The National Aboriginal Veterans Monument in Ottawa | Image Source: waymarking.com
There are many Indigenous warriors to be honoured throughout time however, Aboriginal Veterans Day and Remembrance Day are both days for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians to come together to remember the ultimate sacrifice Indigenous soldiers made to protect the freedom of this country. Initially government policy didn’t allow Indigenous people to serve in the army overseas because they weren’t considered Canadian citizens and didn’t even have the right to vote. Eventually these policies were disregarded due to the high number of war casualties and demand for troops. Although First Nation soldiers in the First and Second World Wars made significant contributions, they still faced racism, discrimination, language barriers and were never awarded the same benefits that non-Indigenous soldiers received once they returned home.
Last year MUSKRAT Magazine published an article, honoring Indigenous warriors throughout time. This year MUSKRAT is shining a light on Indigenous warriors from the First and Second World Wars. More than 7000 Indigenous Canadians volunteered for these wars, including 72 Indigenous women, with over 500 of them losing their lives in battle. MUSKRAT Magazine presents Indigenous War Heroes of World War 1 and World War 2.
1. Alexander Smith, Jr.
Lieutenant Smith served in the militia for 17 years before the First World War. He won a Military Cross for his work on September 1916 in Somme, France where “he proceeded with a party of bombers and captured an enemy trench and 50 prisoners, displaying the greatest courage throughout. He was twice buried by shells but stuck to his post” while he was injured in the deadly battle where 111 soldiers lost their lives. On April 1917 he returned to Canada to continue his military career and was promoted to Captain and named an Officer of the Order of the Black Star, an honour given to only 5 other Canadians.
2. Charles Checker Tompkins
Once Tompkins completed his military training in 1940, he was summoned to the Canadian Military Headquarters in London to be recruited in a top secret mission. Fluent in Cree, he took on the new role as a “code talker”, where he would translate military messages into Cree to send throughout European battlefields to reach their destinations. Once received these messages would then be translated back into English by another “code talker”.
3. Charles Denton Smith
Charles Smith worked with the militia for 10 years and quickly rose to the position of Captain. He was awarded a Military Cross two days before the war ended on November 9, 1918. According to his citation he, “led his platoon forward with such rapidity that he surprised a party of [enemy] sappers preparing to blow up a road mine.” His party deactivated the fuse just before ignition with Smith capturing a machine-gun from the enemy group.
4. Charlotte Edith Anderson Monture
Monture became the first First Nations nurse to serve as a member of the Army Nurse Corps during World War 1. Some historical publications state that she was denied nursing training in Canada because she was Aboriginal. After being trained in the US and serving in World War 1, she returned home to her reserve at Six Nations to work as a nurse.
5. Francis Pegahmagabow
Pegahmagabow is recognized as one of the fiercest snipers in Canadian war history, although figures aren’t exact, he is credited with 378 “kills” and the capture of 300 prisoners. He won two Military Medals, one in 1916 at the Battle of Mount Sorrel for capturing a large number of German prisoners and another in 1917 at the Passchendaele Battle for exemplifying bravery as a runner and scout. He returned home in 1919 to live on Parry Island where he served as Chief and then as a councillor.
6. George McLean
Mclean served in both the Boeing War at the turn of the century and in the First World War. During the Battle of Vimy Ridge, April 1917, he launched a daring solo attack on a group of enemy soldiers where he “single-handedly captured 19 prisoners and later when attacked by five more prisoners who attempted to reach a machine-gun, he was able—although wounded—to dispose of them unaided, thus saving a large number of casualties.” Afterwards, he returned to Canada for medical treatment and became a firefighter in Vancouver.
7. Henry Norwest
Norwest was another well known Indigenous sniper during WW1 who spent most of his time in the dangerous no man’s land and often slipping behind enemy lines. He was awarded a Military Medal for his brave work on “the Pimple”, an almost impenetrable peak on Vimy Ridge that Canadian Forces conquered. A week later, On August 18, 1918 he was killed by an enemy sniper bullet while moving into position for his next assignment and was buried in Somme, France.
8. Tommy Prince
After being turned down several times to serve in the war, Sergeant Prince was finally allowed to enlist in 1940. In 1994, while spying on the Germans in an abandoned farmhouse, he exemplified bravery by donning civilian clothing to fix a communication wire right in front of German soldiers. That same year he walked across enemy lines for several days without food or water to locate an enemy camp. Soon after he was decorated by King George VI with a Military Medal and Silver Star. During the Korean War, he was injured and honorably discharged from the military.
9. Tom Longboat
Longboat was a champion long distance runner who won the Boston Marathon in 1907 and the Professional Marathon Championship in New York City in 1909. At the age of 29, he put his running career aside to enlist in the army. During service he was wounded twice and declared dead once, but survived and returned home to Canada in 1919.