Politics

Ignored for years, Indigenous veteran finally asked to lay Remembrance Day wreath at legion

For years Scott Norton asked Royal Canadian Legions to allow him and other Indigenous veterans to participate in Remembrance Day ceremonies. But each time, his requests were met with silence.

Role of Indigenous veterans was officially recognized in 1995, but full inclusion has taken longer

Scott Norton was a reservist in the Canadian Armed Forces for seven years. (Paul Smith/CBC)

For years, Scott Norton asked Royal Canadian Legions to allow him and other Indigenous veterans to participate in Remembrance Day ceremonies.

But each time, his requests were met with silence.

"It was really frustrating," said Norton, who served as a reservist in the Canadian Armed Forces for seven years. 

"The way I looked at it was: I trained with all these brothers and sisters, I stood beside them and was part of something with them. On Remembrance Days, I could be part of the ceremonies, but there was no acknowledgement of the Indigenous contingency that served in the Armed Forces."

Indigenous veterans were excluded from laying wreaths during Remembrance Day events until 1995, when that changed during a ceremony at the National War Memorial in Ottawa. 

Their wider involvement in Remembrance Day events across the country has taken longer.

Tired of chasing down an answer, Norton didn't bother reaching out to any legions this year. This time, the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 532 in New Hamburg, Ont., approached him.

Veteran Scott Norton will lay a wreath made my Indigenous youth during the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 532's Remembrance Day ceremony. It's the first time an Indigenous veteran has been invited to participate at this legion's event. (Angie Hallman/Supplied)

Now Norton will lay a wreath created by Indigenous youth at this morning's ceremony for the first time in Legion Branch 532's history. 

"I'm humbled," Norton said. "It's, I guess, a sense of pride being able to stand beside those who we trained with, those who we served with instead of being segregated."

'The first of many'

Norton was invited by legion member Angie Hallman, who wanted to address the exclusion of Indigenous veterans after a year of reckoning on truth and reconciliation. 

The discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves near former residential school sites and the inequities faced by Indigenous veterans, who weren't given the same financial benefits or supports when they returned home from service, compelled Hallman to act. 

"I'm filled with so much hope that this is forward, this is the first of many," Hallman said.

"For me, walking side by side, as a settler, as a Canadian, with the indigenous people is something that I see as a path forward [to] reconciliation."

Scott Norton will be joined by his son Cruz Calma, who is following in his dad's footsteps as a reservist, at today's Remembrance Day ceremony. (Scott Norton/Supplied)

Norton sees this too as a part of the truth and reconciliation process — a small piece that he hopes will grow bigger and one that other legions will follow. 

"We need to be inclusive rather than segregating," Norton said. "I look forward to being part of this from this day forward."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Olivia Stefanovich

Senior reporter

Olivia Stefanovich is a senior reporter for CBC's Parliamentary Bureau based in Ottawa. She previously worked in Toronto, Saskatchewan and northern Ontario. Connect with her on Twitter at @CBCOlivia. Story tips welcome: olivia.stefanovich@cbc.ca.

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