Message from the Minister
The Métis Nation has always held our Veterans in the highest regard across the homeland. Through their courage and sacrifice, these men and women have helped to ensure that we live in freedom and peace while also fostering freedom and peace around the world. We reflect on a tremendous debt of gratitude we owe generations of brave Canadian soldiers who served our country in uniform.
Remembrance Day this year holds added significance as it marks the 75th anniversary of the end of the second world war (WWII). Although this year has been uniquely challenging for many due to the interruptions COVID-19 has produced, we must remember how far we have come because of those before us who have made the ultimate sacrifice. The Manitoba Métis Federation encourages all Canadians to learn more about the sacrifices and achievements made by those who served our country and help preserve their legacy by passing the torch of Remembrance to future generations of Métis citizens and Canadians.
For over 20 years, I have been advocating on behalf of all WWII Métis Veterans regarding their treatment by Canada of their service. It was my honour to bear witness to Canada’s apology and expressions of gratitude to our WWII Métis Veterans on September 10, 2019. Since then, the Métis Veterans Legacy Program has sought out all surviving WWII Métis Veterans, so they may be honoured for the heroes they are. The program has been a major success. I am proud to say that 28 Métis Veterans and 16 spouses have been presented with a recognition payment, a traditional Métis hand- beaded poppy, and a ceremonial Métis sash as part of the reconciliation process. The expression of gratitude and pride from these Veterans is difficult to put into words. Our search continues with locating all surviving WWII Métis Veterans so that they may be honoured before it is too late.
This year we also celebrate the 150th anniversary of Manitoba, making it the fifth province of Canada, which brought the west in to confederation. Manitoba is the birthplace of the Métis Nation. Our leader Louis Riel negotiated the terms under which Manitoba joined confederation. He was instrumental in launching the Red River resistance and forming a provisional government to represent the rights of the Métis as well as all the people of the west at the time. Under Riel’s leadership, negotiations with the Canadian Parliament resulted in the passing of the Manitoba Act in 1870.
To those who may not be familiar with the history of our Veterans, here is a brief insight into their stories.
The Indigenous people of Canada volunteered to serve in WWII for many of the same reasons as they had in the first. Economic hardship was a compelling factor, as Métis Veteran Louis Dumont from Fishing Lake, Alberta, explains: “Men couldn’t get a job. In the army they paid a dollar-and-a-half (per day). The most you could get around here for farming or whatever, was a dollar. A dollar-and-a-half sounded awfully good”.
During both world wars, entire Métis communities such as Cumberland House, Saskatchewan, Grouard, Alberta, and St. Laurent, Manitoba, enlisted to the Canadian Armed Forces. These communities were greatly affected when the men left for war as many Métis women were left no choice but to take over their husband’s traplines, having to hunt game for their family’s survival. Rose Fleury, a Métis woman, remembers: “It was quite hard for us. Because women had to do all the work and things like that. So we even stooked. I was old enough. I was only, I guess thirteen – fourteen at that time, and I was helping mom stook for the farmers. Because they didn’t have any men to do anything like that”.
Thousands of Métis soldiers and nurses volunteered for the national war effort at home and abroad, serving with distinction in the Canadian army, navy, and air force. Many served without official recognition of their Indigenous identity, making it nearly impossible to tell exactly how many Métis were enlisted. As well, Métis were faced with entrance restrictions, such as educational requirements or a preference for candidates whose ancestors were British. It was not until February 1943 when these restrictions were officially withdrawn.
Métis soldiers participated in every major battle and campaign, including the disastrous Dieppe landings and the pivotal Normandy invasion. They also served in one of the worst imaginable theatres, Hong Kong, where just under 2,000 members of the Winnipeg Grenadiers and the Royal Rifles of Canada became prisoners of war of the Japanese. Included among them were at least 16 First Nations people and Métis, nine of whom died from wounds or illness.
Along with many others, Métis soldiers returned from war emotionally scarred. They struggled to settle back into normal life and more often encountered racism from broader society. Veterans Affairs Canada neglected them, and several struggled to receive benefits to which they were entitled to. Empty-handed, they were told to go back to their communities and continue their lives, despite having served their country. As a result, they faced greater difficulty in successfully re-establishing themselves in civilian life than their non-indigenous comrades.
Their treatment overseas differed from that which they received upon returning home as the late Métis Nation of Saskatchewan Senator, Edward King, remembers: “As half-breeds, we were really respected over there. I was surprised, because we could go into any place there. But back home not all of us could go into the bars”. Although the war had left Métis soldiers emotionally and psychologically affected, many brought new skills and abilities back to their communities. Some became influential leaders, which contributed to an increase in Indigenous political organizations, especially at the regional and provincial levels. The experiences they gained overseas gave them the self-confidence and understanding of non- Aboriginal society to represent their communities’ long-standing grievances.
The brave Métis men and women who left their homes during the Second World War to contribute to the struggle for peace were true heroes. The extra challenges that they had to face and overcome make their achievements even more notable. Sadly, the number of surviving Métis Veterans continues to fall as time passes. On November 11th, please take the time to remember our Veterans who paid the ultimate sacrifice and thank those who are still with us.
As you know, I have made it the utmost priority to find our WWII Métis Veterans and present them with their Recognition Payments. As we have rolled out the Métis Veteran’s Legacy Program for our WWII Métis Veterans, we knew that time was of the essence. We knew the precious time we have left with our WWII Métis Veterans is limited. Seventy-five years ago, they went to war young men and women who are now in their 90s, some are centenarians – over 100 years old.
Since the beginning of our program, we have honoured 28 Métis Veterans with their Recognition Payments, of those 28, we have lost seven within the past year. I am grateful that they lived to see the day Canada apologized to them. I am grateful that their Métis Government did not give up, and they and their families received their inheritance after so long.
My thoughts and prayers go out to all the friends and family members for their loss. Our Veterans leave behind a legacy to be remembered and cherished by others. We keep the memory of our fallen heroes close to our minds and our hearts and will continue to commemorate their tremendous contributions and sacrifices.
Our Heroes Today, Tomorrow, and Forever.
Minister of Veteran Affairs Métis National Council