Aboriginal Veterans Set to March Again

By Michelle Oleman

MarchAboriginal War Veterans have long been active in the Canadian Armed Forces in country and overseas. This year they will be celebrated as war heroes by their own communities in Vancouver, British Columbia.

James P. Nahanee volunteered for the Canadian Army in 1943, training at Currie Barrack in Calgary, and went on to serve in England, France, Belgium and Holland. He returned home in 1946 and has received medals including the Canadian Voluntary Service Medal with Clasp, a Civilian Medal, the Canadian Centennial Medal (1967), and an Outstanding Service Medal for working with Native Indian communities in B.C. He will be delivering the opening speech for the march at 9:00 a.m., on this historic day to honor or Aboriginal War Veterans (traditionally known as Warriors).

Robert Nahanee started off in 1960 with the Six Field Squadron of the Royal Canadian Engineers for cadet training. In 1963, at the age of joined the Canadian Army with the 2nd Battalion of the Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry (PPLCI) for Basic Training, Leading Infantry Training, and Airborne Training. From there he was transferred to Germany with the 1st Battalion PPLCI Until 1966.

Robert re-enlisted in 1967, stationed in 1967 back with the 1st Battalion; PPLCI then in 1968 was transferred to Cyprus. Fighting with the United Nations Peace Keeping Force.

Peace keeping, he describes as harder work than actual war, because you’re there to keep two warring factions apart from one another, and this war in Cyprus was dubbed the “Corporal’s War.”

Corporals, in the Canadian Armed Forces are mainly Non-Commissioned Officers, thus they usually have no real executive power during battle, but because of the intensity of this war situation the NCO’s were instructed to make those split decisions as they saw fit, and to waste no time waiting for a response from the Home front, Robert was a Corporal at this time.

Six months later he returned to Calgary, where he stayed for two years. Then in 1970 he was sent overseas again with the UN Peace Keeping Forces. Each trip lasted six months, but his final transfer would be back to Calgary, where he remained until 1974 and was discharged.

He comments that much of his training in the army has come in handy throughout his life. For example, in Corporal Training (6 weeks) he learned not only to lead the troops, but also to instruct them. Since his discharge from the army his work has included training people in the community, instructing them through his workshops, and in many aspects leading them through community events, ceremonies and many other wonderful efforts. He also said that when someone trained for war returns home they are never untrained.

The soldiers who return home are not the real heroes. Many veterans will tell us, whether they are decorated or not, that the real heroes never came home, and this is why we celebrate Remembrance Day.

The March
Two generations are represented here. Each have been awarded medals and each are participating in the first ever “Honoring Our Veterans” March on November 8, 2005. Aboriginal Veterans Day will celebrate our heroes who have returned, and honor those who have passed on serving our country to protect our freedom, and our independence.

As Aboriginal Canadians we have responsibility to uphold our values and our traditions, though this may change year by year in ceremony as the generations pass, our Warriors have now been re-titled Veterans, and we must gather to remember them.
Several community organizations have stepped forward in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver to organize the March.

Carnegie Centre has volunteered time and space for the initial Gathering which will begin at 9 am, and proceed to an assembly on the street at Main and Hastings by 9:45 am, followed by a March to Victory Square Cenotaph.

Hereditary Chiefs, Bill Williams and Ian Campbell, of the Squamish Nation will be the opening speakers, followed by mayor Larry Campbell and several other city dignitaries.

At the Cenotaph, several members from BladeRunners, ConcordPacific Group Inc, Urban Native Youth Association, Turtle Island Professional Society, among others have organized equipment and shelter for Traditional as well as Veteran Ceremonies to commence lead us up to the one minute silence at 11:00 am. Followed by Laying of the Wreaths and Poppies, which will be honored by a song from the Red Blanket Singers drum group.

Then on to the “Honoring Our Veterans” Feast at the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Center where dinner has been provided through Potluck Café, Squamish Nation and the Tillilcum Restaurant.

This year marks the 60th Anniversary of the end of World War II, and it may prove to be more historic than that in raising awareness to the strength and integrity our First Nations War Heroes have stood in the face of adversity on the home front. From being paid on a scale of 40% less than the average Canadian Veteran, to coming home and finding no respect for themselves and for their families Aboriginal Canadian Veterans have persevered and survived.