For indigenous First World War volunteers, their lives weren’t the only thing they risked losing
Remembrance Day is about honouring sacrifice, but for First Nation soldiers who took part in the First and Second World Wars, that sacrifice went above and beyond the battlefield.
As First Nations and Metis veterans gathered for the annual Indigenous Remembrance Day Service at the Allan Bird Memorial Centre on Wednesday, many were remembering that the cost of fighting for your country often involved more than risking your life.
During the First World War, First Nations soldiers were exempt from joining the army because they were not considered Canadian citizens, and could not vote.
Despite these restrictions, an estimated 4,000 First Nations soldiers volunteered to serve in the Canadian army, but it came at the cost of their treaty status. The practice was known as “enfranchisement” and it still stirs emotions, even today.
“I think it’s a shame when they had to be enfranchised to join the armed forces,” Saskatchewan First Nations Veteran Association Grand Chief Steven Ross said. “If they have a degree of some kind, if they’re advanced, they had to enfranchise them before they were accepted into the armed forces, and I question why.”
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