It is important to remember the efforts that Indigenous Peoples (First Nations, Métis and Inuit) made in Canada and on the battlefront in wartime. These efforts reinforced their ancestors' traditions of dedication and sacrifice.
Aboriginal-Canadians have demonstrated time and again their great service and sacrifice for our country through their participation in Canada's military, particularly during times of conflict. On each occasion, Canada's Aboriginal volunteers overcame cultural challenges and made impressive sacrifices and contributions to help our country in its efforts to restore world peace.
Thousands of Indigenous peoples served in the Canadian military forces in the First World War and Second World War; most were volunteers. On the home front, most Indigenous communities participated in the national war effort in diverse ways. The world wars were dramatic events for Indigenous peoples in Canada (see Indigenous Peoples and the First World War and Indigenous Peoples and the Second World War). Conflict offered these marginalized populations opportunities to renew warrior cultural traditions, reaffirm sacred treaties, prove their worth to indifferent non-Indigenous Canadians, break down social barriers and find good jobs.
Although they could not be conscripted, when World War II was declared, thousands of Indigenous Canadian men and women enlisted and fought alongside their non-Indigenous countrymen. Ironically, they fought for freedom for others while being denied equality in their own country. As a reward for fighting, the Canadian Soldier Veteran's Settlement Act allowed returning soldiers to buy land at a cheap price. However, many of the Indigenous soldiers were never offered nor told about the land entitlement. Some returned home to find the government had seized parts of their own reserve land to compensate non-Indigenous war veterans. Whole First Nations communities still mourn the loss of the thousands of acres of prime land they were forced to surrender. With narrator Gordon Tootoosis providing an historical overview, Indigenous veterans poignantly share their unforgettable war memories and their healing process. We join them as they travel back to Europe to perform a sacred circle for friends left behind, but not forgotten, in foreign grave sites.
Bravery and sacrifice define our new nation as war erupts across Europe. Canada, as a British Dominion, joins in the fight – a young country seeking to find its place on the world stage. It's not long before nearly half a million Canadians, including thousands of Indigenous soldiers, travel to Europe to serve beside their allies in the First World War. Features stories/events include: WWI First Nations sniper Francis Pegahmagabow, Battle of Vimy Ridge, Soldiers of the Soil, battlefield nurses, bush pilots. Important note for teachers: This series is intended to be used in conjunction with the Canada: The Story of Us teacher guide that includes activities and primers expanding on themes raised in the series. Warning: This program contains scenes that some viewers may find disturbing. Viewer discretion is advised.