British Columbia

British Columbians mark war contributions of Indigenous men and women

November 8 is National Aboriginal Veterans Day across the country

Clare Hennig - CBC News

November 08, 2017

Veterans parade down the streets of Vancouver on Nov. 8 to mark National Aboriginal Veterans Day. (CBC News)

Veterans and other Vancouverites gathered at Victory Square on Wednesday morning in recognition of the thousands of Indigenous men and women who served in the military.

It was one of may National Aboriginal Veterans Day ceremonies that we held across the country and province.

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The Government of Canada estimates that 4,000 Indigenous people fought in the First World War and more than 3,000 in the Second World War.

Viviane Rose Sandy, one of the people who attended the memorial parade on Wednesday, holding a photograph of her great-uncle who fought in the Second World War. (CBC News)

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Tim Syrette joined the Canadian navy in 1965 as a 17-year-old Ojibway youth from Ontario.

After 40 years of service, he retired and now lives in Okanagan Falls, B.C., where he has helped organized events for National Aboriginal Veterans Day.  

"I wanted to let the Aboriginal children know what their fathers, grandfathers and great-uncles did in the war and how they made great sacrifices and how they were considered extremely good seamen, airmen and soldiers," Syrette told CBC host of North by Northwest Sheryl MacKay.

Tim Syrette was 17-years-old when he joined the navy in 1965. (Tim Syrette)

During his decades of service, Syrette worked across the world. He completed six tours with NATO forces and retired as a chief petty officer second class.

"The closest I came to combat is: we were in Portugal and they had a little uprising there," he said. "It was never publicised or anything but there were guns shooting and the tanks and all that. The next day, it was over but we had to leave port very quickly."

Syrette said he joined the navy as a troubled youngster and described how the experience shaped his life.

"I was getting in trouble because I thought I knew everything and then when I got to the Navy, they showed me that I didn't know everything," he said. "It was in my best interest to join the navy."

Aboriginal Veterans Day was first celebrated in Manitoba in 1994 and is now marked across the country on Nov. 8 each year. (CBC News)

After his service, he noticed that the contribution of Indigenous men and women often went unmentioned at Remembrance Day ceremonies, something he hopes will change.

Since 1994, National Aboriginal Veterans Day has been marked in Canada every year on Nov. 8.

To hear more from Tim Syrette, click on the audio link below:

Click to show more
Tim Syrette joined the navy in 1965 as a 17-year-old Ojibway youth from Ontario. After 40 years of service, he retired and now lives in Okanagan Falls where he has helped organized events for National Aboriginal Veterans Day in the past.  8:37

With files from North By Northwest

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