Canada is failing to support Indigenous veterans after they return home from military service, especially in rural Alberta, according to an Indigenous veterans organization.
The Royal Canadian Legion provides help to veterans in cities, but more help is needed in remote areas and on reserves, said Chuck Isaacs, president of the Aboriginal Veterans Society of Alberta, a volunteer-based organization that advocates for Indigenous veterans.
“Young fellows from the Afghan conflict haven’t left their basement for years,” said Isaacs, who is also a retired Métis sergeant, while on CBC Edmonton’s Radio Active.
The exact number of Indigenous people who served in the “great conflicts of the 20th century” is unknown, but it’s estimated that up to 12,000 have served in those battles, with at least 500 people dying, according to the Veterans Affairs Canada website.
More than 4,000 Indigenous people served in the First World War. Over 3,000 First Nations people served in the Second World War, alongside an unknown number of Métis, Inuit and “other Indigenous recruits,” the website says.
“Several hundred” Indigenous people served in the Korean War in the 1950s, it adds.
As of January 2019, about 2,742 Indigenous people were serving in the Canadian Armed Forces, according to the federal government’s website.
Many Indigenous veterans do not have smartphones or access to computers, so the biggest problem is being to track them down so they can receive support, Isaacs said.
“When we find out somebody is isolated inside their basement somewhere, we need to be able to go there and see if we can coax them out to get help,” he said.
“We do that with our own pocket money.”
Federal money is available for organizations that help veterans, but Isaacs said it’s a struggle to get funding.
With more money, the organization could help even more Indigenous veterans, he added.
The Royal Canadian Legion will provide support to any veteran who needs help, a legion spokesperson told CBC News in an email.
Veteran Affairs Canada is committed to ensuring all veterans receive the respect, economic support and care they deserve. The federal government also regularly visits Indigenous communities to help veterans, a department spokesperson said.
Indigenous soldiers weren’t treated equally: Isaacs
National Indigenous Veterans Day was established in 1994 to recognize Indigenous peoples’ contributions to military service in Canada each year on Nov. 8.
It’s a day about correcting injustices and raising awareness, said Isaacs, as there is a grim history in Canada of Indigenous people not being treated fairly.
When Indigenous soldiers returned home after the First World War ended in 1918, they could not return to reserves, nor did they qualify for military benefits.
Indigenous people were excluded from legislation aimed to help reintegrate soldiers into civilian life and become farmers, and land was confiscated from reserves for non-Indigenous soldiers.
National Indigenous Veterans Day is a step toward reconciliation, but more work needs to be done, Isaacs said.
“In order to try and correct a wrong from the past, there has to be an effort made to reach out and fix the problem.”
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