They come from First Nations communities across Canada, and on Indigenous Veterans Day, November 8, Canadians will have the opportunity to honor their unique contributions and bravery.
Veterans like Francine Young say their military service gave them the opportunity to improve the world.
“Being part of a larger military community makes you feel like you’ve contributed and that you’re willing to sacrifice everything you’ve ever known to try to make the world a little better for future generations,” said Young, 40, of Bilijk, Kingsclear. First Nation, about 13 kilometers west of Fredericton, NB
The Wolastoqey woman, who volunteered in the U.S. Army in 2003, was deployed to Afghanistan in 2007 with the 664 Ordnance Company, where she worked as an entry control point inspector. In 2008, she deployed to Iraq with the 639 Quartermaster Company.
Enduring mortar fire and scorching sandstorms with his team in Afghanistan built lasting bonds, he said: “You’re literally trusting your life to someone else.”
Young people hope Canadians will honor Indigenous Veterans Day just as they do Remembrance Day on November 11. The special day to honor indigenous soldiers began in 1994.
In an email statement, Veterans Affairs Canada says that despite their long service, many First Nations, Métis and Inuit veterans faced racism and systemic barriers upon their return to civilian life.
To address those concerns, Veterans Affairs this year signed a letter of understanding with the Assembly of First Nations to direct Indigenous veterans to available resources.
“We will continue to support and recognize First Nations, Métis and Inuit veterans, and contribute to reconciliation,” spokesperson Sable Frey wrote in an email.
Young, who retired from the military in 2010, now works as a court support worker, helping community members navigate the court system. She credits his military service with building her confidence.
“It takes you out of who you used to be and then rebuilds you, so you can come out and not be afraid to speak up,” Young said.
She says she enlisted in the U.S. Army because her community and family have a long tradition of serving in both Canada and the United States, and the military offered her the opportunity to travel.
Debbie Eisan, honorary captain of HMCS Margaret Brooke, served 36 years in the Royal Canadian Navy.
“As an Indigenous people, we honor our veterans every time we come together,” said Eisan, of the Batchewana First Nation, near Sault Ste. Marie. Mary, Ontario.
Eisan, who spent seven months aboard the HMCS Iroquois in the Arabian Sea shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States, hopes Indigenous women veterans receive the same respect as their male counterparts.
“There are a lot of women veterans who don’t get the recognition they deserve,” Eisan said.
Sam Sutherland, a Mi’kmaw veteran who volunteered with the Ukrainian Army’s 72nd Mechanized Brigade, grew up in foster care off the reservation.
He spent four years learning surveillance skills with the Royal Canadian Dragoons based in Petawawa, Ontario, but left the military because he felt he was not mature enough.
That changed when Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022 and began separating families. He enlisted in the Ukrainian forces and served on the front lines helping war-torn families stay together.
“We need to love each other a lot more instead of fighting each other and, unfortunately, everything that has happened in the last five years has divided people more and more,” Sutherland said.
He lost friends in Ukraine, but while he is back in Canada he says he will spend just as much time with his three children.
“One thing I learned is that you don’t know how long you’re going to be here, so you might as well make a big impact,” he said.