Sergeant Tommy Prince,
Ojibway War Hero. Photo courtesy of Canada War Memorial.
Sgt. Tommy Prince's life exemplifies both incredible bravery and
the persistent racism faced by Indigenous people.
Canada's most decorated Indigenous war veteran, Sgt. Tommy Prince,
deserves to be the face of the new $5 bill, say Manitoba's Conservative
Prince's life exemplifies both incredible sacrifice and bravery
and the persistent racism faced by Indigenous people in Canada,
said Sen. Donald Plett and eight MPs, including Conservative House
leader Candice Bergen and National Defence critic James Bezan, in
a letter sent to the Minister of Finance.
Prince earned 11 medals in the Second World War and the Korean
War and was one of three Canadians to receive both the American
Silver Star and the Military Medal, presented by King George VI
at Buckingham Palace in 1945.
When Prince returned to his home province of Manitoba, he endured
discrimination, poverty and illness and died while living in a Winnipeg
shelter at the age of 62.
The Bank of Canada is in the process of selecting a new face for
the $5 note, which currently features former prime minister Wilfred
Laurier. Close to 45,000 people submitted suggestions and the bank's
advisory council is reviewing more than 600 historical candidates
for a short list. It expects the new bills to begin circulating
in a few years.
The bank followed a similar process when it chose human rights
icon Viola Desmond for the $10 bill in 2016.
Prince was born in 1915 and lived on the Brokenhead Reserve of
the Ojibway Nation in Manitoba. At the age of five, Prince was forced
to attend Elkhorn Residential School. During the Second World War,
Prince served in the elite Devil's Brigade, scouting deep behind
German lines to collect critical intelligence.
In Italy in 1944, Prince spied on the Germans from an abandoned
farmhouse, with 1,400 metres of telephone wire connecting him to
the Allies, according to Veterans Affairs. At one point during a
24-hour solo watch, the phone line was cut by shelling.
Dressed like a farmer, Prince wielded a hoe, and pretended to weed
his crops in full view of German soldiers until he located the damaged
line and repaired it. He continued reporting on the location of
German artillery, and all four positions were destroyed.
"Sergeant Prince's courage and utter disregard for personal
safety were an inspiration to his fellows and marked credit to his
unit," said a citation for a medal he later received.
Later that year, Prince was scouting in southern France when he
located German gun sites and an encampment. He hiked 70 kilometers
through mountainous terrain to share the information. He led his
brigade back and joined the ensuing battle that successfully pushed
the enemy out of the area.
When Prince returned to Canada, he became a spokesperson for the
Manitoba Indian Association, advocating for the abolition of the
Indian Act and for better schools and living conditions as well
as expanded hunting, trapping and fishing rights.
"Indigenous Canadians, like Sergeant Prince, came back from
war with the self-confidence and desire to speak for themselves
and make change," said the letter sent by Conservative MPs.
"They were prepared to reconcile with Canada and move forward
on the path of reconciliation, but Canada was not."
The vast majority of Indigenous people, including more than 15,000
Indigenous soldiers who fought in the Second World War and Korean
War, weren't allowed to vote until 1960. They were also denied the
veteran benefits received by their white counterparts, including
land, grants and vocational training.
Prince spent the last decades of his life in Winnipeg, likely suffering
from post-traumatic stress disorder from his years of service. His
five children were placed in foster care. He died in 1977 while
staying in a small room at the Salvation Army's shelter.