Veteran Tom Eagle

It’s overwhelming to see so many friends and family, Anishinabek and Canadians alike, paying tribute to veterans today.  Many of you wrote a little something on your Facebook status update or took part in a Remembrance Day ceremony somewhere.

Today, I’m really happy to see folks honouring their family members who served by name.  So many times, we forget that our warriors and veterans are individuals – men and women with kind Spirits who give their all in the service of our nation.

Our people volunteered in incredible numbers.  Entire First Nation communities enlisted, often times, giving up their Indian status to meet their obligations.  Military service may not have been compulsory for the Anishinaabeg but it was an obligation.  When our ancestors signed the treaties, we gave our word to be loyal allies of the Crown.  That manifested itself during the War of 1812, both World Wars, the Korean War and into modern times.

We can’t even begin to imagine what it is like to take up arms and serve their people in such hostile conditions.  To face their own mortality so unselfishly.  To see their comrades and friends meet their end before their own eyes.

All veterans return wounded in some way or another.  If not in body, but in Spirit.  They return with little fanfare, little pension, sometimes to nothing at all.

Today is a day where our veterans are honoured for a few hours.  However, much more should be done to respect and care for our wounded warriors beyond November 11.

The Government of Canada must begin to address the issue of adequate pensions for those who return wounded but may not qualify for full-service pensions.  The government must address First Nations veterans who did not receive equitable compensation for their service.  The government must enhance support and benefits for those those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.  They are our walking wounded.

As Anishinaabeg, we are taught to honour our Elders everyday.  We honour our veterans every weekend in pow-wows and traditional gatherings right across our territory.  That honour should be extended to our effort in advocating for these issues, responding to their needs, and caring for those Ogitchidaa who served for all of us.

In memory of Nelson Lewis, Gilbert Richardson, Francis Pegahmagabow, Tom Eagle, Ray Rogers, Ernie Debassige, Emery McLeod and Edward Commanda.