By Lloyd Dolha
The Saskatchewan First Nations Veterans Association (SFNVA) has lauched the First Nations Veterans Speakers Bureau, designed to meet the high demand for speakers at school functions and other events. “We want to tell people our version of what happened to First Nations veterans after the war and about the many First Nations men and woman who offered their lives to this nation,” said 68-year-old Phillip Ledoux, vice-president of the SFNVA Prince Albert branch.
First Nations people were exempt from service in the armed forces through historical treaties, but many volunteered. In World War II, some 443 Sakatchewan First Nations members volunteered for service, and there are approximately 350 surviving veterans. The SFNVA feels that Canadian children especially are being robbed of an important part of Candian history, and the Speakers Bureau will help raise awareness of the contribution First Nations people have made to Canada’s freedom and democracy.
With Remembrance Day just around the corner, the SFNVA is urging interested parties to book their services as soon as possible. Reta Guilbault, director of the SFNVA, is excited that the new Speaker’s Bureau has already booked engagements for its sixteen veteran speakers to address over 2,000 children in the next eight weeks. Phillip Ledoux, who served from 1963 to 1966 with the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada on United Nations peacekeeping tours in Cypress and Lebanon, expects a heavy workload through November 11th.
First Nations veterans have been advocating against discrimination in the disbursement of veterans benefits since the end of World War II, and the SFNVA has been working to ensure that veterans and their families recieve full benefits and entitlements. The SFNVA has sought compensation through the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, the Human Rights Commission, and the National Roundtable.
Despite over 25 years of consistant efforts to have their issues addressed, Saskatchewan First Nations veterans have yet to recieve even an apology. “We need more people to be aware of these issues and that’s what we’re attempting to do,” said Ledoux. “The wars might be over, but the battles continue because we are not equipped to deal with bureaucracy.”