Indigenous

How the Gulf War brought this Blackfoot veteran back to his culture

Reflecting on the 30th anniversary of Operation Desert Storm, retired major Bob Crane doesn’t want Indigenous military contributions to the Gulf War to be forgotten.

Veteran Bob Crane is among over 4,000 Canadian Armed Forces members who served in the war

Bob Crane was gifted a warrior's headdress from his nation upon his return from the Gulf War. (Submitted by Bob Crane)

Reflecting on the 30th anniversary of Operation Desert Storm, retired major Bob Crane doesn't want Indigenous military contributions to the Gulf War to be forgotten.

Crane, a member of the Siksika Nation in Alberta, was among over 4,000 Canadian Armed Forces members who served in the Persian Gulf region between 1990 and 1991 as part of the international coalition led by the United States to drive invading forces of Iraq out of Kuwait. 

"It was the first time I'd actually been in a real shooting war," he said. 

"As you can well imagine, there's not a lot of time to worry about whether or not you're Aboriginal. You're worried that the man on your left and the man on your right can do their jobs. But when I got back, I realized that I wanted to know more about my culture."

Bob Crane, a member of the Siksika Nation in Alberta, was among over 4,000 Canadian Armed Forces members who served in the Gulf War. (Submitted by Bob Crane)

Now as a volunteer with the Memory Project, an initiative of Historica Canada, Crane often talks about the contributions of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit serving in many of Canada's wars, conflicts and peacekeeping missions. 

"I'm always proud to do so because I don't ever want to be forgotten that we are front and centre whenever Canada needs somebody to go overseas to defend our Canadian values," said Crane.

"I'm really proud to say that I've been part of the overall effort."

New video marks 30th anniversary

This week, he's one of four veterans to be featured in Canada and the Gulf War: In their own words, a new video released by the Memory Project to mark the 30th anniversary of Operation Desert Storm, which began on Jan. 17, 1991.

Bronwyn Graves, director of programs and education at Historica Canada, said the goal of the project is to arrange for veterans and Canadian Armed Forces members to share their stories of military service at school and community events across the country.

"The Gulf War is a part of Canada's history, and Canada's military history in particular, that I think is poorly understood, especially by younger generations," she said.

"We wanted to put together a video that would provide a good overview of the conflict for use in classrooms, but also to bring it to life by incorporating the stories of four of our veterans."

Remembering their service

For Crane, it's about keeping those experiences alive. He joined the military right out of high school in 1970, following in his father's footsteps as a Korean War veteran. He spent half of his early career in signals intelligence and electronic intelligence and then moved to a role as a commanding officer for numerous squadrons.

"You can't just let this history drift off and never have anybody else remember," he said.

"We Aboriginals were there for the Gulf War and it should not be a forgotten war. We were very lucky that nobody was killed; that doesn't happen very often so I'm glad to have come home in one piece."

Bob Crane is a volunteer with the Memory Project, an initiative of Historica Canada. (Submitted by Bob Crane)

Crane earned several decorations such as the Special Service Medal, the Canadian Peacekeeping Service Medal and the Aboriginal Veterans Medal but the biggest impact the Gulf War had on Crane was the desire to embrace his Blackfoot culture. 

He spent most of his childhood and teenage years in Newfoundland during a time where he felt people were not very tolerant of Indigenous people.

"My dad did not want my mom to teach us about our culture," he said.

"When I came back, I became very much involved in my culture and spent my remaining time in the military fully embracing it and never being afraid of self-identifying."

About the Author

Ka’nhehsí:io Deer is Kanien’kehá:ka journalist from Kahnawake, Que. She is currently a reporter with CBC Indigenous covering communities across Quebec. Email her at kanhehsiio.deer@cbc.ca or follow her on Twitter @Kanhehsiio.

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