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Tony Cote and Grand Chief Howard Anderson of the Saskatchewan First Nation Veterans' Association with Chief Perry Bellegarde, FSIN on the Hill.
First Nation Veteran's battle cry echoes throughout Parliament Hill and the Prime Minister's Office. First Nation Veterans and their spouses will form ranks and prepare to put an end to a battle with the federal government over a much-anticipated recognition and compensation package for those who served in World War II and Korea.
"First Nation Veterans across the country are frustrated and fed up with the federal government and its lack of action to settle this terrible injustice experienced by our people who sacrificed so much for this country. Our Veterans are "salty" for a battle," Saskatchewan First Nations Veterans Association (SFNVA) Grand Chief Howard Anderson said.
FSIN Chief Perry Bellegarde, who is responsible for the Veterans portfolio both in Saskatchewan and nationally, took the First Nations Veteran's compensation issue up directly with Prime Minister Chretien during a meeting with the PM on Friday May 31st.
"The Prime Minister, after listening to our concerns informed me that he personally supports a recognition and compensation package for our First Nation Veterans. The issue however seems to be the level of compensation or in other words "money" and where Ottawa is going to find the resources necessary to adequately compensate our Veterans," Chief Bellegarde said.
The Chief says that as far as he is concerned, the Veteran's file has now been elevated to the Prime Minister's Office and he will continue to do what ever is necessary to pressure the federal government into acting as soon as possible to settle on a compensation package with First Nation Veterans across Canada.
The SFNVA took the lead role across the nation along with FSIN Chief Perry Bellegarde to negotiate a recognition and compensation package for all First Nation Veterans in Canada who served during the Korea and Second World War. Upon returning from service after these conflicts, First Nation Veterans did not receive the same level of compensation and recognition that their white brothers and sisters received. The FSIN together with the Assembly of First Nations and the federal government established a National Roundtable on First Nations Veterans' issues nearly two years ago aimed at resolving the issue. In April of 2001, the Roundtable Committee submitted its report "A Search for Equity" to the federal government recommending a specific recognition and compensation package for First Nations Veterans.
According to the legal counsel, economist and futurist hired by the First Nations Veterans, each surviving Veteran (or spouse/widow) who fought in battle should receive approximately $425,000 in compensation. A department of Veteran's Affairs economist however pegged the estimated compensation for each Veteran at $125,000.
"There appears to be absolutely no disagreement from the federal government that our First Nation Veterans were not treated fairly, in fact they were treated dishonorably. The real snag appears to be how much should our Veterans receive and where will the money come from," Chief Bellegarde said.
Grand Chief Howard Anderson says that the SFNVA is prepared to recommend to its members that the Veterans re-instate its lawsuit against the federal government. He will make that recommendation at an upcoming Veterans conference being held in Saskatoon on June 6, 2002 (D-Day).
"It is very likely that our statement of claim against the federal government on behalf of all Veterans across Canada will be reinstated. We had hoped to negotiate a compensation package in honour and good faith, but we are so frustrated that we feel we have no choice but to take this battle to the courts," Grand Chief Anderson said.
Chief Bellegarde is hoping the Prime Minister has taken the issue seriously enough to directly intervene and ensure First Nation Veterans are treated with the respect and honour they richly deserve.
"We fully expect to win this battle for our Veterans so that they may finally take their rightful place in Canadian history."
Majority of Veterans awaiting compensation are an average age of 80. Photo below is Veteran Peter Bird, Montreal Lake First Nations