“The Exigencies of the Military Situation Must be the Primary Consideration”: the Department of Indian Affairs, Communication Control, and Indigenous Families in the First World War

  • Tim Clarke University of Waterloo


During the First World War Indigenous peoples in Canada contributed to the war effort through enlistment in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF), the Patriotic Fund, and agricultural and industrial production. Their contributions, however, were not universally accepted in Indigenous communities. For many aging, non-military eligible, individuals, enlistment and off-reserve work deprived families of care-givers, bread-winners, and youth, essential to household and community well-being. Their petitions to the Canadian government, filtered through the Department of Indian Affairs (DIA), reveal the breadth of opinion and sources of frustration from across Indigenous communities in Canada.

For the DIA, however, the years from 1914-1918 provided a crucial opportunity to solidify its power over Indigenous communities. Through a three-pillared archetype of communication control, the DIA increased its unilateral dominion over Indigenous affairs, largely at the expense of the eldest members of Indigenous communities, remaining traditional governance structures, and especially women. While the DIA rightly lauded Indigenous contributions to Canada’s war effort in post-war declarations, it conveniently ignored the costs associated with such contributions, thus denying a crucial aspect of Indigenous First World War history; an omission historians have too often indulged.



Author Biography

Tim Clarke, University of Waterloo
Tim Clarke is a Doctoral Candidate at the University of Waterloo, Canada. His research concerns the experience and memory of the First World War, especially in settler colonial societies in the British Empire. His current dissertation research, “A Commemorative Culture: Settler Society and the First World War in Kenya, 1919-1963,” interrogates the role of the First World War, and its memory, in fashioning a distinct white settler identity in postwar Kenya.