International Historian, Scholar and Educator.

Aboriginal Peoples and the World Wars

Most of the literature dedicated to the wartime experiences of Aboriginal people exists within a national perspective permeated by a dominant thematic tradition which P. Whitney Lackenbauer and R. Scott Sheffield label the “Forgotten Warrior” genre.  Within this construct, historians and commentators have recently, within a flurry of scholarly literature, resurrected the exploits of Aboriginal servicemen and women, to promote an agenda of recognition and commemoration akin to that bestowed upon their non-Aboriginal comrades.  The goal of these studies, which succumb to an interpretive orthodoxy based on recycled generalizations and anecdotal corroboration, is to ensure that Aboriginal veterans receive public recognition for their forgotten sacrifice in the increasingly reconciliatory and apologetic Canadian political environment and society. While this remembrance is certainly worthy and extremely important, it is not representative of the broader trans-national issues and Canadian specific realities and policies surrounding the military participation of Aboriginal people in both Canada and the United States.  Systematic and comparative research is sorely needed to test and counter the general and anecdotal work and observations which currently plague the historiography of this field.  According to A.G. Hopkins:

“Historians of India know little of Africa and vice versa; historians of Australia and New Zealand rarely make cross-references; historians of Canada have ceased, typically, to look beyond North America.  In a world that is visibly shrinking, this is paradoxical to say the least…Consequently, Maoris, Aborigines, Indians and others remain subordinated to a historical tradition that purports to emancipate them.  An understanding of the imperial context would remove this false sense of isolation, open new possibilities for comparative studies of both settler communities and Indigenous peoples, and underline the widespread and growing significance of non-national affiliations.”

As such, I am in the process of publishing a comparative study, with Cambridge University Press, of the Indigenous peoples of the British Dominions—Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Newfoundland and South Africa—during the First World War entitled Indigenous Peoples of the British Dominions and the First World War.  This thematic comparison is, by necessity, as much a socio-political and cultural investigation as it is a documentation of strictly military history.

A complementary, yet more specific and detailed, book on Aboriginal Canadians and the First World War is to be published shortly by University of Manitoba Press as, For King and Kanata: Canadian Indians and the First World War.

I am also working with Dr. P. Whitney Lackenbauer on a book about the Haudenosaunee/Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy in the World Wars.  This study, which will encompass all Iroquois communities in Canada and the United States, will analyze military, political and social experiences on the home front and overseas.

In addition, I am writing a chapter entitled “Many Wore Moccasins: Aboriginal Snipers and Scouts of the Great War” for an edited volume by Dr. (Major) Andrew Godefroy.

Anyone interested in these subject is welcome to contact me here.

One Response to “Aboriginal Peoples and the World Wars”

  1. The Lovett brothers from Warrnambool in Victoria served in both WW1 and WW2
    http://mhaweb.squarespace.com/storage/files/Babana_News_November_2009.pdf
    Regards
    John

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