A Mixed Methods Study of Enlistment of Indigenous Men on Reserves in the First World War

  • Katharine McGowan Bissett School of Business at Mount Royal University, Calgary
  • Simon Palamar University of Calgary


The First World War triggered opposite reactions from Indigenous men and the Canadian government; the former sought a combination (varying by personal degrees) of independence, cultural expression, treaty obligations and choice, while the latter saw an opportunity to strengthen their control of Indigenous communities for assimilative ends.  We know about the experiences of Indigenous soldiers through letters home, the post war production of cultural artifacts and the too-rare memoir, but accessing the extent of the government's attempts at control within this context, specifically the highly personal and often fraught choice to enlist, requires striping away government rhetoric and bureaucratic bluff.  In this research note, we assess patterns of recruitment to isolate the specific effect of the government decision to deliberately overlap Indian Affairs and military authority figures in the form of Agents-recruiters.  This cliometric analysis highlights the power of this combination of expedient government interest at the expense of Indigenous community integrity.    

Author Biographies

Katharine McGowan, Bissett School of Business at Mount Royal University, Calgary

Dr. Katharine McGowan currently works in the Bissett School of Business at Mount Royal University in Calgary; her work focuses on historical disruptive social innovations and the Indigenization of the Academy through kimma pi pitsin (kindness and compassion). 

Simon Palamar, University of Calgary

Dr. Simon Palamar has a background in international conflict, which he applied and expanded during his time at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, working on the D-10 Strategy Forum. He is currently working in Government Relations with the University of Calgary’s Chancellors’ office.