Transcript

Well thank you again Deborah for the invitation to speak and thank you for all coming.

It's nice to be back in Canada and to covet a cup of my relative and namesake's Tim Horton's coffee.

As you can see my talk will be about First Nations, or in the context of the time period Canadian Indians and the First World War. And this is a very large topic and I'm only given a short period of time to talk, so feel in question time to ask anything I don't cover or aspects of my talk that I skim over, if you will.

I would like that, I started my research in writing my books on this topic long before my friend Joseph Boyden's Three Day Road came out. But I should thank him for his wonderfully accessible and mainstream contribution to literature, which really dispelled the myth of the "Forgotten Warrior" approach that has plagued First Nations involvement in military history, and also for appealing to such a large audience and putting First Nations, specifically First World War military history on the radar in Canada.

And if you've not read Joseph Boyden's Three Day Road, I strongly recommend it. It is a fantastic book based on two Cree snipers in the First World War, loosely based on the real-life story of Corporal Francis Pegahmagabow who won the military medal three times and has an unofficial tally of 378 kills.

At the outbreak of war, the 103,000 Status Indians in Canada were not citizens, were not enfranchised, were wards of the state and were subject to all the tenants of the Indian Act, including past laws, alcohol laws, employment laws, and certainly the Indian Affairs assistance on Residential Schooling and farming or/and religious education, the bible and the plough.

When war breaks out there's confusion immediately in the government departments and ministries as to whether Status Indians or First Nations are allowed to exist. So two days after the outbreak of war, Sir Sam Hughes, our controversial to say the least, Minister of Militia, issues this statement. This becomes the unofficial statement, there's no official statement regarding the enlistment of Indians, as they had served in the militia prior to the war. So this becomes the unofficial statement of exclusion that was used by the Department of Justice, the Ministry of Militia, and the Department of Indian Affairs.

However, because it is unofficial, some First Nations men slip through the cracks, like Corporal Francis Pegahmagabow who enlists in the 1st Battalion, right at the outbreak of war and is part of the first Canadian contingent. So he serves, he survives the war, and serves just as long as any other Canadian soldier.

It wasn't until the War Office, the war's not over by Christmas, it's dragging on. It wasn't until the War Office demands, remember the United Kingdom still controlled Canadian foreign and military policy, it demands of the British Dominions, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Newfoundland, that we need everybody we can get, so you need to enlist your Indigenous men.

Shortly after memorandum on December 4th, the Canadian government finally issues an official declaration that First Nations men are allowed to enlist. It's no longer a white man's war and that is certainly increasing as we go through the war with Chinese coolies, colonial Africans, the Maori, Aboriginal Australians, and Indigenous people from all over the empires of France and the United Kingdom.

The best example of this change in policy is Enos Kick who is an Oneida from the Green Bay reservation literally right beside the Green Bay airport. He and his brother, Albert, try to enlist prior to the change in policy and they're turned away from recruiters in London, Ontario, as he says on account of being Indian.

So after the change in policy, they enlist again. They travel to the United Settlement, just outside London, Ontario, leave their families at Oneida, and enlist in the Middlesex Battalion together.

Why enlist? You're wards of the state, you have no rights in Canada.

Obviously, prior to the war there was a global recession, which included Canada, so a lot of First Nations men like their Canadian counterparts, enlisted for employment and adventure.

Obviously the recession and the socioeconomic standing of First Nations at this time was far less than other Canadians, so it was a chance to gain employment and adventure and send some money home. The second one is escape from reserve in the Indian Act. Once outside the reservation, or reserve, I've been in the United States too long as they call them reservations, the reserve, there was the belief that joining the army was an escape from the tenets of the the Indian Act and all of the laws that barred Aboriginal people from doing things in Canada.

The warrior status, you have to remember that the 1885 rebellion was not that long before the outbreak of war and it still resonated with Native Peoples in the West. The Warrior Status ethos had not vanished with Native Peoples and this was a chance for their young men to gain status within their communities as warriors as is customary in most First Nations cultures and traditions.

Allegiance to the crown. In the West, the numbered treaties were signed under the name of Queen Victoria, so looking at the correspondence from a lot of those Native Nations in the West, you see that they feel a direct allegiance to the crown. And immediately offer men and money to the war effort to the crown.

Secondly, the military allegiance of many First Nations in the East, the largest one or the most prominent one being the Six Nations Haudenosaunee Iroquois Confederacy, had a longstanding allegiance with the British crown throughout colonial wars, so again they offer men and money immediately at the beginning of the war to the British Crown, not to the Canadian government.

And lastly to gain equal rights. And you again see this through the correspondence from the Aboriginal chiefs or individual soldiers that they thought if they shared equally in the horrors and burdens of war, that they would be able to gain equal rights within Canadian society.

After sanction was given December 4, 1915 to enlist, Native men, Aboriginal men rushed to recruiting depots for all of the reasons that I previously mentioned. I should say in equal numbers of other Canadians per capita.

The sacrifice, as I said the total population of Status Indians in 1914 was just over 103,000. 103,337 to be exact. Over 4,000 status Indians, this doesn't include Inuit or non-Status Indians or Metis. Over 4,000 Status Indians served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, which represents thirty-five percent of Aboriginal men of military age which is equal as I said per capita to the rest of Canada or to Anglo-Canadians.

We know that at least 300 were killed and another 1,200 wounded. This is slightly lower than the overall number for the Canadian Expeditionary Force, and it's simply because they joined, they were allowed to join the war fairly late. They weren't subject conscription, well they were and then they weren't, and also a lot of them were used in forestry corps and labour battalions as well, sothey weren't on the front lines fighting, so their casualty rates are slightly less.

The most notable Aboriginal soldier of the First World War was Corporal Francis Pegahmagabow who won the Military Medal three times and tallied the war's record but it is unofficial of 378 kills. Unlike most snipers, they worked in pairs, a shooter and a spotter, he chose to snipe alone so we're basing that number on his honesty and his word, which I suspect is probably close to being true based upon his accolades received and medals.

Finally this myth of the Forgotten Warrior ethos is starting to be dispelled.

As you see in 2006, Corporal Francis Pegahmagabow, the 3rd Canadian Ranger Patrol Group building was named after him, and also right outside, right out the front door of the Lord Elgin is the National Aboriginal Veterans Memorial, which was dedicated on Aboriginal Day in 2001.

The Canadian Forces, First Nations are well-represented in the Canadian Forces to this day. And I know that going into the future, they will continue to serve the shared interest of our national forces.

Miigwech. Merci. Thank you.

(Audience applause)

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