Westbank First Nation veterans were honoured Wednesday as part of National Aboriginal Veterans Day.
The veterans fought alongside both Canadian and American troops, according to WFN Coun. Brian Eli but also faced hardship on their return to Canada in the form of continued racism, despite their service.
Helmets with crossed Canadian and American flags are part of the veterans’ monument that sits outside of the WFN Health and Wellness Centre.
This is the fourth year the WFN has honoured veterans on National Aboriginal Veterans Day.
“This is to really put a staple, and recognize our aboriginal veterans, our WFN members that have served and the whole scope of Canada,” said WFN Coun. Tom Konek, adding the WFN will also respect Remembrance Day this Saturday.
Konek opened the ceremony, before an opening prayer and the unveiling of the names of WFN aboriginal veterans.
Konek’s name was unveiled as one of 18 WFN veterans, names inscribed on a plaque beside the veterans monument outside of the WFN Health and Wellness Centre. He served in the American air force from 2001 to 2005.
During the ceremony, Sensisyusten students sang a traditional Okanagan Song.
Konek said getting the students to be involved allows them to appreciate, understand and to “kind of never forget” the events of the past.
“In our teachings, we’re always thinking seven generations ahead, and this youth component is so critical because they are our future leaders,” he said.
National chief Robert Bertrand of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples said aboriginal veterans need to be recognized alongside their counterparts.
“As this year also marks the 150th anniversary of Confederation, it is vital that Canadians continue to recognize the prevalent forms of racism that Indigenous soldiers faced on their arrival back in Canada after surviving the horrors of the Great War,” he said.
“As such, the process of true reconciliation between Canada and Indigenous people should include the continued recognition of the contributions of First Nations, Métis and Inuit veterans in defending the teachings and values that we as a people believe in so that we may protect and preserve our languages, cultures and rights.”