FIRST WORLD WAR (WWI) (1914-1918)

More than 4,000 First Nations people in Canada left their homes and their families to help fight in the First World War. Large numbers of Canadian Indigenous people and as many as 35 percent of the eligible First Nations population had enlisted by the end of the war with many fighting in front line combat positions in the air, on the sea and over land with the Canadian Expeditionary Forces.

In 1914, at the outbreak of the First World War, Canada was a quasi-independent Dominion of the British Empire and automatically went to war alongside Britain; though Canada retained autonomy to decide the form and extent of its involvement.

During WWI there were over fifty battles that Canadians participated in and were among the many countries in the alliance (including France, Russia, Britain and the United States) defending the Western Front. Several battles on the Western Front raged on between 1915 – 1917 in what is often described as “a giant trench line stretching from one end of Europe to the other. ” Casualties were great and no significant breakthroughs were made by either side.

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_military_engagements_of_World_War_I).

At least 50 medals were awarded to First Nations people during the First World War for their bravery in performing daring and heroic acts. See Francis Pegahmagabow

The exact number of First Nations, Métis and Inuit people who lost their lives in the First World War has not been documented.

There are service records for 600,000 Canadians who served with the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the First World War. The service records are held by the Library and Archives Canada. (http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/military-heritage/Pages/military-heritage.aspx)

SECOND WORLD WAR (WWII) (1939-1945)

During WWII, Canadian Armed Forces were active in nearly every theatre of war, though most battles occurred in Italy, Northwestern Europe, and the North Atlantic. Over the course of the war, over 1.1 million Canadians served in the Army, Navy, and Air Force. Of these more than 44,000 lost their lives and another 54,000 were wounded.

Over 3,000 Indigenous people participated in the war effort and many First Nations women (over 72) enlisted in the Second World War.

There are at minimum 18 Indigenous veterans who received decorations for bravery in action. See Tommy Prince

Canada took part in over 70 battles during WWII against enemy countries known as the Axis powers (Germany, Italy, Japan, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria) with the Allies (U.S., Britain, France, USSR, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, China, Denmark, Greece, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, South Africa, Yugoslavia). Two hundred (200) Indigenous soldiers are recorded as killed in action or dying in uniform.

INDIGENOUS PEOPLES IN KOREA: KOREAN WAR (1950-1953)

“On our way to Korea, I was outside on the ship standing on the rail just thinking about home and why I had to leave home. Yet, I was very glad I joined the army because my father was in the First World War. My brother was in World War Two and I thought I might as well join the army, too.”

Allan Bird, Korean War veteran

175 Indigenous people were documented as joining the Canadian Army Special Force (CASF) along with an estimated 700 First Nations, Métis and Inuit people not documented.

The Canadian Forces were involved in the 1950–1953 Korean War and its aftermath. Canada participated on the side of the United Nations in the Korean War, with 26,000 Canadian soldier and eight destroyers from its navy. Canadian aircraft provided transport, supply and logistics. 516 Canadians died in the conflict, 312 of the deaths were from combat.

Many of those First Nations, Métis and Inuit people who enlisted had taken part in the Second World War, and service in Korea would see them expanding on their previous duties.

Sergeant Tommy Prince (MM), the much-decorated veteran of the Second World War, re-enlisted with the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry to serve in Korea. There he earned another 3 campaign medals, bringing his total to 11.

An Inuit soldier, Eddie Weetaltuk, enlisted under the name of Eddie Vital, in order to overcome mobility restrictions imposed on Inuit people. Eddie joined the Canadian Army Special Force in 1952, serving for 15 years. Weetaltuk saw action in Korea, and upon his return to Canada took parachute and arctic warfare training. He subsequently served two tours of duty in West Germany before leaving the military to return to Poste-de-la-Baleine (Great Whale River) on James Bay. He hid his identity as an Inuit person for 20 years, at great personal sacrifice. Nonetheless, he returned to his home community of Kuujjuaraapik in 1967.