The Tobacco Plains Band held their fourth annual Aboriginal Veteran’s Day on November 8, with a ceremony in the Pioneer Hall in Grasmere.
Families of veterans, members of the Ktunaxa Nation, and veterans from the VFW Tobacco Valley Post out of Eureka, Montana, all came out to pay tribute to the long list of Ktunaxa veterans who served for both Canada and the U.S.
“They chose to do something because they believed in this country even though they weren’t recognized as citizens,” said Kathryn Teneese. Her mother, grandfather and uncle are all veterans who served for Canada.
She says her grandfather enlisted in the military during the Second World War when he was over 40-years-old.
“He felt he was needed and he had something to offer,” she said, explaining that in recognizing veterans on Remembrance Day, it’s important to recognize Indigenous veterans as well.
Tom Phillipps, a life-long Grasmere resident and descendent of Michael Phillipps, a founding pioneer of the area says that his uncles had a different experience from their non-native counterparts after the war.
George and Frank Phillipps both served as pilots.
George served in the US Airforce during the Korean War and Frank served in the Canadian Airforce during the Second World War.
Their grandfather was Michael Phillipps, who married Rowena David, daughter of the Tobbacco Plains Chief. Both brothers had indigenous heritage, but under the Indian Act did not have status.
For many native veterans, their enlistment in the military put them in a difficult position.
“When they came home they were no longer native,” said Caroline Basil, a relative of Tom, who also had family who served.
“It was especially hard for aboriginal veterans,” said Basil. “A lot of our veterans never received pensions until the late 90’s.”
She said that when indigenous military personnel returned they were no longer considered native. This allowed individuals to vote, however, “Canada and Indian Affairs, they disenfranchised them.”
“Their first language in the home was Ktunaxa,” said Tom, explaining that because the government didn’t recognize them as Indigenous, they did not have to go to residential schools. “They were able to keep their culture because they were non-natives.”
Nov 8, 1994 was the first ever day of commemoration for aboriginal veterans.
“I didn’t realize we had that many veterans,” said Bob Luke, council for the Tobacco Plains Band. He handed out gifts to each of the veterans and families of veterans that attended the ceremony.
There was a slide show of photos to commemorate over a dozen who served in the First and Second World War, as well as those who served in recent years.
“That’s a long list proportionally, compared to how many Ktunaxa there are,” said Teneese. “Ktunaxa have always been a proud people, when asked, they responded.”