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

Aerial view of the Capital Regional District residuals treatment facility at Hartland Landfill where residual solids are turned into Class A biosolids. (Photo courtesy CRD)
Plant closure sends more biosolids to Hartland Landfill

Saanich residents are concerned they were never consulted

A COVID-19 vaccination clinic, operated by Island Health, has opened at the University of Victoria’s McKinnon Gym. (Photo courtesy of UVic)
COVID-19 vaccination clinic opens at University of Victoria

Clinic is staffed and operated by Island Health

Saanich Coun. Susan Brice and Mayor Fred Haynes are calling on the province to develop new solutions for emergency response to mental health crises with the consideration of a potential new 911 category. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
Saanich mayor, councillor call for new solutions to mental health emergencies

Shifting response from police to trained mental health team the best option, mayor says

FILE – Oshawa Generals forward Anthony Cirelli, left, shoots and scores his team’s first goal against Kelowna Rockets goalie Jackson Whistle during second period action at the Memorial Cup final in Quebec City on Sunday, May 31, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot
B.C. government approves plan in principle to allow WHL to resume in the province

League includes Kamloops Blazers, Kelowna Rockets, Prince George Cougars, Vancouver Giants, Victoria Royals

Langley resident Carrie MacKay shared a video showing how stairs are a challenge after spending weeks in hospital battling COVID-19 (Special to Langley Advance Times)
VIDEO: Stairs a challenge for B.C. woman who chronicled COVID-19 battle

‘I can now walk for six (to) 10 minutes a day’

Left: Oakland County Jail. Right: Canuck Todd Bertuzzi on November 2, 2005. (CP/Chuck Stoody)
Former Vancouver Canuck Todd Bertuzzi arrested for suspected DUI: report

The Canadian winger had a complicated history in the NHL

The south coast of B.C. as capture by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission. (European Space Agency)
VIDEO: Images of B.C.’s south coast from space released by European Space Agency

The satellite images focus on a variety of the region’s landmarks

A copy of the book “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” by Dr. Seuss, rests in a chair, Monday, March 1, 2021, in Walpole, Mass. Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the business that preserves and protects the author and illustrator’s legacy, announced on his birthday, Tuesday, March 2, 2021, that it would cease publication of several children’s titles including “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street” and “If I Ran the Zoo,” because of insensitive and racist imagery. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
6 Dr. Seuss books won’t be published for racist images

Books affected include McElligot’s Pool, On Beyond Zebra!, Scrambled Eggs Super! and The Cat’s Quizzer

The fundraising effort to purchase 40 hectares west of Cottonwood Lake announced its success this week. Photo: Submitted
Nelson society raises $400K to save regional park from logging project

The Nelson community group has raised $400,000 to purchase 40 hectares of forest

AstraZeneca’s vaccine ready for use at the vaccination centre in Apolda, Germany, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Michael Reichel/dpa via AP
National panel advises against using Oxford-AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine on seniors

NACI panel said vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are preferred for seniors ‘due to suggested superior efficacy’

A public health order has extended the types of health care professionals who can give the COVID-19 vaccine. (Photo courtesy of CHI Franciscan)
‘It’s great that midwives are included’ in rollout of B.C.’s COVID vaccine plan, says college

The order will help the province staff the mass vaccination clinics planned for April

Shipping containers are seen at the Fairview Cove Container Terminal in Halifax on Friday, Aug. 25, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Canadian economy contracted 5.4 per cent in 2020, worst year on record

Drop was largely due to shutdowns in the spring as COVID began to spread

Most Read