When Aurel Dubé was 18, the Canadian military gave him a home. He proudly served for over two decades.
After a difficult childhood in foster care, Aurel Dubé left the system as soon as he turned 18. He joined the military because he felt like there was nowhere else to turn.
“I knew that when you joined the army, that’s a job,” he says. “They train you, they pay you and they feed you. I had no choice but to stay in the military, even if it was hard for me to do the training at first, because I knew I didn’t have anywhere to go if I quit.”
That was in 1983. He spent the next 22 years serving in the Canadian Armed Forces, eventually as a United Nations Peacekeeper in Cyprus, Haiti, and in Bosnia-Herzegovina where he was in the Mortar platoon.
On Monday, November 11, Dubé will lay the first ever Indigenous wreath at the uOttawa Remembrance Day Ceremony.
Wasn’t always open about being Indigenous
Born in the Algonquin community of Kitigan Zibi in Western Quebec, Dubé says that early in his military career he made a point of telling as few people as possible that he was indigenous.
“Sometimes people would ask if I was Native, and I would say yes. But I knew the consequences of saying yes,” he says. “Sometimes it was not good, sometimes I was harassed.”
Despite this, Dubé says he was proudly following in the steps of many Indigenous, Métis and Inuit veterans before him. Veterans Affairs Canada estimates more than 4000 indigenous people served in the First World War, and another 3000 served in the Second World War. Dubé says that, like him, many people didn’t identify as indigenous when they joined the military, so these numbers are likely much higher.
Served as Military during the Oka Crisis
After serving around the world, the mission that he considers the most memorable is one that was served on home soil.
In 1990 Dubé was called into action for the Oka crisis; a stand-off between Mohawk protestors and the Canadian Military. He recalls the internal conflict he experienced having been on the military’s side during this conflict, but also the friction it caused within his family in Kitigan Zibi.
During the Oka Crisis, Waneek Horn-Miller, 14-years-old at the time, was stabbed with a soldier’s bayonet. Dubé says that he lived with guilt over that for years, until he had a chance to speak with Miller at an event a few years ago.
“I told her I wanted to apologize because I was there during the Oka Crisis, I was with the military, and I was fighting against my own people,” he said.
“I felt such a sense of relief,” he says, reflecting on how significant that conversation was for him.
Military is a different experience today for Indigenous youth
While his time in service had its challenges and complications, Dubé encourages Indigenous youth today to consider military as an option.
He says that young people can serve proudly identifying as Indigenous, Inuit or Métis – and they will be supported by elders who are embedded in training programs, and encouraged to learn about traditional practices.
“Today in 2019 – the military has really changed,” he says. “There are a lot of programs for young people to give it a try.”
“Sometimes people are afraid to join the military because if they join the normal army with the other people, they would be by themselves,” he says. “But when they join under the aboriginal program, it’s all aboriginal people, and they are from every community.”
A proud veteran
Dubé left the military in 2005, because of a severe back injury he experienced during his last mission.
“I would still be serving today because I really enjoyed my career in the military,” he says.
Instead, he now spends his days supporting and advocating for Indigenous veterans and attending events like uOttawa’s Remembrance Day Ceremony.
All uOttawa community members are welcome to attend the ceremony, by registering here. The event will be held at Tabaret Hall in the Rotunda starting at 9:30 a.m.