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Aboriginal Canadians Contributions in WWI Information for this presentation is from: Dempsey, James. “Aboriginal Soldiers in the First World War”, Library.

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Presentation on theme: "Aboriginal Canadians Contributions in WWI Information for this presentation is from: Dempsey, James. “Aboriginal Soldiers in the First World War”, Library."— Presentation transcript:

1 Aboriginal Canadians Contributions in WWI Information for this presentation is from: Dempsey, James. “Aboriginal Soldiers in the First World War”, Library and Archives Canada,

2 Treaty Three states the following: (justification of the Canadian Government for Aboriginal Peoples exemption of service) Whereas Petitions and memorials have been received from and on behalf of Indians pointing out that in view of their not having any right to vote, they should, although natural born British subjects, not be compelled to perform military service, and that in the negotiations of certain treaties expressions were used indicating that Indians should not be so compelled.... TREATY THREE – PROMISES IN REGARDS TO ABORIGINAL RIGHTS

3 STATISTICS OF NUMBER OF ABORIGINAL ENLISTMENT It is estimated that more than 3,500 Aboriginal soldiers served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF), even though they were exempt from military service. Many of them fought in front line combat positions overseas. By the end of the war, 35 percent of the eligible Aboriginal population of Canada had enlisted. This was at least equal to the proportion of non-Aboriginal enlistment in Canada.

4 GOVERNMENT REACTIONS TO ENLISTMENT The Superintendent General of Indian affairs, Arthur Meighen, expressed this feeling in his 1917 Annual Report, when he stated: “It is an inspiring fact that these descendents of the aboriginal inhabitants of a continent so recently appropriated by our own ancestors should voluntarily sacrifice their lives on European battlefields, side by side with men of our own race, for the preservation of the ideals of our civilization, and their staunch devotion forms an eloquent tribute to the beneficent character of British rule over a native people.”

5 WHY ENLIST? There are many different theories on why Aboriginal soldiers enlisted in the Canadian Forces in WWI. The Aboriginal population of Canada was facing extreme racism at the time. The Canadian Government had policies in place to assimilate the Aboriginal communities in Canada. In addition, many of the Aboriginals that did enlist did not speak English and French.

6 WILLIAM SEMIA One recruit with the 52nd, William Semia, a trapper for the Hudson’s Bay Company and a member of the Cat Lake Band in Northern Ontario, spoke neither English nor French when he enlisted. Undeterred, he learned English from another Indian volunteer and later was often responsible for drilling platoons.

7 WHY ENLIST? It is difficult to pinpoint reasons for the Native response. Many Native veterans volunteered for the same reasons other Canadians did, i.e. because their friends and relatives did, for patriotism, for the chance of adventure or simply to earn a guaranteed wage. Some volunteered for reasons that were unique to their band or reserve. One member of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte Band attributes his reserve’s high enlistment ratio to its ties to Great Britain: “We came over with the United Empire Loyalists from the United States. Our treaties are with the Crown, so, when the Crown calls, you go.”

8 WHY ENLIST? Tradition was also a factor in the response. Natives in Canada had a well-established history of fighting on the side of Great Britain, dating back to the activities of the Mohawk Chief Joseph Brant during the 18th Century. Brant was just a teenager when he fought with the British in the Seven Years’ War. As well, in 1775, he and 1,500 other members of the Six Nations Iroquois (or Long House) Confederacy fought alongside Great Britain’s Royal Regiment during the American Revolution

9 HOMELAND CONTRIBUTIONS AND GOVERNMENT REACTIONS Gov’t decree - Greater Production Effort – Agricultural creation and growth Aboriginal Contributions - In the Prairie provinces, instruction in farming and the care of stock had been given in Aboriginal schools and by farm instructors since the disappearance of the buffalo in the 1880s. Their progress in the war era can be shown by the production of the Blood Nation. The years 1916 and 1917 saw them produce the largest crop of grain of any reserve in Canada; their beef production was also the highest in Canada.

10 OTHER CONTRIBUTIONS Many men worked in war munitions plants and women contributed by knitting socks, mufflers and comforters. Patriotic Fund and the Red Cross fund contributions: By 1917, $19,224 had been donated, and by the end of the war $44,545 had been raised. This total does not include the $8,750 that was not accepted due to the extreme poverty of the bands involved. By province, Saskatchewan was first with $17,257, Ontario second with $10,383, and Alberta third with $8,656.

11 GOVERNMENT REACTIONS AFTER THE WAR J.D. McLean, Secretary of the Department, replied: "These returned Indian soldiers are subject to the provisions of the Indian Act and are in the same position as they were before enlisting." This statement made clear that nothing had changed in terms of the legal, social or economic status of Indian Nations after the war. Even though they had survived the war, many of the Aboriginal veterans continued to live at the bottom of the economic ladder, and as the years passed their situation did not improve. Aboriginal veterans were considered to be wards of the government and therefore not the responsibility of Veterans Affairs.

12 DUNCAN SCOTT HEAD OF INDIAN AFFAIRS "In this year of peace, the Indians of Canada may look with just pride upon the part played by them in the great war both at home and on the field of battle. They have well and nobly upheld the loyal traditions of their gallant ancestors who rendered invaluable service to the British cause in 1776 and in 1812, and have added thereto a heritage of deathless honour which is an example and an inspiration for their descendants."


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