November 7, 2020

Nikiskisinan (we remember them)

Darcy Venne, a technical services manager, has been a Suncor employee since 1983. “I’m part of the furniture,” he says with a smile, which is hidden under his mask, but you can hear it in his voice. 

Darcy’s smile fades with an emotional pause when he speaks about National Indigenous Veterans Day, which is observed every Nov. 8. 

Despite having several family members, including his father, who served in the military, Darcy admits that he didn’t know about the day, which began in 1994. Darcy first learned about National Indigenous Veterans Day in 2015 when he joined Suncor’s Indigenous employee network, “Journeys.” 

As he talks about what that day means to him as an Indigenous man, he’s remembering not only his father, Emile Venne, who served from 1940 to 1946, but also his Auntie Mary Greyeyes who was the first Indigenous woman to enlist in the Canadian military in 1942.

Private Mary Greyeyes, Cree, from Muskeg Lake, Cree Nation, Canadian Women's Army Corps

Photo: Private Mary Greyeyes, Cree, from Muskeg Lake, Cree Nation, Canadian Women's Army Corps, with Harry Ball, Piapot First Nation, September 29, 1942
Source: Library and Archives Canada/Department of National Defence fonds/a129070

Darcy’s family is from the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation, a relatively small reserve on Treaty 6 Territory in Saskatchewan. The First Nation has a proud military past one of the largest number of veterans in Saskatchewan. 

Although Darcy’s father didn’t talk much about the Second World War, he was stationed in both Italy and Belgium, which as Darcy says, “allowed him to see life off the reserve.” 

An estimated 12,000 Indigenous Peoples served in both world wars and the Korean War. About 500 never made it home. Those who did return had to surrender their Indian status, which meant losing benefits and rights under the Indian Act. They also came home to find much of their land given to non-Indigenous veterans or farmers. Additionally, until 1960, Indigenous veterans weren’t eligible to vote, were denied the financial assistance offered to other returning soldiers, didn’t qualify for veterans benefits, and were not welcome in legion halls. 

The journey forward

Thankfully things are changing, and Indigenous veterans are starting to be recognized for their contributions to Canada’s military history.

Before Suncor established its Indigenous employee network, Darcy says many of his colleagues didn’t know he was Indigenous because it was a topic never discussed in the workplace. He calls the work Suncor has done on its journey to reconciliation ‘groundbreaking.’ 

“I am so proud of Suncor for the work it has done and is doing for reconciliation,” says Darcy. “It’s so important to do this work to correct the past. It actually changed my life for the better.”

Darcy credits the evolution of his personal journey solely to Suncor’s work in this area.

“I was in a session with other Suncor employees about six years ago when I learned one of the company’s goals was about Indigenous Peoples. I almost dropped,” explains Darcy. “Because of that session, I was able to get up in front of leadership at another session and say, ‘My name is Darcy Venne, I’m from the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation and I’ve been waiting 30 years to say that.’ That moment had a profound effect on me.”

Today, Darcy proudly celebrates his Indigenous heritage and sees talking about his family and the past as a form of healing.