And again and again. I will do that in a second.
This is an example of one of the huge issues that aboriginal and Métis veterans have faced from day one. I just told you who I am, what my family's position within my community is—was, I don't know what it is today—what my job is seen to be, and where I come from. That was in 11 words or less.
What I said was, “Hello, greetings, good morning”—however you want to do it. Some people say that's really lousy French, but it's not; it's Ojibwa. My name is Eagle Woman. I am of the Loon Clan. I am a warrior woman. My clan is the speaker clan for the people. We have two clans, the White Crane Clan and the Loon Clan, which are the two political clans, so to speak. White Crane are you guys. You're the White Cranes. You go out there and do all the fluffing and folding and all that. The Loon Clan are the speakers for the people. They come and say, “He won't listen to me.” Then I go and say, “Now listen here.”
That is the start of the problems and confusion that have always faced our people.
Now I'm not going to tell you the usual stories that I'm sure you've heard a million times. For those in French, I apologize, but my French is limited to oui and “escargot”, and none of those end up in this.
I will read you a little bit of a statement that I want to say to you.
It's the paradox of being a female aboriginal soldier—a huge paradox—and the things that are challenging to a woman going into the military. As aboriginal children, we're free to learn from our mother the Earth and the things that she provides for us. Sure, we're guided to the dangers and things that go on out there that are going to hurt us, but overall we run free—at least I did. I was kind of a wild child.
The rules and regulations that we had were very few. If somebody said your proper name, it was “oh”, and if they snapped their fingers, you stopped immediately. If they said, “drop”, you dropped immediately. You didn't ask; you got down. You knew you were safe. You would say, “Dad, what was that about?” You didn't ask before. You listened. You had rules.
As an aboriginal female, we were taught from a young age about our bodies and what to do with them and what not to do with them. It was not like today. We were taught what it was for and what was expected of us to do. We were respected for the gift that the Creator gave us, to be like our mother the Earth and to bring life. We were seen as gentle and strong creatures, and the protectors of life. We learned how precious our monthly—although annoying—visitor was, as it was the reason that we were here, to bring new life into the world. See? I told you. I'm a crier.
For me, deciding to become a soldier was easy, because I had always wanted to follow in my dad's footsteps. My plan, like all of us, was to graduate from high school, get a degree in nursing, join the army, and become jump qualified to become a flying nurse. Well, it didn't quite work out that way. I graduated. I went into nursing and was at the point where we selected our specialties. I had one that I wanted. I didn't get it, because the instructor's niece was in the class and she got it. I got mad and I walked out.
I went across the street to the Marine recruiter, but he was rude, so I left. I went to the air force and didn't like the uniforms. I ended up at the army recruiter, who just happened to be giving the entrance exam at that time, so I took the entrance exam. I passed it, missing one question. To this day, it bugs me that I missed that question. I knew the answer, but I gave the civilian definition.
Two weeks later, I was leaving my safe little community in northern Michigan to go to Detroit city. I was a little country bumpkin girl going to the big city of Detroit, where I remember walking across town, down back alleys, at 3 a.m. to the hotel. Yes, I was not the brightest bulb back then.
As I got into all of this—and really, before even entering into the service—I knew that there were rules and regulations, commands, and so on, but I didn't anticipate the abuse. Never did I anticipate the abuse.
I had long, dark hair that was cut off, because only Hawaiian natives could have their long hair. We poor Ojibwas were shorn like sheep. I have a picture to prove it. We were poked with needles, we were prodded. The abusive yelling in our faces was just unbelievable. Instead of giving a command, they.... You got spittle all over yourself. And the starched uniforms.... As kids we didn't wear clothes—shoes, maybe, but clothes were optional. Then you go into these uniforms, and they had to be such and they had to be so, and you had to have your bed made with no wrinkles—flip a quarter and make it pop.
This was all strange. I know, although not having experienced the Canadian Forces, that it's pretty much the same. There are rules and regulations and guys screaming. I believe they're called master sergeants. They just really like to scream at you. It's a very foreign world for an aboriginal person when you go into this all of a sudden.
During basic training and advanced training, you're taught what your job will be. Everyone is trained to shoot and to stab. For six, eight, 10, 12 weeks, your civilian self is removed and your military self is born. You have to learn a new language. You have to learn a walk. You have to learn to yield to the demands and the commands. You learn to sleep standing up, which I have done many times. You learn just how many potatoes are in a 45-kilogram bag, which I've seen many times.
You learn how to follow the most unreasonable of orders and you develop a thick callus on your tongue from biting it to keep from asking why or telling an officer just how wrong they are. The happy, innocent, carefree civilian who joined with the dreams of glory is replaced with a hardened military attitude of survival, with no glimmer of glory. You forget who you were and what your dreams had been, because you have now been brainwashed and have become a well-trained military killing machine.
Remember, in my civilian life I was an aboriginal woman who was raised to be a giver of life. I am now a killer of life, and I am expected to do this duty unflinchingly when I am told to pull that trigger.
I have to say that over the years, there are many wonderful things that you experience, as well as the truly heart-wrenching things that you must do or witness. It isn't all bad. You learn to accept the bad things and move on in your military self. By now, you have disconnected with the civilian female you were those 18 years before you entered basic. You can take a gun apart and reassemble it in the allotted time. I could drive just about anything they threw me in, except a tank—I never did figure those things out.
You learn to deal with your female visitor, surrounded by a group of men. You are afforded no privacy at that time, as you are a soldier, not a woman. You are made the brunt of jokes, and sometimes not even given a private place to make the needed item change. I sit here today in front of you and I say that this is still happening to today's Canadian Forces soldiers. I have been told time and time again by women who have come back.
When it's discharge time, there are no six, eight, 10, or 12 weeks to debrief and put back on your civilian self. It's a discharge: “Bye, see you later.” You are given a ticket home, a few dollars, and a handshake. Nope, nothing. “Good luck. Bye. Call if you need us.”
But you know what? You forget to give us a phone number that works. We're shown the gate and left to assess what life has for us, and more importantly, what life doesn't have for us.
Sure, you're excited to leave the chaos and you think things will be the same as when you left, but they aren't. The world isn't and you aren't, so you go into a type of shock, and that takes a few weeks or even years to come out of.
Support is hard to find, if it exists; and if it does, it is not culturally appropriate—and I emphasize that—whether you are first nation, Métis, or Inuit, or even close to anything traditional in scope. Those of the group who are standing in front of you or sitting in a chair next to you are book-taught, and even worse, their very appearance causes trauma. Ask me about that afterwards.
For those who served in World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, there was little or no support. Being an aboriginal soldier, there was even less, and for aboriginal female soldiers, there was even less than that. Many tried to drown the dogs of war in booze; some chose drugs, and some did their best to try to act normal in what was a non-normal world. Today's aboriginal soldiers face many of these same issues, because there are no culturally appropriate government-approved support services to be found.
You see, in your infinite wisdom of governing, you refuse to allow anyone who does not have a piece of paper from one of your recognized institutions to do support work. Anyone who is out there to help the soldiers must meet your standards, even if they have no idea what they are talking about when it comes to aboriginal spirituality and tradition, be it first nation, Métis, or Inuit.
How did I leave the dogs behind? To tell you the truth, I haven't totally. I've trained them. I tell them to go away and leave me alone. However, I did go to a lot of non-approved support that knew and respected my culture and traditions. I drove hundreds of miles to powwows, sweat lodges, and ceremonies until I could see myself once again as a civilian and not dive for cover at July 1 fireworks or the slamming of a door. I worked hard and took hold of my life, which is now nearing the twilight years, but don't let that fool you: there is a lot of fight left.
I hope that this small look through the eyes of a female aboriginal soldier will open your eyes and your minds to the unique needs of not only the aboriginal soldier, but to the very unique needs and issues of female soldiers, female aboriginal soldiers in particular.
Now this is where I'm going to cry. Thank you.
In closing, seeing that this current government is advocating reconciliation with aboriginal peoples, I would ask that this year they officially recognize November 8 as Aboriginal Veterans Day.
This year in Winnipeg, the only city in Canada to officially recognize November 8 as Aboriginal Veterans Day, we will have a 25th anniversary celebration. Next year, the province of Manitoba, the only province in Canada to recognize November 8 as Aboriginal Veterans Day, will celebrate the 25th anniversary.
Two years ago, Veterans Affairs Canada recognized November 8 as Aboriginal Veterans Day by publishing it on their website. Isn't it time for the full Canadian government to officially recognize this day?