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Native Canadian soldiers remember fighting the ‘white man’s war’

The Story


Status Indians were not obliged to enter the armed forces during the Second World War, but thousands rushed to enlist nonetheless. Native Canadian veteran Adam Cutham says his people have never been afraid of death, and willingly accepted the most perilous of tasks. In the military, he says, he was treated for the first time as an equal. But as we hear on this clip from CBC Radio's Our Native Land, that treatment ended when he returned to Canada.

Medium: Radio
Program: Our Native Land
Broadcast Date: Nov. 9, 1974
Guest(s): Adam Cutham, Rufus Prince
Host: Lloyd Henderson
Reporter: Bernelda Wheeler
Duration: 10:27

Did You know?


• Many native Canadians responded enthusiastically to the call for soldiers, despite the fact that status Indians were not Canadian citizens. (They were technically wards of the government until 1960 and could not vote.) Status Indians had been exempt from military service since the First World War. Regardless, many native groups made declarations of loyalty that included pointed references to defending the British monarch with whom treaties had originally been made.

• Among many native Canadians there was a fear that enlistment would mean "enfranchisement" -- gaining the rights of a Canadian citizen but losing the rights of a status Indian.

• An estimated half of all volunteers were rejected for reasons of health or education. Yet more than 3,000 status Indians served during the war. Some 12,000 aboriginal peoples served in both world wars and in Korea. More than 500 gave their lives. (Sources: Indian and Northern Affairs Canada; The War Amps.)

• After the Second World War, most veterans received $6,000 and a quarter-section of land (half a square mile, or 160 acres). Native peoples' veteran's benefits were to be administered by their own nations and by Indian Affairs (not Veterans Affairs). They often received nothing and were sent back to the reserves. When the government distributed land it tended to be land that was already part of their reserves.

• Native veterans of both world wars and Korea say they were also denied spousal benefits, education and jobs, access to hospitals and rehabilitation services, and received less resettlement money than other veterans.

• In 1994 the Canadian Senate began an investigation into these claims.


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