In 2005, Trevor Whitten (front right) served as an Honor Guard member during the Aboriginal Spiritual Journey at Vimy Ridge, honouring the Indigenous veterans of the First and Second World Wars. (Photo courtesy of Trevor Whitten)

In 2005, Trevor Whitten (front right) served as an Honor Guard member during the Aboriginal Spiritual Journey at Vimy Ridge, honouring the Indigenous veterans of the First and Second World Wars. (Photo courtesy of Trevor Whitten)

Victoria man follows seven generations of Indigenous veterans

Joining the military at age 20 was a no-brainer for Trevor Whitten

With seven generations of family members serving in the military, joining at age 20 was a no-brainer for Victoria resident, Trevor Whitten.

The tradition began during the First World War when Whitten said his ancestor was one of more than 4,000 Indigenous people to enlist.

Back then, the Indian Act stipulated that when an Indigenous person served in the military, obtained a university degree or became a professional, they became “civilized” and would lose their “Indian” status.

“These gentleman left the reservation and risked their lives knowing they would lose their Indian status,” Whitten said with pride.

Upon returning home from the war, Indigenous veterans were withheld many of the benefits and honours non-Indigenous soldiers received.

“The Indian people then saw them as white and the government still saw them as ‘dirty Indians’,” Whitten said.

During the war though, when soldiers were on the front lines fighting for their lives, Whitten said he knows Indigenous soldiers wouldn’t have been treated any differently.

“Bullets don’t care who they’re coming at,” he said.

During his 27 years serving in the military – four in reserves and 23 in the navy – Whitten said he never felt like he was treated differently than non-Indigenous members. After completing basic training together, they were all just family he said.

“I don’t care who you are. If you’re on the front lines with me I’ve got your back and I expect you to have mine,” he added.

That’s not to say that jokes weren’t made about the fact that Whitten was an “Indian” but he said as long as they were made in good faith he didn’t mind.

After sailing on his first ship as a navy member, Whitten wanted to get something embroidered onto a leather jacket to commemorate the trip. When he went to go pick up his new jacket though, he was shocked to find that instead of the wording he had chosen, “Electric Indian” was scrolled across the leather.

He quickly found out that his buddies, impressed by his dancing the night before, had sneakily requested the changes and paid for it all. The jacket immediately became a favourite of his.

Years later, when one of those friends passed away, Whitten showed up to his funeral wearing the “Electric Indian” jacket, knowing it would have made his friend smile.

Now age 54 and eight years retired, Whitten said the thing he misses most isn’t the job but all the incredible people he got to be around.

For him, Indigenous Veteran’s Day on Nov. 8 and Remembrance Day on Nov. 11 are for listening to and sharing stories. As he pointed out, many of the veterans of the world’s biggest wars won’t be around much longer.


Do you have a story tip? Email: jane.skrypnek@blackpress.ca.

Follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like us on Facebook.

Courage RememberedFirst NationsIndigenousMilitaryRemembrance DayRoyal Canadian NavyVeterans

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Vancouver Island Crisis Society has seen a five per cent rise in call volumes compared to this time last year. (Black Press Media file photo)
Winter blues a concern for Vancouver Islanders during COVID-19 Christmas season

Statistics show British Columbians anticipate worsening mental health

Jason Soukochoff is wanted on a Canada-wide warrant, say Victoria police. (Courtesy VicPD)
Victoria police seek man with violent criminal history against elderly

Jason Soukochoff wanted on Canada-wide warrant for parole violations

The new plan informing development Central Saanich’s Saanichton Village calls for wider, greener sidewalks among other measures. (Black Press Media File)
Central Saanich signs off on Saanichton Village Plan

Plan will inform development applications within Saanichton

Bystanders attend to a cyclist who is knocked to the pavement of Oak Bay Avenue. Witnesses say the cyclist was knocked off their bike in a dooring incident on Oak Bay Avenue at Fell Street at around 12:40 p.m. on Wednesday. 
(Daniel Opden Dries Photo)
UPDATED: VicPD tickets driver for ‘dooring’ cyclist on Oak Bay Avenue

Incident occurred at Oak Bay Avenue and Fell Street

West Shore RCMP pulled over a 2010 Jeep Grand Cherokee on Nov. 23 after noting that it didn’t appear safe for the road. (West Shore RCMP)
West Shore RCMP pull over vehicle held together by tape and cargo strap

RCMP deemed the vehicle unsafe for the road and had it towed away

A man wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of COVID-19 walks in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. records deadliest day of pandemic with 13 deaths, 738 new COVID-19 cases

Number of people in hospital is nearing 300, while total cases near 30,000

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Nov. 24

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

(AP Photo/Haven Daley)
POLL: Do you think the current COVID-19 restrictions should continue beyond Dec. 7?

One week into the new restrictions to curtail the spread of the… Continue reading

(File photo)
Alberta woman charged after allegedly hitting boy with watermelon at Okanagan campsite

Police say a disagreement among friends at an Adams Lake campsite turned ugly

Court of Appeal for British Columbia in Vancouver. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
B.C. woman loses appeal to have second child by using late husband’s sperm

Assisted Human Reproduction Act prohibits the removal of human reproductive material from a donor without consent

An excavator was stolen from a rural property south of Nanaimo this month, say police. (Photos submitted)
Excavator stolen from property south of Nanaimo

Bobcat Mini believed to have been stolen between Nov. 12-14, say RCMP

Krista Macinnis displays the homework assignment that her Grade 6 daughter received on Tuesday. (Submitted photo)
B.C. mom angry that students asked to list positive stories about residential schools

Daughter’s Grade 6 class asked to write down 5 positive stories or facts

B.C. projects targeting the restoration of sockeye salmon stocks in the Fraser and Columbia Watersheds will share in $10.9 million of federal funding to protect species at risk. (Kenny Regan photo)
13 projects protecting B.C. aquatic species at risk receive $11 million in federal funding

Salmon and marine mammals expected to benefit from ecosystem-based approach

Most Read