lest we forget

Our Indigenous brothers and sisters fought for our freedom

It is time to remember and honour the Indigenous men and women who fought for this country in the two world wars. By some counts, the men numbered over 7,000. There is a more precise count for the women: 72.

Tommy Prince

These folks fought bravely, side by side with other Canadians and many were decorated for their contributions. Manitobans all know about the hero, Sergeant Tommy Prince, the great, great grandson of Chief Peguis. Tommy became the most decorated Indigenous person in Canada. He also volunteered for the Korean War.

He was not alone in his heroism. This from Wikipedia:

Prince was summoned to Buckingham Palace on February 12, 1945, where King George VI presented him with his Military Medal. Prince would later receive his Silver Star from US Gen. Koening (on behalf of the American President on April 24, 1945; he was one of 59 Canadians to receive this award during the war, and one of only three to receive the Silver Star and Military Medal. In all, Tommy Prince was decorated nine times, the most of any aboriginal soldier in the war. The war in Europe ended while he was in England.

For his service in Korea, where he served with distinction in spite of badly arthritic knees, Tommy Prince was awarded the Korea Medal, the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal and the United Nations Service Medal. 

Tommy Prince memorial in Kildonan Park.

Sadly, after his discharge for the second time, Tommy’s life took a downward turn and to our everlasting shame, he ended his days, destitute, in a Salvation Army hostel. He is buried at Brookside Cemetery and there is a memorial to him at Kildonan Park close to the monument for his great, great grandfather.

Since his death, a number of honors have been bestowed on his name, including a Winnipeg street named after him. A school and several military establishments bear the name Tommy Prince, and Historica Canada produced a Heritage Minute on him.

This year, a contingent of Indigenous folks from Manitoba First nations, including Paul Gauthier, Kevin Chief, Leslie Williams, Wayne Ruby and Damion Green travelled to Normandy, France to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day. The Manitoba drummer group, Warrior Eagle, performed the Honour Song at the ceremonies.

Let us not forget the sacrifices of these brave men and women, many of whom had to fight to be accepted as volunteers in the war effort because of racist policies of the day. We must also bow our heads in shame and acknowledge that they were not accorded the same respect and benefits of other veterans when they came home.

Thank you for your sacrifices.