A member of the Liard First Nation is calling out the Yukon government for failing to acknowledge Aboriginal Veterans Day on Nov. 8.
Melody Janz told the Star she was following the government’s activities through the media last week. She saw no evidence that the Yukon Liberals nor any other MLAs had publicly recognized the significance of the day for the territory’s First Nations.
First observed in 1994, Aboriginal Veterans Day is a day of remembrance recognized by the Government of Canada on its Veterans Affairs website.
Federal cabinet ministers issued a joint statement last Wednesday to mark the day. They honoured “the contributions and sacrifices that Indigenous peoples have made while serving in uniform.”
It is observed across the country – and the Yukon should be no exception, according to Janz.
“This day is a very huge day with veterans, war veterans, from all the First Nations and First Nations ancestries that fought in wars, gave up their status rights and became war citizens.
“They weren’t acknowledged back in the day, being Aboriginal, that they were Canadian at all.”
Traditionally, the Yukon government marks special days, celebrations and anniversaries by way of daily tributes in the legislative assembly when it is sitting. The house was in session last Wednesday.
Liberal, Yukon Party and NDP MLAs rose to recognize National Skilled Trades and Technology Week as well as World Town Planning Day.
To Janz, this equates to “‘we don’t acknowledge you, but we are here, running your territory and walking on your land.’ And I find that right now, very disrespectful.”
She said she made calls to the premier’s office and the cabinet office, questioning why no mention had been made of Aboriginal Veterans Day.
She never received an answer.
Janz is now calling for a government apology for the oversight.
“I believe the government should have been an example. Sandy Silver has Aboriginals in his seats. Sandy Silver is supposed to be looked up to as a leader in the Yukon government, and I believe Sandy Silver should have been leading the acknowledgment of November 8.”
Sunny Patch, a cabinet spokesperson for the Liberals, told the Star this morning that while the government did not make a specific tribute to Aboriginal veterans in the house at all this year, they did lead a tribute to all veterans last Thursday.
There was no specific reference to Aboriginal nor Indigenous veterans in this tribute.
“This wasn’t a statement on recognition of any one particular group of veterans in any way,” Patch said.
“We just chose to honour all veterans on the ninth because that’s the day we were doing a tribute on Remembrance Day.”
As for future years, Patch said the government will discuss the possibility of an Aboriginal Veterans Day tribute.
“We value and deeply respect the sacrifices of all veterans, including the Aboriginal veterans for sure.”
Kate White, the Yukon NDP’s house leader, acknowledged via email this morning that going without a tribute in the legislature for Aboriginal Veterans Day was a mistake, “one that we won’t allow to happen again.”
She said she will bring up the issue with her Liberal and Yukon Party colleagues to make sure the day is “given proper acknowledgement” in the house next year.
“We are convinced that all members of the legislative assembly will want to recognize critical contribution of First Nations’ service men and women on this important day,” White wrote.
The Yukon Party emailed a statement to the Star early this afternoon. In it, the official Opposition pledged to converse with the other parties to ensure Aboriginal Veterans Day sees future recognition in the legislature.
“The contributions made by Indigenous veterans and those currently serving in the Canadian military have and continue to play a significant part in our country’s history,” the Yukon Party’s statement read.
MLAs did not specifically observe the day in November 2015. They did not sit in November 2016 due to that month’s territorial election.
An Aboriginal Veterans Day ceremony was held in Dawson City last Wednesday morning at the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre. It included prayer, a smudging ceremony, and recognition of Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in veterans. (See coverage, p. 5.)
Veterans Affairs Canada estimates that 7,000 First Nations members served in the First and Second World Wars and the Korean War.
The Council of Yukon First Nations declined to provide comment for this story.