One of the most highly decorated First Nations soldiers from the First World War called the Okanagan home.
Private George McLean, a rancher from the Head of the Lake Band, served his country several times, and such is a veteran of two wars. With the Canadian Mounted Rifles, McLean served in the South African (or Boer) War at the turn of the century. He then enlisted in Vernon in 1916 and sailed for Great Britain, and was in France with the 54th Battalion. During the Battle of Vimy Ridge, armed with about a dozen Mills bombs (small violently exploding grenades nicknamed pineapples), McLean launched a daring solo attack on a group of enemy soldiers.
“Single-handed, he captured 19 prisoners, and later, when attacked by five more prisoners who attempted to reach a machine-gun, he was able—although wounded—to dispose of them unaided, thus saving a large number of casualties,” the private’s citation reads.
McLean was shot in the arm by a sniper during his brave act and returned to Canada for medical treatment. He went on to become a firefighter in the Vancouver region before dying in 1934.
In honour of Indigenous Veterans Day, Premier John Horgan singled out McLean in a public statement Monday, Nov. 8.
“During the First World War, every man between the ages of 20 and 35 from Nk’maplqs (Head of the Lake), presently known as the Okanagan Indian Band, enlisted in the war effort,” Horgan said. “Among them was Private George McLean, a rancher who was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for bravery during the Battle of Vimy Ridge in 1917. His bravery is but one example among many.”
Indigenous Veterans Day is a time to honour those Indigenous people who have served and continue to serve in the Canadian Armed Forces.
“Every year on this date, we reflect on the contributions and the sacrifices made by an estimated 12,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit people from across this land who have served,” Horgan said. “Indigenous people have a proud tradition of military service, including in the Boer War, both World Wars and the Korean War, as well as in more recent conflicts in the Middle East and Afghanistan.”
Along with those who made sacrifices on the home front, Horgan acknowledged that many Indigenous veterans came home to face continued discrimination.
“The legacy of their mistreatment echoes to this day,” Horgan said.
“On this sombre day of reflection, we remember those who never made it home. We also recognize those who returned home forever changed by conflict and acknowledge the sacrifice of their service.”
- with files from Veteran Affairs Canada, photos courtesy of the Canadian Encyclopedia