Metis Veterans Ignored
By Rob Innes
with permission from
Frank Tomkins is the president of the National Aboriginal Veterans' Association, (NAVA) Saskatchewan Chapter. Originally from Alberta, he became involved in Aboriginal veterans' organizations in that province.
When he moved to Saskatchewan he found that the Metis veterans' association had not called a meeting for at least three years. He decided to organize a meeting, but this proved to be a difficult task. At that first meeting only a hand full of veterans showed up.
Tomkins states that this happened because there is so much apathy from Aboriginal veterans regarding the veterans' organizations. "They have given up on governments, I guess. You talk to a lot of veterans and they'll tell you, "Ah hell, it's been over fifty years and the government never did anything and they're not going to do nothing now." Tomkins says "that with that kind of an attitude it is difficult to get anywhere." There are, he says, a few guys that have not given up hope entirely.
He points to Gordon Ahenakew as example. He says that when Ahenakew, was the president of the Saskatchewan Indian Veterans' Association (SIVA), he was able to gather information to be used for a lawsuit against the government. The lawsuit did not occur while Ahenakew was president, however, Tomkins feels that to gather such information about Metis veterans is even more difficult. While extensive records about Indians enlistees were kept, Metis enlistees were classified as Canadians rather than as Metis. There were a million Canadians in the armed forces. "How are you going to find a Metis in a million people?" asks Tomkins.
In September at their last meeting in Prince Albert, the Saskatchewan Chapter of NAVA carried a motion that they hope will ascertain how many Metis enlisted in WWII. Their motion consisted of the question "was any member of your family in the war?" This question would be included in the upcoming enumeration, "Because that is the only way we will have any records about Metis veterans."
The main focus for Tomkins and his organization is to bring to the public's attention to the poor treatment of Aboriginal veterans by the Canadian government. According to Tompkins, for example, Metis veterans haven't received benefits since the time at Batoche. The only land they received after Batoche, he says, was the road allowance. "Same thing for the Metis veterans who fought in the Boer War, First World War, Second World and the Korean War." The government has stalled on this issue. "It's been a long time, 50 some-odd years now since the Second World War ended, and people are dying off and the government is just waiting for the rest to die off. They had pretty good luck with the First World War vets. They're all dead now, except for maybe one or two. Another twenty years or so they can say the same for the Second World War veterans."
Tomkins himself did not receive any benefits and he won't because he was not in the army long enough. When many of his underage relatives and friends lied about their age, Tomkins couldn't because he looked too young for his age. So he had to wait until he was 18, "even then I had to produce a birth certificate," he said.
Tomkins is critical about the support that Metis veterans have received from the Metis Nation of Saskatchewan [MNS]. "The Metis veterans are the most forgotten veterans of the Second World War because even their own people for the most part have forgetten them." He said that the MNS should lobby more on the behalf of veterans. "If the MNS made it known that they were going to give the veterans at least political assistance, then the veterans' relatives would be supportive of MNS."
Tomkins also questions the support for the proposed new monument to Aboriginal veterans which will be erected in Ottawa. The monument, he says, was first to cost $800,000 but has risen to over a million. Tomkins believes that the monument is "a monumental insult' to Aboriginal veterans because they are expected to raise the funds for it themselves. The government has only provided $80,000 for it. "How in the heck are Aboriginal veterans going to raise that kind of money?" Meanwhile many Aboriginal veterans haven't received their entitled veterans' benefits.