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Non-profit group established to support Indigenous veterans

The Burns Way Project will be launched in 2024.

SASKATOON — The Burns Way Project, a newly formed non-profit organization with four organizations acting as administrators, is dedicated to advancing the causes of Indigenous Peoples who have served in the Canadian Armed Forces.

The Aboriginal Veterans Autochtones, the Assembly of First Nations, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations and the Royal Canadian Legion are the organizations committed to supporting all veterans, regardless of Indigenous or non-Indigenous background.

Last year, a significant milestone was achieved when the Legion and the Saskatchewan First Nations Veterans Association signed a memorandum of agreement, a momentous occasion for Indigenous veterans. Building upon the momentum created by this historic signing ceremony, The Burns Way Project was established to ensure equal treatment for Indigenous veterans.

The project derives its name from the late Earl Burns, an esteemed veteran and residential school survivor who tragically lost his life during the events at the James Smith Cree Nation and in Weldon. Earl Burns, assigned to Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, demonstrated bravery and sacrifice while protecting his family and community during the September 3, 2022, stabbings.

Posthumously, he was honoured with the Silver Cross for his valiant efforts, and his wife, Joyce, who was wounded in the same incident, was also bestowed with the Silver Cross.

The Burns Way Project aims to address the numerous barriers that have prevented Indigenous veterans from accessing equitable services funded by Veterans Affairs Canada. These barriers include geographic isolation from clinical settings and limiting access to essential mental health and medical support. Moreover, the trauma resulting from residential school experiences, often intergenerational, coupled with feelings of shame, further hinders veterans from seeking help.

An example of systemic exclusion is tied to a clause in the Indian Act, which stipulates that individuals whose status falls under the act lose their rights, including healthcare if they leave their reservation for more than four years. Although Indigenous people were not obligated to serve, many enlisted and fought during World War II.

Unfortunately, those who fought in battles from 1939 to 1943 were considered off-reserve, thus forfeiting the benefits accorded to them by the Indian Act. Additionally, Indigenous veterans were denied the same benefits as their non-Indigenous counterparts.

TryCycle Data Systems is currently leading the development of The Burns Way Project, but it will soon evolve into a self-governing organization. Operating as a non-profit offers unique funding opportunities occasionally available only to for-profit organizations.

By taking this path, The Burns Way Project seeks to secure the resources necessary to provide new hope and support for all veterans, particularly those from Indigenous backgrounds, honouring their service and sacrifices.

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