By Ananya Jaikumar, Aman Singh, Himisha Nagar, and Haokun Qin
As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended the First World War, it’s important to look back on how the Canadian army has changed and embraced diversity and inclusion since then. People of colour were neglected and the military failed to recognize them for their contributions to the war, and as we all stand today, proud to be who we are, we must take into consideration what got us here.
Time and time again we have seen soldiers take a stand for what they believe in. In previous years, some of these soldiers were looked down upon, and struggled to get the recognition they deserved. During WWI, members of the black community formed the No. 2 Construction Battalion. Though they were not allowed to fight, they played a pivotal role by digging trenches and repairing roads on the battlefield. Approximately 2000 African Canadian men fought their way to get to the front lines, and about one-third of the First Nations people in Canada between the ages of 18-45 enlisted during the war. Around 225 Japanese-Canadians volunteered during this war, and 54 had died in the process. All of these soldiers wished to show their patriotism for Canada, only to be discriminated against during a time of unity.
The ranks of warfare in WWI were also full of racial and sexist discrimination, which is evident in the armies of the Allied Powers and the Central Powers. An example of discrimination comes in the form of racial discrimination against people of African descent, because they were seen as incompetent, and likely to rebel or desert, just because of their skin color. Furthermore, Asians and minority groups were often met with the same treatment. However, WWI was also a turning point in the power of visual minorities, as seen in the french battle of Ypres, where Algerians (a French colony at that time) were fighting for the Allied Powers, and won to a certain extent.
When talking about the mistreatment and lack of inclusion of coloured individuals in the army during WWI, it is very crucial to bring to light those who fought for our country and made a difference. One of these honourable persons includes Francis Pegahmagabow, the most effective sniper of WWI, and the first First Nations soldier to ever be most highly decorated for bravery in the Canadian army. Pegahmagabow played a significant role in the Battle of Ypres, the Battle of Somme, where he won a Military Medal, and the Battle of the Scarpe, where he was one of the mere 39 individuals to win a second bar in the Military Medal. Pegahmagabow was a leader, a dedicated soldier, and a discriminated First Nations man who truly made a difference.
Now, the breakdown of the Canadian army is different, and the increase in diversity, inclusion, and recognition is clearly visible. The military is trying to attract more women, visible minorities, members of the LGBTQ community and other segments of society that have been historically underrepresented, and they are doing their best to show that the Canadian Armed Forces accurately depicts the mosaic of Canada. As we celebrate Remembrance Day, remember the sacrifices of those before us to create the loving and accepting country we live in today.