On National Aboriginal Veterans Day, a petty officer was awarded the Aboriginal Veteran Millennium Medal at CFB Esquimalt.
Over his career with the Canadian Navy, Petty Officer First Class Stephen Morrison’s received many medals, but Lt. Col. Catherine Askew, Formation Chaplain, says this one is special.
“This particular award is given to Indigenous members of the Canadian Forces who have really exemplified what it is to be both a CAF member, and an Indigenous person living that life with integrity,” says Askew.
The Aboriginal Veteran Millennium Medal was created in 2001 to recognize men and women who risked their lives for Canadians.
Morrison said the award is significant because it recognizes the sacrifices of so many.
“It’s not just for me. It goes back to my great aunts, and uncle, who as residential school survivors, stepped forward and volunteered for World War Two,” Morrison said.
In Vancouver, members from Metis Nation British Columbia, and First Nations in B.C. gathered to honour Indigenous veterans, including veteran Kelvin Bee.
“For me to come out today I just thought it would be really great to recognize my dad, and my older siblings who served in the military,” Bee said. “As well as seeing some of my colleagues who served in the military.”
Indigenous service members returning from war often faced racism and disrespect from those they fought to protect, and lost their status when they joined the service.
In Yellowknife, Floyd Powder walks to the gravesite of World War Two Metis veteran Augustin Beaulieau whose final resting place is now marked with a military headstone.
Beaulieu fought with the Scottish Regiment in World War Two.
Thanks to a federal program called the Last Post Fund, Powder identifies unidentified Indigenous grave sites.
“Where Augustine is buried he was unmarked. there’s a whole section in that middle plot over there that are unmarked,” Powder said.
As part of Canada’s reconciliation process, the Last Post Fund works with families to arrange for a military headstone to commemorate their service.
Powder knows more research needs to be done, and more graves to be restored, unmarked for now.
-With files from CBC