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Aboriginal Veterans

Approximately 1,000 Saskatchewan Aboriginal people enlisted in World War II. Reasons for enlisting in the war service vary but included financial circumstances, patriotism, the lure of adventure, and the influence of friends and family.

Although the returning Aboriginal veterans had learned military skills, these skills were not transferable to civilian employment. Many veterans returned to the same semi-skilled and unskilled jobs they had had prior to the war and to the same living conditions. Some communities welcomed their veterans back with celebrations; other communities did little. Status Indian veterans were denied equal access to veterans’ benefits. Other veterans who obtained benefits experienced animosity from some community members who felt veterans received special treatment. For a number of reasons, many veterans left their home communities. Some found life at home slow and uneventful and saw better opportunities elsewhere.

In the immediate post-war period Aboriginal veterans, as a group, were not actively involved in the political fight for Indian rights, but their presence represented a symbol of the “progressive Indian” towards which the Canadian public was sympathetic. The veterans were, for the most part, politically inexperienced young men attempting to readjust to civilian life. As they matured, however, they assumed greater responsibilities for themselves, their families and their communities. At the beginning of the 1950s, veterans were generally still unsettled, but by the end of the decade, many were in positions of influence. The more socially and economically mobile they were, the more socially and politically active they became. All the Chiefs of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians during the 1960s, for example, were veterans. Veterans played significant roles in the emerging urban organizations, such as the Regina Friendship Centre. Today, Saskatchewan Aboriginal veterans’ sacrifice and service in the armed forces are a source of pride to the Aboriginal community in Saskatchewan.

Robert Innes

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Further Reading

Robert Alexander Innes. 2000. “The Socio-Political Influence of the Second World War Saskatchewan Aboriginal Veterans, 1945–1960.” Masters Thesis, University of Saskatchewan.
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