Indigenous voices around decision making table will help end homelessness among veterans

National Indigenous Veterans Day ceremony opens the National Conference to End Homelessness in Halifax.

Indigenous flag bears walk in step to honour those who served in Canada’s military at a ceremony in Halifax.

The ceremony was one of many across the country that marked Indigenous Veterans Day on Nov. 8 – a separate day to remember First Nations, Inuit and Métis people who fought in Canada’s military during war and peace.

While the event was well attended, Elder Debbie Eisan, who spent 26 years in the military, says Indigenous veterans are forgotten for much of the year.

“It’s important for us to remember to honor them in a way that they are not living on the streets that they are looked after both with the medicine wheel, health and mental health and physical, spiritual and emotional,

it’s one of the responsibilities that we need to take on,” she said.

Researchers say while more study is needed, preliminary data suggests that Indigenous veterans make up a large proportion of former military personnel who are homeless.

According to the Journal of Military and Veterans Health, the issue needs to be studied further.

“Recent statistics in Canada suggest that Indigenous peoples make up 28% to 34% of the homeless population despite only accounting for 4.3% of the Canadian population with a tendency for higher rates of homelessness in western and northern communities in Canada,” said the study. “In a study conducted across four Canadian cities (Calgary, London, Toronto and Victoria), it was found that Indigenous and Métis Veterans made up 9.7% of the homeless Veterans sample.

“Currently there is a lack of research investigating homeless Veterans within Canada but in particular there is a dearth of literature specifically focusing on homeless Indigenous Veterans.”

Bryan Blue is from Peguis First Nation in Manitoba and was one of the flag bearers at the ceremony in Halifax.

“I do know that if there is one veteran that’s living on the street that shouldn’t be there then obviously we’ve got to do everything in our power to make sure that doesn’t happen,

that’s Indigenous and non-Indigenous veterans,” he said.

Pam Gloade, executive director of the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre said more study is needed.

“We make up less than one per cent of the population and yet we’re making up 30 per cent of the homeless population and I actually believe that data is not correct,” she said. “I actually believe there’s a lot of work that needs to be done on that data, and I believe it should be done by the community for the community so that we’re in control of that data, so we get to tell our story.”

Gloade-Desrocher said the solution is ending homelessness begins with Indigenous voices.

“I think by us having a voice at the table, we’re actually able to bring that voice forward and the importance of Indigenous people being at these tables is key to actually moving things forward,” she said.

About 2,000 people attended the conference in Halifax. Frontline workers, community leaders and politicians paid their respects.

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