And again and again. I will do that in a second.
This is an example of one of the huge issues that aboriginal and Métis veterans have faced from day one. I just told you who I am, what my family's position within my community is—was, I don't know what it is today—what my job is seen to be, and where I come from. That was in 11 words or less.
What I said was, “Hello, greetings, good morning”—however you want to do it. Some people say that's really lousy French, but it's not; it's Ojibwa. My name is Eagle Woman. I am of the Loon Clan. I am a warrior woman. My clan is the speaker clan for the people. We have two clans, the White Crane Clan and the Loon Clan, which are the two political clans, so to speak. White Crane are you guys. You're the White Cranes. You go out there and do all the fluffing and folding and all that. The Loon Clan are the speakers for the people. They come and say, “He won't listen to me.” Then I go and say, “Now listen here.”
That is the start of the problems and confusion that have always faced our people.
Now I'm not going to tell you the usual stories that I'm sure you've heard a million times. For those in French, I apologize, but my French is limited to oui and “escargot”, and none of those end up in this.
I will read you a little bit of a statement that I want to say to you.
It's the paradox of being a female aboriginal soldier—a huge paradox—and the things that are challenging to a woman going into the military. As aboriginal children, we're free to learn from our mother the Earth and the things that she provides for us. Sure, we're guided to the dangers and things that go on out there that are going to hurt us, but overall we run free—at least I did. I was kind of a wild child.
The rules and regulations that we had were very few. If somebody said your proper name, it was “oh”, and if they snapped their fingers, you stopped immediately. If they said, “drop”, you dropped immediately. You didn't ask; you got down. You knew you were safe. You would say, “Dad, what was that about?” You didn't ask before. You listened. You had rules.
As an aboriginal female, we were taught from a young age about our bodies and what to do with them and what not to do with them. It was not like today. We were taught what it was for and what was expected of us to do. We were respected for the gift that the Creator gave us, to be like our mother the Earth and to bring life. We were seen as gentle and strong creatures, and the protectors of life. We learned how precious our monthly—although annoying—visitor was, as it was the reason that we were here, to bring new life into the world. See? I told you. I'm a crier.
For me, deciding to become a soldier was easy, because I had always wanted to follow in my dad's footsteps. My plan, like all of us, was to graduate from high school, get a degree in nursing, join the army, and become jump qualified to become a flying nurse. Well, it didn't quite work out that way. I graduated. I went into nursing and was at the point where we selected our specialties. I had one that I wanted. I didn't get it, because the instructor's niece was in the class and she got it. I got mad and I walked out.
I went across the street to the Marine recruiter, but he was rude, so I left. I went to the air force and didn't like the uniforms. I ended up at the army recruiter, who just happened to be giving the entrance exam at that time, so I took the entrance exam. I passed it, missing one question. To this day, it bugs me that I missed that question. I knew the answer, but I gave the civilian definition.
Two weeks later, I was leaving my safe little community in northern Michigan to go to Detroit city. I was a little country bumpkin girl going to the big city of Detroit, where I remember walking across town, down back alleys, at 3 a.m. to the hotel. Yes, I was not the brightest bulb back then.
As I got into all of this—and really, before even entering into the service—I knew that there were rules and regulations, commands, and so on, but I didn't anticipate the abuse. Never did I anticipate the abuse.
I had long, dark hair that was cut off, because only Hawaiian natives could have their long hair. We poor Ojibwas were shorn like sheep. I have a picture to prove it. We were poked with needles, we were prodded. The abusive yelling in our faces was just unbelievable. Instead of giving a command, they.... You got spittle all over yourself. And the starched uniforms.... As kids we didn't wear clothes—shoes, maybe, but clothes were optional. Then you go into these uniforms, and they had to be such and they had to be so, and you had to have your bed made with no wrinkles—flip a quarter and make it pop.
This was all strange. I know, although not having experienced the Canadian Forces, that it's pretty much the same. There are rules and regulations and guys screaming. I believe they're called master sergeants. They just really like to scream at you. It's a very foreign world for an aboriginal person when you go into this all of a sudden.
During basic training and advanced training, you're taught what your job will be. Everyone is trained to shoot and to stab. For six, eight, 10, 12 weeks, your civilian self is removed and your military self is born. You have to learn a new language. You have to learn a walk. You have to learn to yield to the demands and the commands. You learn to sleep standing up, which I have done many times. You learn just how many potatoes are in a 45-kilogram bag, which I've seen many times.
You learn how to follow the most unreasonable of orders and you develop a thick callus on your tongue from biting it to keep from asking why or telling an officer just how wrong they are. The happy, innocent, carefree civilian who joined with the dreams of glory is replaced with a hardened military attitude of survival, with no glimmer of glory. You forget who you were and what your dreams had been, because you have now been brainwashed and have become a well-trained military killing machine.
Remember, in my civilian life I was an aboriginal woman who was raised to be a giver of life. I am now a killer of life, and I am expected to do this duty unflinchingly when I am told to pull that trigger.
I have to say that over the years, there are many wonderful things that you experience, as well as the truly heart-wrenching things that you must do or witness. It isn't all bad. You learn to accept the bad things and move on in your military self. By now, you have disconnected with the civilian female you were those 18 years before you entered basic. You can take a gun apart and reassemble it in the allotted time. I could drive just about anything they threw me in, except a tank—I never did figure those things out.
You learn to deal with your female visitor, surrounded by a group of men. You are afforded no privacy at that time, as you are a soldier, not a woman. You are made the brunt of jokes, and sometimes not even given a private place to make the needed item change. I sit here today in front of you and I say that this is still happening to today's Canadian Forces soldiers. I have been told time and time again by women who have come back.
When it's discharge time, there are no six, eight, 10, or 12 weeks to debrief and put back on your civilian self. It's a discharge: “Bye, see you later.” You are given a ticket home, a few dollars, and a handshake. Nope, nothing. “Good luck. Bye. Call if you need us.”
But you know what? You forget to give us a phone number that works. We're shown the gate and left to assess what life has for us, and more importantly, what life doesn't have for us.
Sure, you're excited to leave the chaos and you think things will be the same as when you left, but they aren't. The world isn't and you aren't, so you go into a type of shock, and that takes a few weeks or even years to come out of.
Support is hard to find, if it exists; and if it does, it is not culturally appropriate—and I emphasize that—whether you are first nation, Métis, or Inuit, or even close to anything traditional in scope. Those of the group who are standing in front of you or sitting in a chair next to you are book-taught, and even worse, their very appearance causes trauma. Ask me about that afterwards.
For those who served in World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, there was little or no support. Being an aboriginal soldier, there was even less, and for aboriginal female soldiers, there was even less than that. Many tried to drown the dogs of war in booze; some chose drugs, and some did their best to try to act normal in what was a non-normal world. Today's aboriginal soldiers face many of these same issues, because there are no culturally appropriate government-approved support services to be found.
You see, in your infinite wisdom of governing, you refuse to allow anyone who does not have a piece of paper from one of your recognized institutions to do support work. Anyone who is out there to help the soldiers must meet your standards, even if they have no idea what they are talking about when it comes to aboriginal spirituality and tradition, be it first nation, Métis, or Inuit.
How did I leave the dogs behind? To tell you the truth, I haven't totally. I've trained them. I tell them to go away and leave me alone. However, I did go to a lot of non-approved support that knew and respected my culture and traditions. I drove hundreds of miles to powwows, sweat lodges, and ceremonies until I could see myself once again as a civilian and not dive for cover at July 1 fireworks or the slamming of a door. I worked hard and took hold of my life, which is now nearing the twilight years, but don't let that fool you: there is a lot of fight left.
I hope that this small look through the eyes of a female aboriginal soldier will open your eyes and your minds to the unique needs of not only the aboriginal soldier, but to the very unique needs and issues of female soldiers, female aboriginal soldiers in particular.
Now this is where I'm going to cry. Thank you.
In closing, seeing that this current government is advocating reconciliation with aboriginal peoples, I would ask that this year they officially recognize November 8 as Aboriginal Veterans Day.
This year in Winnipeg, the only city in Canada to officially recognize November 8 as Aboriginal Veterans Day, we will have a 25th anniversary celebration. Next year, the province of Manitoba, the only province in Canada to recognize November 8 as Aboriginal Veterans Day, will celebrate the 25th anniversary.
Two years ago, Veterans Affairs Canada recognized November 8 as Aboriginal Veterans Day by publishing it on their website. Isn't it time for the full Canadian government to officially recognize this day?
Honourable members, guests, and friends, it's a great honour to be here before you to discuss Métis veterans and their issues.
Métis peoples have been fighting battles for Canada since the War of 1812, and then again in World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Bosnia, the Persian Gulf, and Afghanistan.
I've been watching and listening to your committee meetings on this study on indigenous veterans, and I'm going to try not to repeat some of the things that have already been stated, so bear with me if I do.
June has seen a bunch of armed forces appreciation days. June 21 is national aboriginal day. June is PTSD awareness month. The relevance of this study in this month is not lost on us. We welcome the opportunity to express our feelings and take your questions.
I am the chairperson for the Métis Nation of Ontario Veterans' Council. I served in the Canadian Armed Forces in the 1990s. I participated in the first Gulf War, and again as a UN peacekeeper during the Haiti conflict. Not only did I take the oath to serve my country, but twice I put my life on the line in these official conflicts. I say this not for thanks or admiration, but for your understanding that I speak from experience and first-hand knowledge.
Our Métis veterans' council has six members. We're spread throughout the province, from Windsor to Trenton, from Toronto up to north of Midland. You can understand that sometimes just getting our council together is pretty tough.
The challenges that the Métis Nation of Ontario Veterans' Council faces are many. Ontario is a very big province, and our veterans are scattered throughout it. The obvious first problem is geography. Technology is great and it gets us connected, but there are veterans who don't want technology, and they live up in remote areas.
Being Métis, our peoples do not have reserves to live on, so there is generally no gathering place readily available for our veterans. We do have community offices throughout the province, but their limited funds are for outreach or to help our veterans as needed in those communities.
Last year our council did some fundraising, and we brought veterans and our youth to Ottawa for the 100th anniversary of Vimy Ridge. Our youth were brought as young eyes to see experiences through the veterans' eyes. Each youth was tasked to talk to the veterans throughout the weekend and write a journal of their experience. Their journal entries are going to be placed into our second book, which is coming out in the near future. I have given each of you in the committee a copy of our first book. I'm sorry that there is no French translation for it.
Last summer, our Métis youth council asked our veterans' council to participate in facilitating leadership workshops at their national youth meeting. Our youth are important to us; we see them as being very valuable. They see our importance to them in their journey also.
Last year we heard that there was going to be a reconciliation for Métis World War II veterans. I'll ask what is going on with that. We heard this announcement, and then we heard nothing—crickets. Our World War II veterans are not getting any younger. What are we waiting for?
I understand there may have been some talks with Veterans Affairs and our Métis National Council, but nothing from this has been translated down to the Métis provincial council, veteran councils, or committees. This matter needs a second engagement and discussion with the provincial Métis veteran councils and committees—not the national council, which does not know all the needs of our veterans.
This past winter I attended a milestone birthday for one of our World War II veterans here in Ontario. He turned 105 years old, god bless his heart.
I want to give you some information that will help you identify with veteran issues. Some of these are not solely Métis issues, but they are systemic for veterans across the spectrum.
When a citizen takes his oath to serve this great country of ours, most believe that there is no expiry date on that oath. From the point of taking that oath, you're embedded with others. In basic training you are put to do many tasks at the same time. You are trained to change your mind into thinking that you can't do it all yourself. You have to rely on your comrades to pull together for better results and successes. You line up for meals together, take courses together, shower together, clean the floors together.
There's no personal space. You're always with somebody else. After basic training, this is relaxed a little bit, but the theories are all still the same. There's always support and someone there with you.
After the years of living like this, when a person takes his or her release, then they're alone. This is where the mind can get idle, and good things do not come of that. I by no means am an expert on PTSD, depression, or any other intellectual handicap, but what I do know is if one of my comrades was hurting and I could get to them, I could listen to them, I could support them, I could flesh it out and help them get the support that they need. Being alone is a recipe for disaster.
When we Métis come home, we not only come home alone, we're also secluded and alone. There are communities out there that can help most of the veterans, but most veterans won't open up to non-veterans who cannot relate or speak to their experiences. Veteran-to-veteran intervention is the best way to help these situations.
There is a stigma out there that causes us not to ask for help, so veterans who need the help need to be searched out. They're not going to come to the door asking for help. There's not a single program that's going to help every single vet, and that's why there are so many great programs out there.
I'm going to say something that's going to surprise you: I think Veterans Affairs is doing a good job. I think they're doing a good job with the tools that they've been given. Can they do better? You better believe they should, but I understand that they cannot do everything for everyone. What needs to happen is better partnerships with groups like our veterans council, with the Royal Canadian Legion, the Dignified Veteran Assistance clinic, VETS Canada, AVA. These are all groups that work on the front lines looking after the vets. They're doing the work that Veterans Affairs is unable to do, with no support and very little funding, if any.
As I stated earlier, we took this oath with the belief that there's no expiry date. We serve until we can serve no more. Men and women—yes, don't forget the support and the contributions our fighting women have made in this service—write a blank cheque to serve our country, but when we get cut short and we're back home battling our inner and outward demons, we've been told that we're asking for too much. In plain military terms, that's “unsat”.
We acknowledge the changes that Veterans Affairs has made, that they're not sitting idle and that they're trying to make improvements, but they have a long way to go. Communication needs to improve. Technology is great, social media is great, but face-to-face, peer-to-peer contact is how it's going to happen.
A few weeks ago, you had Dr. Scott Sheffield and Mr. Lafontaine here in front of you. One of the things that really hit home with me that day was when Mr. Lafontaine said that he is full Métis everywhere in his life except with VAC. That should not still be happening.
In closing, I must clarify that I am not a Métis historian or a scholar. I am Métis. I am a Persian Gulf veteran. I'm a Canadian peacekeeping veteran. I work and care for my Métis veteran brothers and sisters.
You came to me with a loaded question there.
“Non-approved” means that, from what I have experienced with the people I work with who have PTSD—and that's another topic too, PTSD and vicarious trauma; those things need to be dealt with. Those people can't decide to go to an aboriginal elder and have any type of financial support, shall we say, to be able to go from point A to point B to see this individual. I'll give you an example.
It's a husband and wife; both served in Afghanistan; both served numerous tours; both are retired from the Canadian Forces. Both of them suffer from PTSD. They both went to 17 Wing because in Winnipeg, that's where veterans have to go to get examined or whatever.
They were directed to go and see “approved” individuals. They went to Deer Lodge Centre for a sharing circle or support circle or whatever they're calling their things. When they went in, first of all, they were met by—and I do apologize; I am not racist to anyone; just understand where I'm coming from with this—a gentleman wearing a turban. Number one, that was traumatic, because they had been in Afghanistan, and who had been in their sights but people wearing turbans? Second, when they sat down in the circle to start discussing, she was asked to leave because this was for men with PTSD—not for soldiers with PTSD, but men. She was asked to sit out in the hall while her husband, whom she had served with side by side, was able to take part in this circle. The men didn't want her hearing what they had experienced.
Excuse me? A month ago, she was shooting the same gun that they had. This is very real: the women are not allowed into these circles, and if they are, people hold back.
She wanted to go to, well, me. You can't tell by my blond hair, but I am old. I'm 70 years old, so I've been down the road a bit. I do understand things, I am traditional and I do know my traditions and culture. She wanted to come to me, but that's a two-hour drive from where she's at, and all she asked for was a little gas money to go back and forth. She was told no, because I am not a sanctioned, authorized person; I do not have a piece of paper from the University of Guelph or wherever, so she couldn't come to me.
That has to stop.
Thank you for having me here today. It took a while for me to be recognized as a veteran as I sit in this room with you. I've come across that since I got out of the military after 10 years' service. I was a peacekeeper. I still face that today. I was introduced as a Métis veteran, and I was told, “Oh, they're nothing.”
In this day and age, that needs to stop. I'm a proud mother. My son is 26 years old, and he happened to be born on United Nations peacekeeping day. My husband was a peacekeeper at the same time when we were on our tours. I was at the Israeli-Syrian border, the Golan Heights, while the Gulf War happened, so that took on a whole different meaning. I have stories I could tell, but I'm going to keep this short.
I'm a mother. My 10-year military career was fantastic. I chose to be a mother and I chose to get out at that time, not knowing what was going to hit me after the fact. One day you're at work, you've got your boots on, you're at the mess, you're having a beer, you're one of the guys, you're sharing stories, and it's fun. The next day, I'm home with a young baby, in my slippers, no family, nobody to talk to. I didn't know what to do with myself, because I was used to going to work. I didn't know how to be a mom to my first child, and there was no support for me to reach out to. I wasn't military. I was now civilian and I didn't know what to do with myself.
On the Métis side of it, as a Métis veteran, I only found out that I was Métis about 20 years ago. I'm the youngest of nine, and we lived in northern Ontario, but it was hidden from us. We did things that were Métis. Now I realize it. I could snare a rabbit and carry a pellet gun after school to go check my snares. I went moose-calling with my brothers. I still harvest today. I go up to the North Bay area—I'm not giving away the area—and I do harvest, and we are successful every year. I camp and I enjoy our traditional life, but I never grew up with our traditional life, so now that my son is 26, I try to teach him our traditional ways, and I also try to teach them to my nieces and my nephews.
Throughout our own community, not being full first nation myself, I do not go to a sweat lodge. I do not seek out elders to help me in any of my process. I don't have PTSD that I'm aware of, but I try to reach out to our Métis veterans, whether by a phone call or by organizing events in my local area to get the veterans out. I've been on Remembrance Day parades wearing my sash, my beret, and my medals, and it's like, “Are you a veteran? Are you a Métis veteran? Oh, why are you wearing your scarf around your waist?”
I think all we're looking for is to be recognized. Some of the symbols are so easy to recognize, like a blue beret amongst everybody on Remembrance Day. Everybody's proud of their berets.
We have veterans who just won't wear their medals because they can't. Because of their PTSD, from wherever they served, they don't want to be recognized as veterans. When we go into the communities or go into civilian facilities, as I'll call them, and try to explain that to people, they just don't get it.
First of all, I'd like to thank the grandfathers and the Creator for allowing me to be here today and to have safe travel here.
From the Boer War all the way to World War II, our veterans who have fought with you have really been let down by the government and in turn have let down a lot of our people.
Throughout our time with you and before that, we had a warrior society. The warrior society looked after our people in many ways, and it's being forgotten. A great apology from Canada would be most sufficient to help us move forward as a people. By forgetting our warrior society, we're forgetting ourselves, and when we're forgetting ourselves, we don't know how to go into combat. It's one of the things that we use to move forward as soldiers.
We look toward our grandfathers for direction and for safe passage through these war-torn countries that we went to. When we came back, we had a hard time moving forward because of being put back on a reservation. We had a hard time with the Indian agents. The Indian agents had no direct link with Veterans Affairs Canada. It was a vicious cycle back and forth with them, too—the Indian agents and VAC. The ball kept getting thrown back and forth and there was no movement with our people.
Our World War II veterans started an advocacy group, which is now the Saskatchewan First Nation Veteran Association. I am a member of that association now. It has taken me a long time to get there because of all the feelings I had when I got out of the military. I felt let down and put down. There was the humiliation I went through from putting on a uniform because of the backlash of my people. My people figured that by serving Canada, I would be a traitor to my own people.
In reality, there was a bigger calling inside of me to be a warrior and a soldier for this country. It didn't matter whether it was down in the States or up in Canada. It's because of the Jay Treaty that we have served between these two countries that fulfill Turtle Island. That is what we call home. We have always called this home Turtle Island. It's not Canada and it's not the States.
When you go onto a reservation and you try to seek help from the health services, there is nothing. The health services there are very limited, and there is no help for veterans and such, so they tell us to go back to Veterans Affairs, and Veterans Affairs sends us back to Health Canada. That's still the vicious cycle that we deal with on a daily basis. When we try to get some education going, there is no such thing as education for veterans, as well, because they send us back to you guys. We fight with our traditional chiefs, but they realize that we only have less than 3% across the board and across Canada for education. On that front, Canada needs to pull up its socks and give us more funding for education for funding.
Through the Veterans Affairs association, the quality of life is non-existent. We do not have anything on reserves for help through our own people, as well as through Health Canada. We go through pain and suffering as individuals, dealing with severe chronic pain. That's one thing that I deal with as well, along with post-traumatic stress disorder. When they both kick in, it is a very vicious cycle that I go through. My body and my family pay for it dearly, and a lot of times I disappear in my own mind, but with the love from my wife.... She understands. She got educated on her own, without the help of Veterans Affairs or anything that has support for family issues. It is non-existent within Saskatchewan itself, through Veterans Affairs.
We realize this office just opened. They're probably making some strides to help us, but still there's a long way to go.
The life we have on reserve is very, very poor. A lot of our elder veterans do not have transportation to get anywhere, even to the health clinic. When they get there, they prefer to speak their language. We have four distinct societies here in Saskatchewan. It's very hard for them to actually talk to Veterans Affairs because they prefer their own language. It's the best way they can get their point across, because the broken English they have used throughout their service is no good for them and they prefer their own language. If this government can get on board and try to hire our own people through VAC, through these offices—there are nine offices across this country—we would be able to move forward in a way that we haven't done before. We're not moving anywhere. We're just going in circles. It's a vicious cycle, and we're tired of it. I am tired of it.
I went through a lot of different places across this country. I lived on different reserves. When I first got listed, I was disabled with PTSD and chronic pain. I was in Vancouver. The services there were really good, they were excellent. I was getting help. I was moving forward. I moved home because my dad was ill and I wanted to be with him for the rest of his time here on mother Earth. When I got back here, I had a home visit with one of the elderly ladies from Veterans Affairs. She came out and saw how I was living and everything else. She suggested I go with Health Canada and help myself, because her taxpayer money pays enough for everybody else on this reserve to do such things as that from Health Canada, and we should actually leave Veterans Affairs alone. That really stung me. After that, Veterans Affairs was no longer invited into my home because of all the things they have taken away from me, all the services, all because of racism. It's because I was a native guy living on my reserve. From her point of view, I was benefiting from the taxpayers' dollars, but the taxpayers do not realize that my life is important to my family, as is yours.
A voice: Thank you, sir.
Mr. Victor Sanderson: We served this country. We sacrificed everything: our lives, our livelihood, and being who we are as a distinct people. When we put on that uniform, we were all green, but I still felt and had racism directed towards me. The word “chief” did not bother me, or “wagon burner”, or other such harsh words. I've learned to adapt and overcome all these obstacles presented by racism.
I've had a hard time since I came out of the military, though, because of feeling insecure, inadequate, and ashamed, because my family did not understand who I was or what I'd become. I was more of a robot, you would actually say, because if I was given an order, I'd do it without question, without delay. That's how we were trained, to watch out for each other.
As a combat engineer, I worked in the minefields in Yugoslavia. I saw a lot of hatred there, nine hundred years of hatred of white people over there. When I came back home to my reserve, I realized that we have our own. We have three bands on one reserve. Two of them are entities because they're still on the table with Parliament Hill and Canada itself. It's a big struggle there. The hatred is very distinct, like what I saw in Yugoslavia. The hatred is very pure. If and when these land claims are straightened out, maybe someday we'll have some peace within my own community.
Life is very hard in our communities, and we are trying to find help for our veterans.
Like I said, the lady suggested to try and get help with Health Canada and Veterans Affairs in the remote communities with RNs and the nurses there. They have Telehealth now. Some of them are obsolete, but people can actually spend an extra dollar on them to help get these psychiatrists to see these younger veterans who are up in these remote communities and don't have any way of getting down. With the finances, and travelling such long distances from the remote communities, it is impossible for them to be reimbursed right away. VAC had reimbursement right away, so when you saw your psychiatrist or psychologist, you took your business card over to Veterans Affairs and they paid you right there. That's one thing that worked here in Saskatchewan.
Now I have to pay out of pocket, and I have to wait a month and a half or two months at a time to receive my money back. When that money comes back, it's returned to the person I borrowed the gas from. That still happens here in Saskatchewan and in rural Saskatchewan, where we have to do such things.
I'd like to begin by acknowledging the ancestors of the unceded territories that we are meeting on today: the Algonquins of Ontario. We thank them for allowing us to be visitors upon their territory to carry out this important work being discussed today.
I'd also like to thank the standing committee for extending an invitation to myself and Director Davoren to be here this afternoon to speak to the needs and issues specific to Métis veterans.
My name is Lissa Smith. I am Métis. My families come from Moose Factory, Ontario, and Red River Settlement in Manitoba, and thus my family journeyed westward. My Métis great-great-grandfather married into the Lytton First Nations. We eventually settled on Vancouver Island. There have been nine generations of my Scottish side of the family born on Vancouver Island. We've been there since the 1860s.
I'm in my third four-year term as an elected official for Métis Nation B.C. I'm presently the provincial vice-president. I've held the portfolio of Métis veterans on the provincial board for 10 years now. I began working with aboriginal veterans in 2002.
I'm honoured to be here today. With me is Tanya Davoren. She's our director for veterans for Métis Nation B.C. She is also a Métis citizen and served seven years in the reserve as an armoured crew person with the British Columbia Dragoons in Vernon, B.C. I'd like to add that she was the first woman in western Canada trained as a tank operator.
We bring regrets from our Métis veteran B.C. committee chairperson, Dave Armitt, who is away on vacation. Chair Armitt was disappointed that he was unable to attend today and be part of this presentation. He wanted to address this important subject on behalf of all Métis veterans in British Columbia. He is on a road trip with many of his colleagues at the 50th anniversary of the Canadian Airborne Regiment in Edmonton, Alberta.
Chair Armitt did want me to convey to you his deep concern for the many veterans and their families—Métis, first nations, and Inuit right across this country—who have experienced post-traumatic stress disorder that has led to taking their own lives. He offers his praise to this committee for undertaking this study on indigenous veterans and for looking for solutions to address veterans' issues such as this.
I've provided a brief background on the Métis people in British Columbia.
The Métis are recognized under section 35 of the Constitution of Canada as one of the three distinct aboriginal peoples. The Métis have been documented in B.C. as early as 1793. Today there are nearly 90,000 self-identified Métis people residing throughout British Columbia, which represents one-third of the aboriginal population in B.C.
Métis Nation B.C. is one of the five governing members that make up the Métis National Council. Métis Nation B.C. is recognized by the provincial and federal governments as the official governing body representing Métis in B.C., including more than 17,500 Métis who have applied for and been granted Métis citizenship.
One of the challenges in building services for Métis people is that the unique history and heritage of Métis people may not necessarily fit into the traditionally held understanding of what it means to be indigenous. As a result, we, as Métis people, have struggled to have our rights and our unique identity recognized.
I'll tag-team with my colleague here. Thank you.
Thank you, Minister Smith.
To clarify, there were three other ladies on the course, but I was the first to qualify. That does make me the first Cougar tank driver in western Canada.
We're pleased to have the opportunity to share some concerns on the current issues facing Métis veterans in B.C. and to provide some solutions.
There is currently no funding available to Métis veterans for outreach, to seek veterans out. There are no health services, no veteran engagement, and no support for veterans in need or for their families.
There is also no funding for our Métis Veterans B.C. committee, for which Minister Smith is our political representative and Dave Armitt is the chair. It's a 10-person committee made up of veterans from across the province of B.C. The full MVBC committee only meets twice a year. There is no funding for regional meetings, so they can't reach out within their seven regions to work, connect, or make any face-to-face contact with veterans.
Our proposed solution is that MVBC receive funding from Veterans Affairs Canada to carry out the work of the veteran committee, which, as Chair Black from Métis Nation Ontario has said, is to do the face-to-face veteran work and veteran engagement.
We have a second issue to bring forth. We'd like to seek representation at Veterans Affairs Canada on behalf of the Métis veterans of B.C. to identify and resolve the shortcomings that exist, to act in support of Métis veterans, and as a way of secondary engagement after Métis National Council.
We acknowledge that MNBC does have a formalized structure for veterans, as do our colleagues at Métis Nation Ontario. The other governing members of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba could as well, if they were funded. We are lucky to have political leaders who advocate for Métis veterans, to make sure there is an opportunity, at least annually, to come together. As a proposed solution, we're asking for Veterans Affairs Canada to extend an invitation to the Métis Veterans B.C. committee, as well as to Métis Nation Ontario's committee.
Métis Nation B.C. is concerned about the rogue Métis and aboriginal veteran groups that claim to represent all aboriginal veterans across Canada. MNBC does not support Métis Veterans of Canada or the Canadian Aboriginal Veterans and Serving Members Association. Métis Nation B.C. and our MVBC committee enjoy and support a friendly relationship only with the Aboriginal Veterans Autochtones, or AVA, organization.
Our proposed solution, which is in the interest of reconciliation, is that our nation be addressed separately from other aboriginal peoples and that we work with Métis National Council and our five governing members to acknowledge that Métis Nation B.C. and Métis Nation Ontario have their own Métis veterans committees. They can best meet the needs of Métis veterans in their respective provinces if properly resourced to do community outreach for Métis veterans.
We strongly recommend that the federal government, in collaboration with provincial and Métis governments and the Métis National Council, implement and fund a national strategy that supports much-needed provincial Métis veteran engagement and ensures the inclusion of Métis people within the good work of Veterans Affairs Canada.
We recommend that these funds be made available for meaningful collaboration and consultation with Métis veterans and their families at the community level to develop and implement individualized provincial plans. We also recommend that this national strategy include individualized provincial plans for the development and delivery of culturally responsive services for Métis veterans and their families that address the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs that arise from past, present, and future service to our great country of Canada.
I need help with the earnings loss benefit application that I'm filling out—the paperwork and everything else that goes with it. I have a case manager here in Saskatoon, finally, and we're getting things on board, but to push that paperwork through takes time. Native veterans don't have time. We've been waiting forever and we're tired of waiting.
You need to fast-track us. We've always been segregated in this country. If you want to desegregate us, fast-track our claims. Our claims have been held up in Saskatchewan and wherever else we have to send them. They take a long time. They take forever, and money is a very tight issue when you have to travel a long distance to see your psychiatrist or your psychologist or any other provider that you need for your condition.
Now, I understand that Veterans Affairs has all the conditions compounded into categories, and it's very hard to actually attach one to another, because they're all separate. Each injury is a separate entity. For example, PTSD and chronic back pain are different, but there's always that vicious cycle of the chronic pain overtaking my mind and causing a lot of havoc in there, and PTSD just kicks in and from no problem at all, all of a sudden I'm in my garage for a week and half or two weeks, without my family around and not wanting to be around them.
I have no support for my wife and family, as there's nothing here for them, or in any place across Canada, for that matter. I've heard testimony about wives attacking the ministers in Ottawa, trying to seek help.
Now, those are really hard things for them to do, and it is humiliating to actually come towards this committee and to find ways, loopholes, and red tape to get through. The red tape is one of the hardest things we have to deal with as veterans. If you do away with that and fast-track everybody....
We're not asking for a lot, like the Prime Minister says. We're not. We want our quality of life back. We want to be able to breathe the air without having a flashback, but that's nearly impossible, because it always happens. I still see minefields in my yard from time to time.
I talk about that with my psychiatrist. She asks me how it is today and if I feel like killing anybody. Yes, I do, on a daily basis. It's not easy to get out of. PTSD is with us for life. You guys only have to be here for four years, but we are veterans forever. We try to humble ourselves and try to help our younger people move forward in a way that we see but that they don't see.
All I can do is observe and walk around. I do not have any sports or anything else to help me fight these things, because my conditions are so great.