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Aboriginal Soldiers in the First World War

By James Dempsey


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When D.C. Scott wrote an essay on Indian participation in the Great War, he stated his belief that the Indians were now "beginning a new era." (22) This might have been true if it were not for the Department of Indian Affairs' own biases, which prevented Indians from taking a more active role in their own government. The plight of Indians in Canada remained comparable to what it was prior to the war, and in fact, during the 1920s, conditions declined in some cases. In contrast to the reality of post-war circumstances, Scott concluded that:

The Indians themselves... cannot but feel an increased and renewed pride of race and self-respect that should ensure the recovery of that ancient dignity and independence of spirit that were unfortunately lost to them in some measure through the depletion of the game supply,... and the ravages of vices... of the white man. The Indians deserve well of Canada, and the end of the war should mark the beginning of a new era for them wherein they shall play an increasingly honourable and useful part in the history of a country that was once the free and open hunting ground of their forefathers. (23)

The hopes of Indian Nations not only failed to materialize, but their economic status actually decreased from what it had been before the war. As a result, the era of the 1920s has been noted as a time of marked decline for Indian Nations, economically, numerically and politically. The feelings of many Indian were summed up by a veteran speaking at Hobbema in 1922 who complained: "The administration of the Indian affairs had been done in an autocratic manner which served only to antagonize the Indians, and failed utterly to raise their status or foster higher educational standards among them." (24)

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