The Sacrifices and Achievements

The Six Nations-Mississauga War Memorial at Veterans' Park in Ohsweken, Ontario commemorates the reserve's war-dead and honours those who served and survived.

More than 200 Indigenous soldiers were killed or died from wounds during the Second World War. Indigenous people earned a minimum of 18 decorations for bravery in action.80 They participated in every major battle and campaign, including the disastrous Dieppe landings and the pivotal Normandy invasion. They also served in one of the worst imaginable theatres, Hong Kong, where just under 2,000 members of the Winnipeg Grenadiers and the Royal Rifles of Canada became prisoners of war of the Japanese. Included among them were at least 16 First Nations people and Métis, nine of whom died from wounds or illness.81

For many, the adjustment to army life had been jarring. One Veteran from British Columbia explains that the volunteers from his reserve, including himself and 10 brothers and cousins, expected military service would involve hard work. But most of their initial experiences were astonishing:

Some of them had never seen a railway train. Everything was new to them. The big ships carrying them over were new. They didn't know too much about Europe . . . all they knew was trapping.82

Indigenous soldiers returned to Canada with incredible memories and mixed emotions. Along with the horrors of war, they carried the pride and elation of having helped free captive peoples. Additionally, Indigenous participants came home with a taste of different lifestyles, particularly of Great Britain, where months, and in some cases years, had been spent training. Apparently this cultural exposure worked two ways:

Like their comrades, Canadian Indians in the forces experienced everything from British pubs to brussels sprouts to the Blitz. In both World Wars . . . Canadian Indians were often regarded with curiosity and fascination by the British public. As well as memories of Britain, some of those of Indian ancestry . . . brought home British war brides.83

Cpl. Huron Brant of Ontario's Bay of Quinte Band was decorated with the Military Medal in Italy in 1943. One year later, he was shot and killed during an attack near Rimini. Brant was one of the more than 200 Indigenous soldiers who gave their lives in the war. (Capt. Frank Royal / Department of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA - 130065)

As in the previous war, Indigenous peoples actively contributed to the war effort on the home front. In British Columbia, many First Nations members joined Pacific Ocean defence units, which patrolled and surveyed the coast for signs of Japanese invasion. Across the country, Indigenous men and women worked in war factories and increased agricultural production on their reserves. First Nations peoples also contributed some reserve lands, which were used for airports, rifle ranges and defence posts.

In the Yukon, members of the Vuntut Gwitchin Band (at the time known as the Old Crow Band) became pen pals with a group of English orphans. The correspondence began when the children wrote thank-you notes to the band for the money it sent following German air raids. The orphans also expressed their gratitude during a BBC radio broadcast.

In 1943, King George VI showed his appreciation for the leadership and loyalty demonstrated by four bands by awarding British Empire Medals to the chiefs of Ontario's Nicikousemenecaning Band (formerly called the Red Gut Band), British Columbia's Kitkatla Band, Manitoba's Norway House Band and the Vuntut Gwitchin Band.

Canada's Indigenous population donated their own money; raised additional funds by holding auctions, raffles, sports days and special dinners; and collected all manner of relief items. At war's end, the Indian Affairs Branch noted the donation of over $23,000 from Canadian First Nations bands plus additional, unknown amounts that had been sent directly to the Red Cross, the British War Victims Fund, the Salvation Army and similar charities, along with gifts of clothing and other items.

Once again, the efforts of Indigenous men and women at home and abroad had reinforced the traditions of sacrifice and achievement in wartime.

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