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Fighting for Canadian's Rights & Losing Indian Status

Tansi Nîtôtemtik,

Today’s post is about enfranchisement, and how many Indigenous veterans lost their Indian status after serving in the Canadian Armed Forces.

Enfranchisement is a legal process used to take away an Indigenous person’s Indian status. [1] First Nations people would be enfranchised and lose their Indian status for a number of reasons. Some of the events that would lead to enfranchisement included going to university, being away from their reserve for a certain time, or serving in the military. [2]

The Canadian government used enfranchisement as a legal tool for assimilation. [3] The government came up with legal rules that made it easier to assimilate Indigenous peoples into mainstream Canadian society, and to end its legal and financial obligations to them. The Canadian government utilized enfranchisement to rid Indigenous peoples of their cultures and legacy, and there were many negative effects.

Indigenous veterans risked their lives to fight for the rights and freedoms of Canadians, many of which they were not privy to themselves. For example, they were not considered citizens and did not have the right to vote. Some Indigenous soldiers then returned home to be stripped of their Indian status. This meant that they were no longer legally recognized as “Indians,” and their associated rights were taken away. They could no longer pass down status, and the rights that accompany status, to their children. [4] Many of their ties to their community and ancestry were severed because of the forced enfranchisement.

Often, veterans who lost their status “were further separated from their communities physically, geographically, socially, spiritually, psychologically, and emotionally.” [5] Some Indigenous soldiers would return from the war and be told that they had lost their status because they had been away from the reserve for too long while serving. [6]

Another injustice that Indigenous veterans faced after serving in the military, was the denial of the benefits that non-Indigenous veterans received. For example, after the First World War, Indigenous veterans were denied benefits under the War Veterans Allowance Act, and were given unequal access to support from the Last Post Fund. [7] Indigenous veterans could also return home to find that their land had been expropriated (taken away) by the government, to be given to non-Indigenous veterans. [8]

It was not until the early 2000s that the Canadian government began to give First Nations veterans the veterans’ benefits that had been previously denied. [9] Métis veterans have still not received the benefits they were denied. [10]

The legacy of enfranchisement in Canada survives still. It was used to assimilate Indigenous peoples by taking away rights, splitting up communities, and stopping the passage of Indian status from parent to child. This week, with both Indigenous Veteran’s Day and Remembrance Day, I hope we will all take the time to mourn the Indigenous and non-Indigenous veterans who gave their lives for our freedoms, and to reflect on the freedoms that so many Indigenous peoples are still fighting for today.

Until next time,

Team Reconcili-ACTION YEG

[1] Karrmen Crey, “Enfranchisement” (2009), online: <https://indigenousfoundations.web.arts.ubc.ca/enfranchisement/>.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Karrmen Crey & Erin Hanson, “Indian Status” (2009), online: <https://indigenousfoundations.arts.ubc.ca/indian_status/>.

[5] Ibid.

[6] “Inequality for Indigenous veterans” (20 November 2020), online: Toronto Star <https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2020/11/20/inequality-for-indigenous-veterans.html>.

[7] Ibid; “Indigenous Veterans: Equals on the Battlefields, but Not at Home” (9 November 2021), online: Indigenous Corporate Training Inc. <https://www.ictinc.ca/blog/indigenous-veterans>.

[8] “Honouring Indigenous Veterans Day” (2022), online: Right to Play <https://www.righttoplay.ca/en-ca/national-offices/national-office-canada/whats-new/honouring-indigenous-veterans-this-national-aboriginal-veterans-day/>.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

Photo credit: https://www.reddit.com/r/IndianCountry/comments/qpnel7/national_indigenous_veterans_day_and_remembrance/

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