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'They gave up so much': Winnipeg honours Indigenous veterans

A ceremony commemorated the 20th annual Aboriginal Veterans Day on Wednesday.

Veterans and their families take part in a ceremony marking Aboriginal Veterans Day at the Aboriginal Community Campus in Winnipeg.

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Shannon VanRaes / For Metro

Veterans and their families take part in a ceremony marking Aboriginal Veterans Day at the Aboriginal Community Campus in Winnipeg.

The son of Canada’s most decorated Indigenous veteran says it’s time to shine a light on the unsung heroes.

“My father would always praise his men, he wouldn’t take the glory,” said Tommy Prince Jr.

His father, Sgt. Tommy Prince, earned 11 medals serving in two wars.

A plaque with Prince Sr.’s face was perched on the Aboriginal Veterans Day memorial at Neeginan Learning Centre on Wednesday.

“I’m here to pay respect to my father and every veteran that has fought and the ones that are fighting today,” said Prince Jr., 62. “These men and women…they gave up so much and get so little in return.”

An estimated 12,000 Indigenous people served in the First and Second World Wars and the Korean War.

To honour them, about 200 people gathered for Wednesday’s ceremony—its 20th annual event—according to Marileen Bartlett, executive director of the Centre for Aboriginal Human Resource Development.

“They (Indigenous veterans) felt they were getting lost in the big veterans ceremonies,” said Bartlett. “We thought we should do something special.”

The student-organized ceremony started out “very small,” but Bartlett said she’s noticed a higher turn out from veterans and the public over the years.

Canadians have celebrated Aboriginal Veterans Day since 1994 but it’s not officially recognized by the federal government.

However, the assistant deputy minister at Veterans Affairs Canada, Michel Doiron, did attend this year’s event.

It was the first time a federal representative attended an Aboriginal Veterans Day ceremony in Winnipeg, according to Morgan Bailey, who said she can only speak to records from the past four years she’s worked as manager of media relations for Veterans Affairs Canada.

Official recognition is one goal, but there are other marks of progress under what Damon Johnston calls “the bigger umbrella of reconciliation.”

The president of the Aboriginal Council of Winnipeg (ACW) took the podium Wednesday to talk about an upcoming memorial featuring the names of Indigenous veterans, many which were just recently uncovered through research.

“We have 700 name plates now—before we had 300,” said Johnston.

The memorial will be part of a $1.2-million development at The Forks tailored to Indigenous culture and recreation.

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