. They have made and continue to make important contributions within their local communities, from coast to coast to coast, and around the world.

Indigenous participation in support of the military can be traced back to the War of 1812. Following confederation, even though Indigenous Peoples were not considered Canadian citizens, many volunteered to serve in the First and Second World Wars as well as in the Korean War.

More than 12,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples served in the two world wars, many of them overcoming many challenges such as traveling far distances to enlist, learning new languages and experiencing discrimination, including when they returned to the country they fought for. Despite their loyal service to Canada, Indigenous veterans were denied benefits, lost their Indian Status or had land taken away from them upon returning to Canada.

Today, as many as 2,700 Indigenous Peoples serve in Canadian Armed Forces in operations at home and around the world. We honour and acknowledge their commitment as well as the previous military service of all Indigenous veterans.

Indigenous Veterans Day is observed annually across the country to recognize the legacy, history and significance of Indigenous military service to Canada. The City of Toronto acknowledges the bravery, courage and sacrifices of all veterans who fought for the peace and freedom we enjoy today. We continue to honour Indigenous veterans and commit to a greater understanding of the barriers they face as well as appreciation for their service to Canada.

NOW THEREFORE, I, Mayor John Tory, on behalf of Toronto City Council, do hereby proclaim November 8, 2022 as “Indigenous Veterans Day” in the City of Toronto.

A photo of a red and black poppy made of beads.
This beaded poppy was created by Jennie Town in 2021 during the Year of the Poppy.

Beading is a highly developed skill in Indigenous communities.  Mnidoomnensag, the Anishinaabemowin word for beads, means “small spirit berries”.  Beading was a way of telling a story — intricate and detailed floral designs imbued with ancestral tradition.

Beaded poppies are a relatively new phenomenon, and until recently, were not widely available. These poppies are found on more and more lapels leading to Remembrance Day, as Indigenous and non-Indigenous people seek to honour the service and commemorate the sacrifices of Indigenous soldiers.

For many Indigenous craftspeople, creating beaded poppies is an important way to keep Indigenous heritage alive.  Given that Indigenous people weren’t allowed to practice their culture and traditions, it is important for many to undertake beading today.

The handmade poppies — with beads and porcupine quills sewn onto smoked moose hide — commemorate Indigenous members of the military who served in the two world wars and in the Korean War and is very meaningful for Indigenous veterans.

Wearing a beaded poppy is about respect: lest we forget, the service and sacrifices of Indigenous and non-Indigenous soldiers, their shared values and their shared history.  The beaded poppy is a source of pride and resilience.  It is also an opportunity to have conversations about reconciliation.  While beaded poppies honour all veterans, they draw attention to the unique plight of Indigenous people who went to war.

The Royal Canadian Legion has sold beaded poppies beaded by Indigenous artists. In 2022, they introduced a sealskin version made by an Inuk artist.  Many local artists create beaded poppies and often direct a portion of the proceeds to veterans’ charities.

On the battlefields, Indigenous soldiers stood side-by-side their Canadian comrades, many serving with distinction.  However, the Indigenous soldiers who came home often discovered their wartime contributions were quickly forgotten.

Equals on the battlefield, they couldn’t vote in Canada. In many cases, Indigenous veterans were unable to receive veterans’ benefits. For decades, they were forgotten soldiers.

While the federal government issued an apology in 2003 and compensated many, there are still many Indigenous veterans who have not received these entitlements or have fallen through the cracks.

Many Indigenous veterans were banned from Royal Canadian Legion halls where veterans gathered to socialize, and where they were also able to get advice on post-war benefits. Instead, Indigenous veterans were directed to agents, who didn’t always have their best interests in mind.  Some had to give up their rights as status in order to serve.

Veterans Affairs Canada maintains a website with further information on the long and proud tradition of Indigenous military service to Canada which has not always been honoured and recognized.