The National Aboriginal Veterans monument in Ottawa honours the contributions of Canadian Indigenous people who have served in the military. Photo from Wikipedia

Toronto board to mark Indigenous Veterans Day

  • November 3, 2021

The Toronto Catholic District School Board is opening the eyes of its students to Indigenous veterans and their role in Canada’s past war efforts.

It’s part of the board’s efforts to make ceremonies surrounding Remembrance Day more inclusive.

Everton Lewis, the TCDSB community relations officer of equity, community relations and Indigenous education, will be leading the charge as the board celebrates National Indigenous Veterans Day Nov. 8. 

“We’re working on inclusion, trying to help students see themselves reflected in the curriculum,” said Lewis.

It follows on last year’s ceremonies where Remembrance Day was viewed through an Afrocentric lens.

“We looked at Canadian Blacks who fought in the wars from 1812 to the present time,” said Lewis. “We looked at their experiences of systemic racism, not being wanted in the military.”

This year, the emphasis is offering Remembrance Day multimedia content and curriculum resources that specifically commemorates First Nations, Inuit and Métis contributions.

A booklet of resources has been devised that will help teachers formulate lessons for different grade levels.

Constructing a National Indigenous Veterans Day display is one of the activities encouraged by the TCDSB officials who devised the document. These displays could profile certain figures, key events, illustrate specific achievements or make more of a symbolic statement.

Another recommendation is for schools to devote a portion of school announcements or classroom time for a student to share factual tidbits or stories documenting the contributions of Indigenous veterans.

Lewis says he is delighted that Indigenous Veterans Day could be studied within social studies and history classes.

“You can take Indigenous Veterans Day and add it to your curriculum. This is what I’m talking about, students seeing themselves through the curriculum. It can take on a different lens — it can take off the Eurocentric lens and put on, say, an Indigenous lens in this case,” he said.

Lewis will be front and centre in the virtual presentation component of Indigenous Veterans Day activities. On Nov. 8, he will host a 90-minute webinar with guests including:

  • Wendy Agnew, Senior Indigenous Justice of the Peace for the Ontario Court of Justice;
  • Eric Brunt, a filmmaker who has documented veterans;
  • Kathy Grant, Canadian military historian who focuses on the challenges experienced by marginalized groups;
  • Robert Thibeau, president of the Aboriginal Veterans Autochtones; and
  • Major Catherine Askew of the Canadian Armed Forces.

The  webinar has two aims. The first is to “critically explore the significant contributions that Indigenous peoples have made to the wellbeing of Canada and Canadians through their military service from the point of contact to present.” The second is to “interrogate the historical roots of systemic racism and particularly anti-Indigenous racism in Canada’s military and society.”

Lewis said said teachers have beem expressing enthusiasm Indigenous Veterans Day activities.

“I am getting good, exciting feedback from staff,” he said. “They are excited for the webinar and the discussions going forward. The level of participation will be hard to gauge.”

The program does not displace Remembrance Day commemorations which will be marked as usual on Nov. 11.

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