In honour of National Indigenous Veterans Day on Sunday, meet three First Nations men from Saskatchewan who have served or are serving in the military.
It was only natural that Joel Pedersen joined the Canadian Armed Forces, as both his parents served in the military.
Pedersen, 50, originally from the Fond du Lac Denesuline First Nation in northern Saskatchewan, served for five years, including in the Gulf War, and went on to 25 years with the Saskatoon Police Service, retiring in 2017.
“I served my country through the army and my community through the police service for pretty much my whole adult life.” said Pedersen.
“It has always been a goal for me to be a police officer and this is just the journey I went on toward that goal.”
Fresh out of high school, Pedersen joined the army, travelling to France, Egypt, Italy and Wales.
The father of four now works part-time as the regimental major for the 38th Brigade battle school, an army reserve unit headquartered in Winnipeg, as well as operating fitness and security businesses.
For the past 10 years Pedersen has been offering free health and wellness classes to people in Saskatoon’s inner-city in addition to training Indigenous fitness instructors.
“It’s about inclusiveness, taking down those barriers so that everyone has a safe space and opportunity to be involved at no-cost,” said Pedersen.
“It’s about that overall umbrella of wellness. Being able to inspire and enable people is a really amazing feeling. It’s humbling to see men and women become successful.”
Evan Taypoytat, 41, chief of the Kahkewistahaw First Nation located 175 kilometres north of Regina, became a private in the Canadian Armed Forces Bold Eagle program, an introductory program aimed at Indigenous youth in western Canada, in 1998. He went on to join the 1st Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry and served in Afghanistan as part of Canada’s Mission Transition Task Force in 2011.
“It turns out a lot of those leadership skills I gained from serving within Bold Eagle and the Armed Forces I was able to use as a leader,” said Taypotat.
He said facing challenges head on with discipline and hard work is what is taught in basic training and he learned the importance of teamwork.
“Standing in the rain digging a trench with somebody from Alberta, Manitoba or Nova Scotia, you learn to rely on your team,” he said.
Taypotat said those skills have helped him lead his community with his council, as a team.
Currently there are six living war veterans on Kahkewistahaw First Nation. Due to COVID-19, Taypotat said there will be a small ceremony on the First Nation this year, following public health guidelines for physical distancing.
Taypotat said it’s important to honour those who fought, and those that didn’t make it back.
“Not too many Canadians know that the soldiers that fought in WWI or WWII did it in far worse conditions; they didn’t have the technology we have. So we have to honour them, as well as those that made the ultimate sacrifice.”
Wyatt Pratt, 20, originally from Cote First Nation located 277 kilometres northeast of Regina, is in his first year of serving as a private first class with the United States army.
His family lived in both Canada and the United States, but settled in Washington state where Pratt enlisted in the Washington Army National Guard in 2019 at the age of 19.
“I’ve always wanted to join the army since I was little. There was always someone from each generation of my family that was in the army,” said Pratt.
Currently Pratt is serving a tour in Germany and he has spent time in Poland, North Carolina and Oklahoma.
“It’s tough being away from family a lot of the time, but I really enjoy and love my job.”
Pratt said after being deployed, he appreciates National Indigenous Veterans Day and Remembrance Day in a new way.
“This time of year I think about our grandfathers that served and about those that didn’t get to come back,” he said.
“You don’t realize until you’re in the army the importance of those battle connections with people — they are all you have to rely on. True heroes are the ones who gave the ultimate sacrifice to protect others and what they believe in.”
Pratt will hold a small ceremony on Indigenous Veterans Day with his platoon.