Story Tools: PRINT | Text Size: S M L XL | REPORT TYPO | SEND YOUR FEEDBACK

In Depth

Remembrance Day

Aboriginals and the Canadian Military

Last Updated November 1, 2007

Canada's aboriginal people have been fighting for this country on the front line of every major battle, going as far back as 1812.

Then, the great warrior Tecumseh led the Six Nations in alliance with the Canadians and the British against the Americans in the War of 1812.

But it was during the South African War in 1899, or the Boer War, that First Nations people enlisted as private soldiers in the military forces of Canada for the first time. They fought as Canadian soldiers, shoulder to shoulder with Britain and its allies.

This tradition of military service continued into the 20th century. Although figures are hard to pinpoint, it is estimated that more than 7,000 First Nations people served in the First and Second World Wars and the Korean War and an unknown number of Inuit, M�tis and other native peoples also participated.

First World War

In the First World War, Canadian aboriginal soldiers earned many medals and participated in every major land battle. The total number of native volunteers is unknown, as Inuit and M�tis military volunteers weren't always counted in the records, but it is estimated more than 4,000 aboriginal people in Canada left their homes and their families to fight in the First World War.

That figure accounts for one in three able-bodied First Nations men, according to Veterans Affairs Canada. The number carries even more weight, as native peoples were exempt from conscription at that time. During that war alone, at least 50 medals were awarded to aboriginal people in Canada for their bravery and heroism. The Department of Indian Affairs received scores of letters from the front commending native marksmen and scouts. Aboriginal Canadians contributed in monetary ways too, donating at least $44,000 toward war relief. Although many aboriginal people supported military involvement, it was not fully accepted. For example, some band councils refused to help the Allied war effort unless Great Britain acknowledged their bands as independent nations. That recognition was not granted.

Still, the native community's enthusiasm for volunteering in the Canadian military was obvious across the nation. Some reserves were nearly depleted of young men. For example, during the First World War, about half of the eligible Mi'kmaq and Maliseet men of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia signed up. And, although small, Saskatchewan's File Hills community offered most of its eligible men. In British Columbia, the Lake Band saw every single man between the ages of 20 and 35 volunteer. Native women also helped with the First World War effort, contributing their skills as nurses.

This is impressive, considering news of the war didn't reach some Canadian native communities easily. Reserves in the Yukon and Northwest Territories and in northern sections of the provinces had few transportation and communication links with the rest of Canada. Native peoples living in these areas were often unaware of the war or were unable to enlist without great effort. But they did. For example, at least 15 Inuit, or people having some Inuit ancestry, from Labrador joined the 1st Newfoundland Regiment. As well, about 100 Ojibwa from isolated areas north of Thunder Bay, Ont., made their way to the nearest recruiting centre. Many of them served in the 52nd Canadian Light Infantry Battalion � and at least six were awarded medals for bravery.

But, their successes were not without sacrifices. In the First World War, at least 300 native soldiers lost their lives, either to warfare or to illnesses, such as tuberculosis.

Second World War

In the Second World War, Canada's aboriginal communities again joined in the war effort. Compulsory service for home defence began in 1940, and most aboriginal people were no longer exempt from conscription. By 1942, compulsory overseas service was implemented, and in 1943, the government declared that as British subjects, all able native men of military age could be called up for training and service in Canada or overseas. Only the Inuit were exempt.

Many native bands responded with protest marches and petitions delivered to Ottawa. The issue was raised in the House of Commons several times, and in 1944, the war cabinet committee decided to exempt aboriginal people who had been assured during treaty negotiations that they wouldn't be involved in British battles.

Still, many native people volunteered to serve in the Second World War - more than 3,000 enlisted. And, at home, aboriginal peoples were helping out monetarily. When the war ended, the Indian Affairs Branch noted the donation of more than $23,000 from Canadian Native bands plus additional, unknown amounts sent directly to the Red Cross, the British War Victims Fund, the Salvation Army and similar charities, along with gifts of clothing and other items.

More than 200 native soldiers were killed or died as a result of the Second World War. They earned at least 18 decorations for bravery in action. They were a part of every major battle and campaign, from the Dieppe landings to the Normandy invasion. They also served in Hong Kong where just fewer than 2,000 members of the Winnipeg Grenadiers and the Royal Rifles of Canada became prisoners of war of the Japanese. At least 16 in that group were native peoples.

The Korean War

Many veterans of World War Two, and some new recruits, served in the Korean War. While some served in infantry, many joined the Canadian Army Special Force for Korean service. It was a brigade group, raised by voluntary enlistment and specially trained as part of the regular army. It is estimated that several hundred brigade members were native peoples. It is unknown exactly how many of them were killed or died in Korea, but about 500 Canadians lost their lives in the war, according to Veterans Affairs Canada.

A family tradition

It's not clear why Canada's aboriginal peoples responded to each war effort with such fervour. Many native veterans volunteered for the same reasons other Canadians did, because their friends and relatives did, for patriotism, for the chance of adventure or simply to earn a guaranteed wage.

But, serving in the military became somewhat of a family tradition for some First Nations people.

The legacy of Joseph Brant, the legendary Mohawk warrior who fought alongside the British during the Seven Years War with France and the American Revolutionary War, is a case in point. His youngest son, John, followed in his footsteps as captain of the Northern Confederate Indians, fighting against the Americans in the War of 1812. Later, Joseph Brant's great-great grandson, Cameron, commanded a platoon of the 4th Canadian Infantry Battalion. He was killed in 1915 in Belgium, while leading a counter-attack on enemy trenches, at age 28.

Whatever the reason, Canada's aboriginals made a significant contribution to the war effort.

Honouring the Past

On June 21, 2001 — National Aboriginal Day — Gov. Gen. Adrienne Clarkson unveiled the National Aboriginal Veterans War Monument in Ottawa.

Clarkson described the history of aboriginal veterans as a glorious tradition, if much ignored.

"The thousands of miles that aboriginal soldiers travelled over the course of more than two centuries to help defend this country make up a thousand memories, so many of which have been ignored or lost," she said. "Yet these are the details of our history which we must remember, which we must commemorate," she said.

Clarkson said the monument commemorates the specific battles and campaigns of the past, but also honours the spiritual elements essential to the culture of aboriginal peoples. "This spirit of service and sacrifice continues internationally to this day, with aboriginal soldiers deployed in peacekeeping missions around world."

That legacy lives on today.

As of 2000, First Nations, Inuit and M�tis made up 1.4 per cent, or 1,275 members, of the current Canadian Forces, according to the Department of National Defence. And, recruitment is continuing through the Canadian Forces Aboriginal Entry Program, which offers aboriginal candidates the opportunity to explore military life to make an informed decision about joining.

Go to the Top

Story Tools: PRINT | Text Size: S M L XL | REPORT TYPO | SEND YOUR FEEDBACK

World »

Suspect arrested, town in mourning after deadly Seattle-area mall shooting
A suspect in the fatal shooting of five people at a Washington state mall was taken into custody on Saturday, Washington State Patrol spokesman Keith Leary said in a telephone interview.
Charlotte police release videos of Keith Scott's fatal shooting video
Charlotte, N.C., police have released body and dashboard camera footage of the shooting of a black man after several days of demonstrations that have coalesced around demands that the public see the videos. The footage did not show whether Keith Lamont Scott was holding a gun.
Nearly 2M people without running water as fighting escalates in Aleppo
Syrian government forces captured a rebel-held area on the edge of Aleppo on Saturday, and nearly two million people were without running water following an escalation in fighting over the past few days.
more »

Canada »

Royal Visit Canada: Prince William, Kate and the kids arrive in Victoria video
Thousands of adoring fans greeted Prince William, Kate and their kids in Victoria on the first day of the much-anticipated royal visit to British Columbia.
ALS advocate and former hockey player Dean Stock dies at age 39
The father of three and brother of former NHL player P.J. Stock was diagnosed with neurodegenerative disease ALS, also known as Lou Gherig's disease, in December 2014.
Record number of Ontario fentanyl deaths in 2015, new data from chief coroner's office shows
Fentanyl was the number one cause of opioid-related deaths in Ontario in 2015, killing 162 people on its own and 36 when combined with alcohol, according to the chief coroner's office.
more »

Politics »

Kathleen Wynne OK with health funding strings — depending on how tight they're tied audio
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne says she's not opposed to the government attaching strings to new funding in the forthcoming health care accord, it just depends on how restrictive they are.
Analysis Trudeau's pipeline remark puts focus on Pacific Northwest LNG project
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau may have signalled that his cabinet is prepared to sign-off on a massive natural gas pipeline project that will traverse through B.C.'s north.
Jim Carr rejects idea First Nations are united against pipelines
Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr is dispelling the idea that all Indigenous groups in Canada are united against pipelines after a group of First Nations in Canada and the United States signed a treaty opposing new projects that carry Alberta oilsands.
more »

Health »

Sorry - we can't find that page
 
CBC.ca

Sorry, we can't find the page you requested.

  1. Please check the URL in the address bar, or ...
  2. Use the navigation links at left to explore our site, or ...
  3. Enter a term in the Quick Search box at top, or ...
  4. Visit our site map page

In a few moments, you will be taken to our site map page, which will help you find what you looking for.

more »

Arts & Entertainment»

Bill Nunn, Do the Right Thing and Sister Act actor, dead at 63
Bill Nunn, a veteran character actor whose credits ranged from the Spider-Man movie franchise to such Spike Lee films as Do the Right Thing and He Got Game, has died.
Pippa Middleton's account hacked, thousands of photos stolen
London police say they are investigating the reported hacking of the iCloud account of Pippa Middleton, younger sister of the Duchess of Cambridge, and the alleged theft of 3,000 photographs.
Found dead in Stroumboulopoulos's L.A. home, actor Richard Hong remembered by classmates, family
Montrealers who grew up with Richard Hong remember him as a "rambunctious" student who loved music, basketball and hanging out at Dunkin' Donuts. He was found dead Friday morning in the Los Angeles home of his friend, Canadian broadcaster George Stroumboulopoulos.
more »

Technology & Science »

How to protect yourself after the Yahoo email hack, whether you use Yahoo or not
If you have a Yahoo email address, or ever had one in the past, you could be affected by a massive hack of half a billion accounts. Here's what you can do to protect yourself.
Elephant ivory trade under scrutiny at upcoming wildlife conference
The fate of the elephant hangs in the balance this weekend as the international body that regulates trade in endangered species gathers in South Africa.
Five Canadian communities threatened by climate change now
CBC Radio's Day 6 kicks off its fall season with Facing the Change, a special series profiling five communities in Canada facing serious threats from climate change right now.
more »

Money »

Top 5 ways to save big bucks on groceries video
Personal finance expert Kerry Taylor took Peter Armstrong — host of On the Money on CBCNN — to a grocery store to share some of her best cost-cutting tips.
Real estate groups lobby against calls for GTA foreign buyers tax
Calls for the implementation of a tax on foreign buyers of property in the Greater Toronto Area are "premature," a pair of real estate groups say.
Think you paid fees over the advertised price for your car?
You've bought a car at a dealership and you think you have been charged fees on top of the advertised price for the vehicle. You'd like to get that money back, but the problem is you don't have a copy of the original ad showing the price that brought you into the dealership. What do you do now?
more »

Consumer Life »

Sorry - we can't find that page
 
CBC.ca

Sorry, we can't find the page you requested.

  1. Please check the URL in the address bar, or ...
  2. Use the navigation links at left to explore our site, or ...
  3. Enter a term in the Quick Search box at top, or ...
  4. Visit our site map page

In a few moments, you will be taken to our site map page, which will help you find what you looking for.

more »

Sports »

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Analysis Crosby-Ovechkin rivalry ends with Sid on top once again
The rivalry between Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin that has gone back a decade closed its latest chapter with a 5-3 Canadian victory in the World Cup of Hockey semifinal.
Bautista bomb! Jose's late homer lifts Blue Jays over Yankees video
Jose Bautista provided the offence with an eighth-inning home run and Blue Jays pitchers stymied the Yankees for the second day in a row as Toronto blanked New York 3-0 Saturday.
Recap World Cup of Hockey: Canada beats Russia to advance to final video
Canada has advanced to the World Cup of Hockey final after defeating Russia 5-3. Brad Marchand had a pair of goals for the Canadians while Sidney Crosby had a goal and two assists in the semifinal matchup.
more »

Diversions »

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
more »