First Nations vets’ fight for benefits continues
First Nations veterans got no closer to receiving remuneration for their participation in the First and Second World Wars and the Korean War in 2012, according to First Nations Veterans of Canada President Percy Joe.
The advocacy group is still fighting for equal benefits with non-First Nations veterans. Some of its efforts include marking unmarked graves of fallen First Nations soldiers.
“It’s been difficult,” Joe, who is also chief of the Shackan Indian Band, said. “We haven’t been able to meet with [the government]. Of course, for myself to meet with them is difficult, just to get out to Ottawa, because we don’t have funds for travel.”
Joe said one of the group’s new focuses is on facilitating access to benefits for veterans living in Canada who served in the American forces.
“In the past, U.S. forces, the marines in particular, came up openly into Canada to recruit Aboriginal soldiers,” Joe said. “A lot of natives are veterans of the U.S. forces and right now a lot of them can’t access their entitlement unless they go down to the U.S.
“But once they get down there, their vets are actually treated way better than the Canadian veterans are treated.”
Still, Joe said it’s tough for a lot of those veterans to even get to the U.S., let alone access their benefits.
“They don’t get paid the whole time they travel. The only time they get what the American veterans’ affairs pays them is when they cross the border,” Joe said. “We have a lot of veterans here in the Nicola Valley who are American veterans and, generally, they have to go to Bellingham [Wash.].”
Joe said some B.C. veterans have to go as far as Seattle or Portland to access their benefits, and he has heard similar stories from across the country.
“I was talking to this one veteran from Ontario who actually has to go all the way to Denver to access his benefits. It’s a hardship,” Joe said.
The federal government set aside $39 million in 2002 for remuneration for First Nations veterans, up to $20,000 each. However, the Assembly of First Nations says aboriginal veterans are owed millions more to achieve equality with non-native veterans.
Veterans Affairs Canada could not be reached for comment by press time as it was closed until today (Thursday).