As we continue to navigate this brave new world of acknowledging and atoning for Canadian history for what it really is, one of the latest of many oversights, errors and omissions to recently come to the fore is the decades-long neglect of Canada’s Métis war veterans.
In September 2019 it was reported in the Times Colonist that Métis veterans had at last been recognized for their contributions during the Second World War and for the discrimination they suffered upon their return home.
The momentous event, held at the National Indigenous War Memorial in Ottawa, included a formal apology from the federal government and the promise of compensation — a full 18 years after these concessions were made to First Nations veterans. Those present were reminded that it had taken all of 75 years to attempt to make amends and it came too late for most of the veterans who’d died.
The previous March, the Liberal government had set aside $30 million in the federal budget to “provide compensation to Métis veterans treated unfairly, and to commemorate their contributions”.
Two of the surviving veterans were there for the occasion, held in sub-zero temperatures. Both 94, George Ricard and Guy Lafreniere were handed $20,000 cheques as part of the agreement between the government and the Métis nation.
Speaking for his father who’d enlisted at the age of 17, Jim Ricard said, “He was never recognized” for his service as an aircraftsman during the war or for his two years in reconstruction work in war-devastated Germany.
“I think it’s fantastic that they finally did something,” said Jim Ricard.
More recently, this past June, the Métis National Council announced the launch of the Métis Veterans Legacy Program. “Our nation has waited 75 years for this. [Canada’s apology] to our veterans has resonated throughout the Métis homeland with reverence,” said MNC Veterans Minister David Chartrand who led efforts over two decades to seek justice for the Métis veterans who served in the Second World War.
“Those we have lost during our struggle for recognition can finally rest in peace knowing they have been recognized and honoured for their contributions and sacrifice…”
The two objectives of the MNV Legacy Program are to recognize, through individual recognition payments, Second World War Métis veterans’ pre- and postwar “experiences that may have negatively impacted their demobilization success,” and to support commemorative initiatives through the Commemoration Program that promote “awareness and appreciation of our Métis Veterans’ sacrifices and contributions throughout the Métis Nation and all of Canada”.
Phase 1 of the program is to identify those Second World War veterans still living. As of March just 23 Métis veterans had been presented with their $20,000 recognition payments, along with an apology from the Government of Canada, a ceremonial Métis Sash and a hand-beaded traditional Métis broach. Efforts were underway to identify and to indemnify all other Second World War Métis veterans. As for those veterans who’d died during the decades of negotiation without settlement, Phase II of the program was to monetarily compensate deceased veterans’ spouses and common-law partners. In the event of their having died, too, their children were eligible for equal shares of the $20,000 although this is restricted to the survivors of veterans who died since the settlement in January 2016.
Back to Minister Chartrand: “Our Métis veterans who have passed would want to take care of their families and ensure their future and prosperity. Phase II of the MCLP will accomplish this and help the families of our veterans heal, and take comfort knowing their loved one is being honoured as a Hero of this country.”
A third phase was to be launched this past August; the Commemoration Program is meant to keep the veterans’ legacy alive by “promoting awareness and appreciation amongst Métis and the Canadian public of their achievements and sacrifices for generations to come” and to support the work that Métis communities have traditionally undertaken to honour veterans with the erection of monuments and ceremonies and to undertake new initiatives.
Last April, the MNC launched a new Métis veterans online portal (www.metisveterans.ca) to “support efforts to recognize veterans and promote commemoration of their immense contributions and sacrifices”. Métis veterans can also use this portal to apply for the recognition payment.
(Unfortunately, the exact number of Métis recruits during the Second World War is not recorded.)
All, one could argue, so little and so late but better that than nothing at all.
The MNC represent the Métis Nation in Canada at the national and international levels. It’s likely that few readers realize that the Métis Nation’s homeland includes the three Prairie provinces and extends into the contiguous parts of British Columbia, Ontario, the Northwest Territories and the United States.
At present, almost 600,000 Métis Nation citizens of Canada comprise roughly a quarter of all Aboriginal peoples in the country.