12/14/2013 08:31 EST | Updated 02/13/2014 05:59 EST

Mi'kmaq veterans lauded for first time on P.E.I.

Aboriginal veterans are being honoured for the first time on P.E.I.

Their families gathered for a special ceremony in Charlottetown on Friday night. Dozens of Island Mi’kmaq have fought in major Canadian conflicts. Most are now dead.

"At a time when they weren't given the basic dignity of being recognized as citizens, at a time when they were oppressed, dismissed and forgotten, our people rose above it all,” said Abegweit First Nations Chief Brian Francis.

"They looked at the oppression that people were facing in Europe and they understood what it was like to be in an occupied territory. So they wanted to make sure that the things that happened to them would never happen to anyone else,” said John Joe Sark, head of the Mi'kmaq Grand Council.

Stark said after the First World War and Second World War many First Nations veterans returned to a life on reserves and, in most cases, the same discrimination they experienced before.

"You know, every time I hear the phrase ‘Lazy drunken Indians', they don't realize how hard our people worked,” he said.

The families of M'ikmaq veterans will be honoured with a special medallion in the new year.