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Veterans travel to France for Calling Home Ceremony

PORT ALBERNI, British Columbla -- Twenty aboriginal veterans of World War
II and 13 aboriginal youth, representing every region of Canada, recently
accompanied spiritual leaders on a visit to commemorative sites related to
the first and second world wars, including Ypres, Vimy Ridge and Juno Beach
in Normandy, France.

Carrying sacred packages of tobacco, sage, sweetgrass and other items of
spiritual importance from their First Nations, elders will conduct private
ceremonies to bring home the spirits of those who died so far away from
their families and communities.

"Our warriors did not have a chance to receive their traditional farewell,"
said Ray Rogers, chairman of the organization First Nations Veterans of
Canada. "Bringing home their spirits is an important journey of healing and
closure. It unites the past, the present and the future."

"We want Canada to know that our aboriginal soldiers were in every major
battle won by Canadian regiments. We are proud of our Dene warriors and
those who paid the ultimate sacrifice with their lives. This spiritual
journey will offer a peace of mind to us, and an opportunity to pay our
respects to our fallen warriors with thanksgiving prayers and spiritual
ceremonies. We shall remember them," said Tom Eagle, representing Veterans
North of 60.

An inukshuk ("in the image of man," human-like stone figures erected by the
Inuit people of the Canadian Arctic) will be constructed and placed at an
appropriate overseas location to serve as a permanent reminder of the
contribution of Canada's first peoples in service to their country.

The delegation left Ottawa on Oct. 25 and returned Nov. 4 to participate in
the launch of Veterans' Week 2005.

Aboriginal spiritual leaders and leaders of organizations representing
aboriginal veterans proposed the overseas ceremonies, which are being
undertaken with the support of the government of Canada through Veterans
Affairs Canada and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada.

"This will be a journey unlike any taken in Canadian history, and I hope
this unprecedented Year of the Veteran event will cast new light on the
significant wartime participation, contribution, and sacrifices of
aboriginal people from all across Canada," said the Honourable Albina
Guarnieri, minister of Veterans Affairs and head of the official
delegation. "It has come about because of the vision of Canada's aboriginal
community. It was clearly a very powerful vision and through a lot of hard
work and persistence it is now about to happen. And never before have we
had a delegation specifically comprised of aboriginal veterans. It could
not happen at a more appropriate time than during the Year of the Veteran,"
he said.

"As an expression of Canada's gratitude, the government of Canada has
undertaken a commitment to preserve and pass on the contributions and
achievements of First Nations, Inuit and Metis veterans to future
generations," said the Honourable Andy Scott, minister of Indian and
Northern Affairs Canada and Federal Interlocutor for Metis and Non-Status
Indians. "I hope that the Calling Home Ceremony and associated events will
highlight the significant sacrifices that First Nations, Inuit and Metis
people have made for their country."

Aboriginal peoples from every region of Canada served in the armed forces
during WW II, fighting in every major battle and campaign of the conflict.
To serve their country in the armed forces, aboriginal Canadians had to
overcome unique cultural challenges. Their courage, sacrifices and
accomplishments are a continuing source of pride to their families,
communities, and all Canadians.

At least 3,000 status (treaty) Indians -- including 72 women -- enlisted in
WW II, as well as an unknown number of Inuit, Metis and other Natives. The
actual numbers were no doubt much higher. Among this small number of
identified aboriginal members of the forces, at least 17 decorations for
bravery in action were earned.

Thousands of First Nations, Inuit and Metis people served Canada in WWI,
WWII and the Korean War. More than 500 known aboriginal war dead are buried
in Commonwealth War Graves Commission and other cemeteries around the
world.

2005 is the Year of the Veteran: Celebrate. Honor. Thank. Remember. Teach.