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Métis Vets Get Their Due

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Last year marked the 125th anniversary of the 1885 resistance of the Métis, in which the aboriginal group composed of descendants of the unions of early fur traders with Inuit and First Nations peoples stood its ground against the Canadian government at Batoche, Saskatchewan.

Now, in what the Métis have declared the Year of the Veteran. A fund-raising effort is under way to create a monument to commemorate unsung mixed-heritage veterans.

Batoche, a sacred place where Métis warriors fought in the resistance, “a pivotal event in our history,” said Karon Shmon, who heads the publishing department of the Gabriel Dumont Institute of Native Studies and Applied Research, an educational organization in Saskatchewan that preserves Métis culture and history.

“So that year [2010] was also declared the year of the Métis, and at that time they decided that our Métis veterans haven’t been significantly enough recognized for their role in defending Canada and the free world,” Shmon said.

The design is not final yet, but the names of Métis veterans will be carved into the monument, which Shmon said will cost about $400,000. Métis across Canada are raising money; funds are being collected by the Gabriel Dumont Institute, which already had tax-free charitable status when the project was conceived.

Batoche has been an official national historic site since 1923, according to Parks Canada, whose jurisdiction includes the “historic buildings, military encampments and numerous plant and animal species,” among other site features.

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Identifying the Métis to be honored has not been easy, Shmon said. Until relatively recently, Métis and First Nations vets were not granted the same benefits afforded to non-aboriginal military personnel, and so they were not reflected on many official rolls. Also, for some time, admitting to being Métis was to invite persecution. So people would often invoke their fur-trader ancestry, neglect to mention their Native side or name.

But Shmon is undeterred. First Nations and Métis traditionally serve in the military “because when we say this is our home and native land, we mean it,” she said. They are recognized in the Canadian constitution as among the country’s founders, along with the Inuit.

“There’s even more at stake” for aboriginals, Shmon said, because people of other ancestries can trace their heritage back to other countries. “We only have Canada because that’s where our cultures originated.”

Shmon emphasized that time is of the essence, because Métis vets have been passing away.

“Sadly, there are hardly any veterans left because the last world war was so long ago,” she said. “But in terms of the veterans that served in both world wars and in the Korean conflict and more recently in other places, they all need to be recognized for their record and commitment. So we would like a permanent structure to pay homage to their history and sacrifice.”

To raise the money for the monument, Métis groups are seeking everything from corporate sponsorship to private donations to government sponsorship.

“Our goal is to do all we can to raise that money,” Shmon said. “It’ll be a beautiful garden, and there will be benches where people can sit and reflect. And there’ll be ceremonies there.”