Over 12,000 Indigenous people have served in the Canadian Armed Forces.

Members of Indigenous communities in Canada overcame many challenges to serve in uniform, whether it was learning a new language, adapting to cultural differences, or undertaking the lengthy travel from remote communities just to enlist. Some even risked losing their status to serve in the Canadian Armed Forces, as was the case with Second World War Veteran Francis Blankenship Nahumpchin.

Francis Blankenship Nahumpchin was a member of the Lower Nicola Indian Band, but later gave up his status to join the CAF. He came back from the war physically healthy, but suffering from PTSD.  Although he had been forced to give up his Indigenous status to serve in the military, at his return he was welcomed by the Band as one of their own. He died in 1978 and was buried under a simple wooden cross until the Last Post Fund, in collaboration with researcher Carol Holmes from the Upper Nicola Band, found his grave and installed a military headstone to mark it. To honour Francis’ Indigenous ancestry, his family included his traditional name, Nahumpchin on the inscription.

In keeping with the spirit of the ongoing Reconciliation process and to honour the legacy of Indigenous Veterans, the Last Post Fund launched the Indigenous Veterans Initiative (IVI) in March 2019 to help commemorate and honour those Indigenous Veterans who may have been forgotten.

The Last Post Fund is a charitable organization that has been ensuring dignified funeral and burial services as well as military gravestones to Veterans since 1909. Thanks to researcher Yann Castlenot’s list of over 12,000 names of Indigenous Veterans in Canada, the Last Post Fund already had a starting point for its Indigenous Veterans Initiative.

The Initiative relies on partnerships with community researchers to locate and identify unmarked Veterans’ graves. Once the Veteran’s identity is verified, the Last Post Fund then places a permanent headstone on the site. Additionally, the Indigenous Veterans Initiative offers to inscribe traditional names on existing headstones previously placed by the Last Post Fund.

In the program’s first year, 68 unmarked Indigenous Veterans’ graves were identified, and 36 headstones placed in locations across Canada. Families were given a choice of symbol for the headstone; many choose an eagle carving, or their Nation’s symbol, while some chose a Christian cross. The Indigenous Veterans Initiative also saw the inscriptions of traditional names from four distinct Indigenous language groups: Algonquin, Inuktitut, Interior Salishan, Saulteaux.

For example, in the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation in Québec, 6 military headstones were placed, and 7 traditional name inscriptions added to existing headstones of Anishinabeg Veterans of the Canadian Armed Forces. Among them was Ajawajawesi, known as Gabriel Commanda, one of the founders of the town of Val d’Or, Québec and a Veteran of the First World War. These headstones all feature an engraving of an eagle in place of the cross.

A special research project for Métis Veterans is currently underway in Alberta, spearheaded by researcher Bobbi Foulds, member of the Last Post Fund Alberta branch. Thanks to her efforts, a first headstone was installed in Lloydminster, a town bordering Alberta and Saskatchewan, for WW1 Métis Veteran George Loyie, and engraved with the Métis symbol.

If you are interested in getting involved as a researcher, or if you or a family member are a Veteran and you would like more information, you are invited to contact the Indigenous Veterans Initiative Program Coordinator, Maria Trujillo by email at mtrujillo@lastpost.ca or by phone: 1-800-465-7113 ext: 222.