First Nations Contributions During Wartime



Aboriginal soldiers of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) along with elders (1916-17).

Aboriginal soldiers of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) along with elders (1916-17).

Near the beginning of the First World War, Aboriginal people were discouraged from enlistment though there was no official policy regarding the matter.

In the early months, there were many eager and willing to enlist, though some were turned away. Due to high casualty rates, by 1917 the government had changed their tone and began allowing more recruitment from Aboriginal communities.

In August 1917, the Military Service Act brought mandatory military service for all British subjects of age to serve. This had no exceptions for Aboriginal people, despite not having the rights of citizenship that obligated Canadians to serve. Some argued that promises made in treaty negotiations excused them from being drafted into foreign wars.

Conscription (drafting) became a very contentious issue and the Department of Indian Affairs received many demands for exemption from First Nations people. These demands received public support even from non-Aboriginals.

This lead to an official exemption from conscription of combat duties, put into place on January 17, 1918. They could, however, still be called upon for non-combat work. The question of whether Inuit and Metis people were included in this exemption was never posed.

In the end, about 1/3 of First Nations people in Canada between 18-45 had enlisted during World War 1. The enlistment rate was about the same as non-aboriginal people, but some communities had higher numbers. Many who enlisted were unfamiliar with English and French but had enlisted anyway.

There were multiple attempts to form all-aboriginal units, and despite being initially met with resistance, they were finally allowed in 1915. Two battalions were formed from this — the 114th, known as “Brock’s Rangers”, and the 107th, known as “Timber Wolf”. There weren’t enough recruits to have them as solely aboriginal, so other Canadian soldiers filled the remaining ranks, though no other battalion rivaled them for Aboriginal enlistment.

107th Timber Wolf (left) and 114th Brock's Rangers (right) Battalions badges, CEF

107th Timber Wolf (left) and 114th Brock’s Rangers (right) Battalions badges, CEF

Enlistment meant the Aboriginal people could use traditional skills learned at home to help with the war efforts, while simultaneously showcasing their talents on a global scale.

There were various reasons for enlistment among Aboriginal people, including the attraction of a regular wage, a sense of adventure, protecting their homes, and to honour the past relationship between Aboriginals and the British Crown during the war of 1812.

Metis and Inuit people had also enlisted, though only status Indians were officially recorded by the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CFE).

Aboriginal soldiers participated in all the major battles Canadian Troops took part in throughout both World Wars. They distinguished themselves as capable and talented soldiers, with up to 50 being awarded with medals for their bravery and heroism.

Aboriginal veterans received unequal treatment after the war, not being awarded the same benefits as their non-Aboriginal counterparts.

On the east coast, the Mi’kmaq and Maliseet sent nearly half of their eligible male population. In 1914, more than 150 Mi’kmaq men signed up for World War 1. In 1939, the number jumped to 250, and in 1950 more than 60 men enlisted for the Korean War.

Prince, (center)

Prince (center)

Sgt.Tommy Prince (Above), from Brokenhead Ojibway Nation, served in WWII, and in Korea with Canada’s Light Infantry. His cunning and bravery earned him a dozen medals. He is recognized as one of Canada’s most decorated Aboriginal soliders.

Many aboriginal soldiers took up the role of snipers or reconnaissance scouts, using their traditional skills for great success. Throughout the war, the Department of Indian Affairs received letters commending these marksmen and scouts. There were at least 50 decorations awarded to these men for their bravery and other feats of valor during the war.

On the east coast, the Mi’kmaq and Maliseet sent nearly half of their eligible male population. In 1914, more than 150 Mi’kmaq men signed up for World War 1. In 1939, the number jumped to 250, and in 1950 more than 60 men enlisted for the Korean War.

One of these Mi’kmaw men was Sam Gloade, a lumberjack and hunting and fishing guide from Milton, Nova Scotia. In 1915, he became an infantry soldier, and from there he went on to be a Royal Canadian Engineer in Belgium and France.

Gloade was also a member of the Nova Scotia Highlanders. He served with a tunneling company who carved dugouts at Vimy Ridge, as well as digging tunnels in Belgium and patching up roads near Amiens. At one point, he oversaw 20 soldiers who had gotten trapped underground. He is credited with single-handedly digging for hours before he could break a hole through the surface.

When the war was over, Gloade helped search for and defuse mines and demolition charges, personally removing 450 of them. He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, British War Medal, and Victory Medal.

Sam Gloade,

Sam Gloade (pictured)



Aboriginal women, while not serving in combat roles, helped with the war effort from home raising money, though some also served as nurses overseas.

Despite not being required to enlist, they still answered the call to arms and fought bravely for a country that didn’t consider them citizens at the time, with around 300 of their people giving the ultimate sacrifice during World War 1.

In World War 2, at least 3000 First Nations people enlisted, as well as an unknown number of Inuit, Metis, and other Indigenous people whose contributions were not officially documented. Among the members identified, at least 17 were decorated for their bravery.

“We’re proud of the word volunteer. Nobody forced us. We were good Canadians—patriots—we fought for our country.” Syd Moore, Second World War Veteran