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

Katharine McGowan, Simon Palamar


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.    

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JMSS is a publication of the Centre for Military, Security and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary.

JMSS gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the Social Science and Humanities Research Council.