Exploring the Meaning of Indigenous Military Service during the Second World War in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States

  • R. Scott Sheffield University of the Fraser Valley


This article explores the meaning of military service for Indigenous men who volunteered during the Second World War. At its core, this question can help elucidate what is often the “big why?” invariably asked by people encountering this subject for the first time: why did young Indigenous men fight for a freedom, democracy and equality that they had never experienced?  Employing a transnational lens, the article seeks to do interrelated things. First, it examines the meaning of military service for Indigenous men in each of three distinct phases: prior to their enlistment, while serving in the army and in combat, and after demobilisation and transitioning to veterans. Second, this study considers Indigenous perspectives and experiences in relation to, and the broader context of, the non-Indigenous comrades-in-arms with whom they enlisted, served, and sacrificed. In the end, this examination reveals a diversity of interpretations amongst Indigenous soldiers at each stage, but cannot be definitive in the face of such complexity and the ultimately idiosyncratic and personal nature of veterans’ lived experiences.



Author Biography

R. Scott Sheffield, University of the Fraser Valley

R. Scott Sheffield is an Associate Professor of History at the University of the Fraser Valley.  He has been researching and writing about Indigenous military service since 1993 and is the author of The Red Man’s on the Warpath: the Image of the ‘Indian’ and the Second World War (2004), and (with Noah Riseman) Indigenous Peoples and the Second World War: The Politics, Experiences and Legacies of War in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand (2019), as well as many articles and book chapters.