Thursday, 22 August 2013

Indigenous Veterans & Canada's Forgetful Psyche (A View from a Descendent):

The other day I was sitting down in my Mother’s living room when I noticed a familiar picture I saw while growing up – a photo of my mother when she first completed her military training and became a Military Police Officer (MP) in 1975. There was a difference this time, compared to previous glances at the photo, as she had added photos of my grandmother, grandfather, and great-grandfather to the bottom corners of it. In the black and white photos my grandmother and grandfather were both in military uniform. This brought me to thinking of veteran benefits, how Indigenous veterans were originally excluded for the same benefits as their veteran Canadian counterparts, and so on.  Then I thought of the lack of support, despite the current governments claims, for the veterans who have served Canada and there families. I then focused in on Indigenous veterans due to the current legislative attack by the Harper government on Indigenous peoples, and thus, Indigenous veterans.

Three ‘+’ Generations of the Cowie Family in Uniform:

 I had known that my great-grandfather (George Cowie Sr.), grandfather (George Cowie Jr.), an uncle, and my mother had all served in the military. My great-grandfather, whose name is proudly etched alongside the names of Manominiiking’s other citizens who had served in the Canadian military from the early 1900s and on, fought alongside Canadians and the British in World War II.  Although wounded in France and therefore discharged, he had continued wanting to serve Canada but was denied due to his previous injuries from WWII.

         My grandfather, although seeing no actual combat, served in the Army Reserves for Canada during a short period in the 1950s. I can only imagine what led him to decide to become involved in the Canadian military, one possibility may relate to the letters we found in the early 1990s that my great-grandfather had sent to my grandfather while he was on the front lines in France, discussing how he was the head of the family when great-grandfather was not around. Although I knew of past military service from my grandfather and great-grandfather, I had not realized that my grandmother had also served in the Air Force. Although at the time she served, in the mid-1950s, she was banished to the stereotypical positions for women, such as clerical, the fact that my grandmother served Canada’s military in the post-war period of the 1950s was astonishing to me.

            Now we forward to 1975, when my own mother set off on her journey in the Canadian military. My mom did her training at CFB Cornwallis in Nova Scotia and became an MP. As an MP, she was involved with security detail at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal (Canada had beefed up its security due to the horrendous events that occurred four years earlier at the Munich Olympics). During her career in the Canadian Military’s Armed Forces Branch, she assisted Vietnamese refugees fleeing from Vietnam when the south had fallen to the communist north (1978) as well as a six-month peacekeeping stint between Egypt and Israel, in order to make sure the Camp David Accord was implemented (1986).  Lets not forget that in the case of disaster and/or war, she would have to be prepared to defend the state. My mom would receive ‘early’ retirement from the Canadian military in 1992, due to the budgetary cuts implemented by the Mulroney Government at the time. During her time in the military, she had brought my sister and then myself into the world. As a single-parent, she had to give up time with her young children to serve Canada in the role she had taken in the armed forces (missing birthdays, family events, etc - like many veterans have before her and since).
           The story of my family’s commitment to Canada has many components to it, from considering themselves as Canadians alongside their Anishinaabeg citizenship, to following a historic route of many Indigenous peoples who did so to honour their treaty relationship with the Crown as allies in a nation-to-nation relationship.

            Indigenous participation in the protection of British subjects, as well as Canadian citizens, is well documented from the beginning of the relationship and on. One of the most noticeable was the War of 1812, when the British Monarchy and colonial governments in ‘British North America’ called upon their Indigenous allies to help defend their interests. This was done with Indigenous peoples not being considered subservient wards of the British Crown or Canadian state, but as equal allies.

From WWI to the present more then 7,000 First Nations, Inuit, and Metis peoples had served alongside Canadians in the trenches, war efforts, and so on (this doesn’t even include those who have continued to serve outside of the Wars). Indigenous peoples not serving directly in the Military also made some of the highest contributions to the War effort. For instance, during WWII Indigenous peoples contributed over $23,000.00 to the war effort (between 1939-1945). Again, this also does not include the actual manual labour, human power, and volunteer work that Indigenous peoples probably contributed to during the various wars that Canada was involved in, not to mention peacekeeping roles post-1954.

Why Is This Important To Me?

Some of you are probably wondering why I bring all of this up? Since the Harper Government’s onslaught of paternalistic legislation, more so in November of 2012, Indigenous peoples across this shared territory expressed physically and verbally: enough . On numerous occasions Indigenous peoples have, despite the consistent attacks on Indigenous nations and the rights of their respective citizens, stood alongside Canada and Canadians to defend not only their lands but also to honour that nation-to-nation understanding that was outlined in the treaties. This became even more ingrained in my mind as the #IdleNoMore movement grew and spread across the lands and into other corners of the world.

            I can recall as I prepared to head into the Peterborough #IdleNoMore rally on December 19, 2012, talking with my Mom about this and asking her “How do you feel to have given so much to Canada and then have Canada turn around and attack your rights as an Anishinaabeg Woman?”  This of course was relating to the onslaught of legislation, such as the Omnibus Bill that sparked #IdleNoMore, Matrimonial Real Property, Financial Transparency Act, and so on (see http://canadianpoliticalopinions canada-its-time-toidlenomore .html for additional information). My mom’s response was that it was hard. Additionally it was hard to believe that instead of things getting better for our peoples the attacks on our inherent rights and nationhood was even more prevalent since Stephen Harper had become Canada’s Prime Minister.

            Her comments have stuck with me since December and re-emerged with a very dominating effect when it became clear that the Canadian government had willingly allowed scientific testing and experiments on Indigenous youth (we still do not know how wide this issue is and for how long it went on). My decision to write this blog entry, and the words I needed, came about when I saw the pictures of three generations of my family in Canadian uniform.
           While some Canadians begin to awaken to Canada’s dark and ugly past, begin learning the truth and that we are all treaty people, some continue to stick their heads further into the sand. Some Canadians continue to believe the stereotypical view that Indigenous peoples get everything for free, are too lazy to do an honest days work, and simply must assimilate into the Canadian state. Some continue to think the only answer is not nation-to-nation relations and consultations but rather paternalistic policy, such as the Harper government. As #IdleNoMore continues and takes new shapes at this present time, and allies like Dr. Carolyn Bennett push for the Canadian population to #IdleKnowMore, I want to leave people with a final comment – one that was written on a bristol board at a London Ontario #IdleNoMore rally in December and has since been repeated on numerous occasions:

                   “1812: We Fought For Your Rights, Now Fight For Ours.”

Note: This post is dedicated to my Mother: Beverly Cowie, My Grandparents: George Cowie Jr. & Francis (Sproul) Cowie, my Great-Grandfather: George Cowie Sr, and all Veterans from Turtle Island.

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