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

Sidney’s Haunted Bookshop is changing owners with longtime owner Odean Long transferring ownership Dec. 1 to William Matthews. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Longtime owner of Sidney’s Haunted Bookshop closes chapter with sale

Odean Long and her late husband moved the business to Sidney in 1996

Goldstream Food Bank volunteers at work. Light Up the City will be offering various options for the public to drop off non-perishable food items to support this food bank and others in Greater Victoria. (Black Press Media file photo)
Greater Victoria residents can show their charity through Light Up the City

Drive-thru food bank and toy donation dropoff sites open up this Saturday around region

Victoria police arrested a man in a Yates Street grocery store Nov. 27 after he refused to wear a mask. (Black Press Media File photo)
Belligerent man arrested in Victoria grocery store after refusing to wear mask

Officers fined the man $230 under the COVID-19 Related Measures Act

A 43-year-old woman is facing charges for impaired driving and leaving the scene of a crash after attempting to flee from police by driving down the beach in front of the Oak Bay Marina on Nov. 23. (Oak Bay Police/Twitter)
Victoria woman drives over seawall onto beach near Oak Bay Marina

Driver faces charges for fleeing crash, refusing breathalyzer test

Friends with Dorothy opens in Victoria.
LGBT2Q+ lounge Friends with Dorothy opens second location in Victoria

The Kelowna-based lounge plans to open in Victoria mid-December

A woman wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as she walks along the seawall in North Vancouver Wednesday, November 25, 2020.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
911 new COVID-19 cases, 11 deaths as B.C. sees deadliest week since pandemic began

Hospitalizations reach more than 300 across the province

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

A photo from 2017, of Nuchatlaht First Nation members outside court after filing a land title case in B.C. ( Submitted photo/Nuchatlaht First Nation).
Vancouver Island First Nation calls on B.C. to honour UNDRIP in historic title case

Nuchatlaht First Nation says Crown counsel continues to stall the case using the ‘distasteful’ argument that the Nation ‘abandoned’ their land

West Vancouver Island’s Ehattesaht First Nation continues lock down after 9 active cases were reported today after a visitor tested positive last week. (Ehattesaht First Nation/Facebook)
Ehattesaht First Nation’s COVID-19 nightmare: nine active cases, a storm and a power outage

The Vancouver Island First Nation in a lockdown since the first case was reported last week

The Ahousaht First Nation confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on Nov. 26, 2020. (Westerly file photo)
Ahousaht First Nation on lockdown over COVID-19

“Emotions are high. The anxiety is high. We want our community to pull through.”

Screenshot of Pastor James Butler giving a sermon at Free Grace Baptist Church in Chilliwack on Nov. 22, 2020. The church has decided to continue in-person services despite a public health order banning worship services that was issued on Nov. 19, 2020. (YouTube)
2 Lower Mainland churches continue in-person services despite public health orders

Pastors say faith groups are unfairly targeted and that charter rights protect their decisions

A big job: Former forests minister Doug Donaldson stands before a 500-year-old Douglas fir in Saanich to announce preservation of some of B.C.’s oldest trees, July 2019. (B.C. government)
B.C. returning to ‘stand-alone’ forests, rural development ministry

Horgan says Gordon Campbell’s super-ministry doesn’t work

Most Read