Aboriginals in World War 1

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Despite their overall small numbers and their ambivalent relationship with the Canadian government, Canada’s First Nations people contributed significantly to the Great War. Exact numbers are not available for many reasons. The Department of Indian Affairs at the time did not track “Indian Enlistments” as closely as they should have and many men who enlisted were overlooked. As well, because the government department focussed on “status Indians,” many Natives who enlisted from the Metis people, Inuit and other groups, were not counted. As well, the government did not track Natives from Newfoundland and Labrador because they were not part of Canada at the time. Nonetheless, it is safe to say that about 4,000 Native Canadians participated in the First World War, many serving with distinction. In all, more than 50 decorations were awarded to Native fighters for their contributions to the war. | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | Elders and Indian soldiers Members of the File Hills Indian Colony joined the 68th Battalion (Regina). Their parents, in traditional garb, posed for this photograph before the soldiers left for England. | | | During the First World War, at least 4,000 Indian men volunteered to join the Allied forces in European battlefields. In rallying with the rest of Canada, Aboriginal Canadians faced distinct challenges. At the outbreak of the First World War, a considerable number of Natives lived in remote communities and spoke neither English nor French. For many, joining a Canadian battalion marked their first exposure to the dress, terminology and unique customs of British military tradition. Canada's Native soldiers met these challenges and others, as demonstrated by the number of decorations for bravery they were awarded. Battalion and regimental histories offer many examples of Native courage and achievements.

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