Evidence of meeting #89 for Veterans Affairs in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was indigenous.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Wallace J. Bona  President, Aboriginal Veterans Society of Alberta
Phillip Ledoux  Vice-President, Prince Albert, Saskatchewan First Nation Veterans Association
Veronica Morin  As an Individual

11:50 a.m.

President, Aboriginal Veterans Society of Alberta

Wallace J. Bona

That goes back to the Jay Treaty, but if you look at the history of Canada and the territories—when I first moved out to Alberta I found it very interesting that there were a lot of Ojibwe from Ontario, and the story that was told to me was that as the settlers were moving west, the people were moving west also. Then there is north-south with the different groups of people where everybody is interrelated.

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Darrell Samson Liberal Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook, NS

We also heard that in one region the American government would strongly encourage—and there was even conscription. They were telling indigenous people to either become soldiers or go to jail. Did you hear any of those stories?

11:50 a.m.

President, Aboriginal Veterans Society of Alberta

Wallace J. Bona

I've never heard those stories. I do understand the history with the United States. They went to war. Canada's approach was different, very much so, but the bottom line was that they were trying to assimilate people into a new society.

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Darrell Samson Liberal Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook, NS

That's interesting.

We're throwing numbers around. Mr. Jeneroux—which is also a French Acadian name in case he wasn't aware.... I just thought I would share with him that that's the blood that is running through his veins. That being said, don't fear: one-third of Quebeckers are of Acadian descent.

My colleague Mr. Fraser spoke about education. In the school system we have a lot of work to do. Even I was not aware of such a number of indigenous people working and becoming soldiers and protecting our countries and allowing us to be free. Those are powerful numbers and—unless I missed something, and I've been in the system for 30 years—the history books don't align very well with that.

11:55 a.m.

President, Aboriginal Veterans Society of Alberta

Wallace J. Bona

No, they don't.

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Darrell Samson Liberal Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook, NS

Can you expand on how the educational system in Alberta is trying to implement some programs to support or to share those experiences?

11:55 a.m.

President, Aboriginal Veterans Society of Alberta

Wallace J. Bona

The meeting with the Minister of Education was to bring more military history into the school curriculum. I've been told that sometimes the parents don't want to learn about military history. What I'm hopeful for are the military museums in Calgary where there's a big push to include more history on aboriginal veterans and give them their due recognition in the spirit of reconciliation.

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Darrell Samson Liberal Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook, NS

I don't know if you had a chance, Mr. Bona, to go to the Canadian War Museum here. There's a good representation of the involvement of aboriginal peoples participating in the wars with Canadians.

11:55 a.m.

President, Aboriginal Veterans Society of Alberta

Wallace J. Bona

It's on my to-do list—probably tomorrow.

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Darrell Samson Liberal Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook, NS

I don't know how much time I have, but the next question is extremely important to help us with regard to benefits.

How aware are you of the benefits that have been implemented in the last two and a half years for veterans in general? You spoke of the educational one. There's the caregiver benefit. There are all kinds of benefits.

How aware are you and your organization, and how are you transferring or communicating that information to your people?

11:55 a.m.

President, Aboriginal Veterans Society of Alberta

Wallace J. Bona

Generally, it's a lot of members, I do know, who deal directly with Veterans Affairs. I do have another meeting after this with AVA to find out exactly how we can disseminate that information better.

In my case, it seems like there are more doors opening, but I don't know if they know that I identify with one of the indigenous groups. They're throwing my file back and forth, so I can't tell you, but I know that it has been a slow process.

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Darrell Samson Liberal Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook, NS

As a member of Parliament, I have to say that there's an investment of almost $10 billion, and I'm having trouble sharing all that. We need to work together to get that message out.

Thank you.

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Neil Ellis

Thank you.

Unfortunately, that ends our time today with you, Mr. Bona. On behalf of the committee, I would like to thank you for all that you've done and continue to do for veterans in this country. From the bottom of my heart, keep up all your good work.

Thank you.

11:55 a.m.

President, Aboriginal Veterans Society of Alberta

Wallace J. Bona

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Neil Ellis

We'll take a short break now to get our next panel in.

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Neil Ellis

We will get the second half of the meeting started.

For the second part, we would like to welcome Veronica Morin from Saskatchewan to the panel. Good afternoon. By video conference from Saskatchewan, Philip Ledoux, vice-president, Prince Albert branch, Saskatchewan First Nations Veteran's Association.

We will start with Mr. Ledoux for 10 minutes, and then we will go from there.

The floor is yours, Mr. Ledoux. Thank you for taking time out of your day to testify.

June 5th, 2018 / 12:05 p.m.

Phillip Ledoux Vice-President, Prince Albert, Saskatchewan First Nation Veterans Association

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

My name is Phillip Ledoux. I'm a member of the Saskatchewan First Nations Veteran's Association.

I have here a brief history and vision statement for the first nations veterans. Our vision is to bring equality to all our SFNVA members and to close the gap in the quality of life between first nations and non-first nations veterans and their families. The mandate given to us by our membership is to monitor and participate with first nations' leaders to bring positive change to the quality of life for first nations veterans and their families; redress historical wrongdoing; promote unity; address common concerns; develop a collective voice for first nations veterans and their families; preserve the history of first nations' contributions to Canada's safety and well-being; and promote the warrior ethic among first nations people, especially youth.

One of the historical promises was that first nations veterans agreed to serve when first nations were under no obligation to defend the crown. First nations veterans exceeded our original agreement and continue to exceed our agreement to this day, while the crown continues to ignore our service and sacrifice.

For example, first nations veterans were promised they would receive one half section of land and $2,300, while non-first nations veterans received one half section of land and $6,000. In exchange for our service, veterans were provided lands that were already spoken for within treaty, while non-first nations veterans received prime unencumbered lands.

The current situation is that despite the ongoing mistreatment of first nations veterans, we continue to serve our communities without the support of the crown. First nations veterans are called upon to provide a wide variety of community services, such as speaking engagements, honour guards, ceremonies, public engagements, reconciliation events, powwows, community events, to name only a few. We go when we are called even though in most cases it is at our own personal expense.

For many of us, these are our retirement years yet we cannot rest because there is so much work to do. Every year our numbers dwindle, and what will happen when we are no longer able to respond to the call?

The First Nations Veteran's Association submitted a proposal for support back in September 2017. Again, we have received no response from the crown. Because we are veterans and have lived through armed conflict, we see the wave of mental health needs facing our communities and a supportive response is required.

Mental health issues, specifically PTSD, remain a growing crisis not only for veterans, but first nations communities. The SFNVA is often called upon to provide mental health services, supports, and PTSD interventions, but we are entirely unfunded and the need is great. We need help and we call upon the government to honour the promises of the crown to provide support to meet the ever-growing needs of not only the veterans, but Saskatchewan first nations in addressing the crisis in mental health.

I would like to thank the standing committee for allowing me to speak about these critical issues.

Mr. Chairman, in December 2017 we submitted a proposal to Hon. Seamus O'Regan, Veterans Affairs Canada. It was a five-year projection for funding to support our veterans dealing with mental health, PTSD in its various forms. To date we have not even received a response. This is disheartening to us, but we continue our struggle.

Just this past year at the 100-year anniversary of Vimy Ridge, the Saskatchewan first nations veterans took it upon themselves to do a major fundraising. We were successful and we managed to send 20 first nations veterans to Vimy Ridge, for their 100-year anniversary, at our own expense. We never received five cents from the government. We raised approximately $190,000 to send 20 veterans for 10 days to the battlefields of Vimy. Ms. Veronica Morin, the lady sitting there, was a part of that group.

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Neil Ellis

Thank you for your testimony. I also want to mention that Mr. Ledoux is a member of the Mistawasis First Nation, where he currently resides. Vice-president Ledoux also served with the 2nd Battalion, Queen's Own Rifles of Canada. In April 1965, he went to Cyprus with the United Nations' forces. He has seen special duties in Beirut, Lebanon, and has travelled extensively in the Middle East. Veteran Ledoux left the armed forces in 1966.

We'll move to Ms. Morin from Saskatchewan. Ms. Morin is the widow of her late husband who served in the U.S. military. You have 10 minutes.

12:15 p.m.

Veronica Morin As an Individual

Good morning. My name is Veronica Morin. I would first like to thank you for the opportunity to allow me to speak on behalf of myself, my family, and other widows and families like mine.

Through the Jay Treaty and section 289 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, my late husband, Sergeant Darby Morin, became a U.S. Army soldier in 2004. He was killed in action on August 22, 2009 during his deployment in Afghanistan with the 10th Mountain Division out of Fort Drum, New York.

We have two sons together, one of whom was born on Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. I made the choice to move back home to Saskatchewan where we were from in order to have family support, because we had no family stateside.

I would like to acknowledge that I am aware of the differences between the U.S. and Canadian care support systems for military families, and based on my experience of having both countries work together in bringing my husband home to be buried on our reserve, I assumed the Canadian support would carry on after the funeral. Both countries' military personnel were in attendance, including political delegates like our former premier of Saskatchewan, Brad Wall.

During my transition between the countries, I quickly realized I was completely alone in my search for support. Nobody, including my family members, knew how to help me with my needs. Due to my U.S. income, I was unable to obtain affordable child care. During my short stay in Fort Drum after my husband's passing, I took advantage of the on-post free child care so I could have a little time for myself to grieve and deal with the loads of paperwork.

My children were three years old and 18 months at the time of their dad's passing. My oldest was a daddy's boy and had to deal with his memories of his dad, and the youngest currently deals with the lack of his memories of his dad. I didn't expect free child care in Saskatchewan when I moved home, but hoped for access to benefits the Canadian military might offer their widows and their dependants, so I tried to apply for a subsidy for daycare. Because of my non-Canadian income, I did not qualify for this. This was also an issue with trying to obtain financing for a reliable vehicle and loans.

I began to deal with suicidal thoughts from feeling like a hopeless case and the stresses of not having the time I needed to deal with my grief, my physical health, and my own well-being. These issues started a cycle of anxiety and bouts of depression. I was not only grieving the loss of my husband, but also the loss of our military lifestyle, our support, and my self-identity without my husband.

What my sons and I needed was support specifically for military loss and our transition to civilian life in another country. This is not always a welcoming country to us as aboriginal people, and my sons are always still talking about wishing they had a place like TAPS, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors stateside, where they could meet and relate with other kids who have had their parents pass away in the service as well.

I even went as far as reaching out to the Dundurn base and Hugh Cairns Armoury in Saskatoon for any support and inclusion they might have to offer us. The response I always got was that they were not able to help me because we were a U.S. military family, and I never met anyone who understood my explanation of why my husband was a Canadian native fighting for the U.S. forces and how that was even possible.

As an indigenous family, I always saw us as equal to U.S. and Canadian Armed Forces, and I had a hard time accepting that this was not the case.

My sons and I have had to deal with more than just our losses. I also found myself now having to try to explain racism and discrimination to my sons according to their age levels. I had never imagined that my six-year-old would come home from school telling me how he tried to colour his hands with a beige crayon so that he could look like all the other kids in his school.

At the same time, my older son was beginning to display signs of depression. He stopped wanting to talk about his dad with me, which hurt because he was the only one who had the same memories as I did of our family life. What hurt more was seeing him put his head down and try to avoid recognizing his dad's memory at the Remembrance Day ceremony at the schools. I always made sure that the schools had a wreath for indigenous vets. My son acted ashamed to even mention that his dad was a native vet.

My husband was a very proud native soldier and always made it known that he was representing our country in our community of Big River reserve and our first nations people. He would have been so upset with me if I didn't man up to make sure his sons didn't lose their native pride.

I've been trying to keep up with the information provided to our country through the Veterans Affairs website. I had even sent an email last spring inquiring about why the names and profiles of my husband and other widows' husbands weren't listed—for example, army reservist Corporal Derek Smallboy from the Big River First Nation and army Private Kyle Whitehead from Pelican Lake First Nation.

I had also inquired about the vetfit program as a healthy outlet to physically work out my grief. The email correspondence stated that they would get back to me in 90 days with an update of a new gym they would work with. This email was sent prior to January 2018, and I've recently inquired about it again only to be told that they still didn't have any updated information for me. I have personally tried and made an honest effort to seek help for myself and to try to help anyone else who was going through what I was going through in dealing with the military.

I spend a lot of time with the widow of the late Kyle Whitehead still, and the widow of the late Derek Smallboy is actually my aunt. They always come to me thinking that I have information for them, and I don't. All I have is the information that I have found for myself, which I don't even know where to look for, but I'm constantly still trying.

Even for mental health support, I have tried so many different counsellors to try to meet my specific needs with my military loss. Eventually, I found a counsellor who had made an offer to research support suitable to my family's needs. I'm happy to announce that my counsellor of five years, the past five years, has informed me that she is moving to a new position for a new mental health program starting this week offered to military vets dealing with PTSD and mental health issues.

I just want to let everyone know that I'm so thankful for having the opportunity to come here, because with the last nine years and everything that I have dealt with, I have personally made it my own endeavour to try to use my loss as a tool to bridge the racial gap. I grew up mostly on the reserve. I know what it's like to live in both worlds, and I'm very open-minded. I understand that a lot of non-native people, non-indigenous people, have a hard time trying to communicate this too. I get that; I understand that. I try to do the best I can to use this as a tool to open it up, to talk about things openly and forgivingly.

Again, thank you so much for this opportunity.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Neil Ellis

Thank you.

We're going to have to go to four-minute rounds here for timing.

We'll start with Mr. Kitchen.

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Gordon Kitchen Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Thanks to you both for your service.

My condolences to you and your family for your loss.

As we travelled across the country this past week, we learned an awful lot more about issues that have come about. Some of what we heard is similar to your story, Veronica. A lot of our first nations, it appears, both in the present and in the past, have crossed to the United States and served in the U.S. A question we've asked ourselves many times is “Why?”

I'm just wondering whether either of you could answer that for us. It would help me, at least, wrestle with understanding why that is.

Veronica, do you want to go first?

12:25 p.m.

As an Individual

Veronica Morin

Could you repeat the question?

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Gordon Kitchen Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

In your discussions with your husband, did he ever express to you why he chose to serve in the U.S. versus in Canada?

Phillip, could you add to that after Veronica, please?

12:25 p.m.

As an Individual

Veronica Morin

Well, my husband was always infatuated with the U.S. military because of their technology, their military weapons and vehicles, and just the whole idea of being able to travel and try different bases throughout the States. He was just generally ambitious—his personality.

I think what inspired him was 9/11. He talked about how he wanted to fight the war against terrorism in the States. Because Canada wasn't really on board the way the U.S. was at that time, it made him want to be recognized as a first nations soldier who went the extra mile to go fight in another country for our people and our country, as well, as an ally.

That's why he wanted to join the U.S.

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Gordon Kitchen Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Ledoux.

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