June is National Aboriginal History Month, and the CAHS would like to take a moment to explore (and celebrate) First Nations involvement in Canadian aviation.
Fred Carmichael accepted the Order of Canada from Governor General Michaelle Jean in Ottawa April 7, 2010. (Photo: Sgt. Serge Gouin, Rideau Hall)
Fred Carmichael of Inuvik, NWT received Canada's highest civilian honour last year in large part because of his aviation career, although I'm sure being president of the Gwichi'in Tribal Council, chair of the Aboriginal Pipeline Group, and a member of the Aboriginal Business Hall of Fame, helped too.
He and the aviation companies he operated - such as Reindeer Air - have been recognized locally for years. His hometown airport in Aklavik was renamed the "Freddie Carmichael Aklavik Airport" and I've come across several mentions of his mercy flights in the works I've been combing for my research.
I got the chance to sit down with Mr. Carmichael in Inuvik in November 2010 to interview him for my book on the history of aviation in Canada's north. As the Northwest Territories' first Aboriginal pilot to get his commercial rating, and the first to hold his private and commercial simultaneously, he's broken a lot of new ground. He's used these experiences to help mentor would-be-aviators in his community, and even took this budding aviation historian under his wing.
Mr. Carmichael is a promiment example of the history of First Nations involvement in Canadian aviation, and even his story has largely gone untold. With airlines like First Air, Air Inuit, Air Tindi, and others now gaining prominence, and more self-identifying Aboriginals taking positions as pilots, AMEs, flight attendants, and so on with national and local companies, this omission is even more glaring. With my background in First Nations history and my interest in this country's aviation history (particularly its civil/general side), I'm excited to help fill in these gaps.
A few sources you might want to check out on First Nations in military aviation:
- National Defence and the Canadian Forces put out "A Commemorative History of Aboriginal People in the Canadian Military" on their site.
- Veterans Affairs Canada has a section of its website dedicated to "Native Soldiers - Foreign Battlefields."
- If you go to the above sites, you will notice that First Nations were not allowed to enlist in the Royal Canadian Air Force as pilots during the Second World War. To learn more about this era of history, please read R. Scott Sheffield's essay "'Of Pure European Descent and of the White Race': Recruitment Policy and Aboriginal Canadians, 1939-1945."
- Grace Poulin's essay "Aboriginal Women: Invisible Servicewomen in Canada's WWII."