- The Red Man's on the Warpath: The Image of the 'Indian' and the Second World War
'The red man's on the war path!' is the opening sentence of a 1941 Winnipeg Free Press article celebrating First Nations participation in the war effort. At [End Page 427] the beginning of both his introductory and concluding chapters, R. Scott Sheffield pairs this passage with a dour, bureaucratic report on the military call-up from an Ontario Indian Agent. Early in his project, the complexity of the contrasts between these perspectives led Sheffield to a working distinction between the 'Public Indian' and the 'Administrative Indian' and to the two questions that initiated his study: By the 1930s, 'what image had English Canadians developed of the "Indian," and how had the Second World War affected that image, if at all?'
In order to move beyond earlier ahistorical studies of 'the imaginary Indian,' Sheffield focuses exclusively on the eighteen years spanning the Great Depression, the Second World War, and postwar reconstruction. For his evidence on the 'Administrative Indian,' he draws on a rigorous examination of both published and archival government sources. For the 'Public Indian,' he restricts his focus to English-Canadian perspectives as reflected in sixteen periodicals selected from different regions of the country. The corpus includes large and small newspapers from each region with dailies selectively but systematically examined, and weeklies and monthlies comprehensively analysed.
Following the practice of most of his disciplinary colleagues (despite the influence of notable exceptions such as Carl Berger and Ramsay Cook), Sheffield excludes literary sources on the grounds that they reflect 'a relatively small intellectual élite.' The argument is hard to support given the inclusion of three university quarterlies, Saturday Night, and Canadian Forum (but not Maclean's) in his selected corpus, and the impact of popular fiction in shaping 'public' images of the 'Indian' in the years leading up to the war should not be underestimated.
The argument that Sheffield makes most strongly is that after the fall of France in 1940, the positive image of the 'Indian-at-war' made possible by the enlistment of several thousand First Nations men not only served the morale needs of English Canadians but also marked an important shift in their recognition of Canada's First Nations 'as human beings rather than solely as an external and alien other.' The importance of this construction of the 'Indian-at-war' as a symbol of cultural inclusiveness and of 'the difference between Canada and the Nazi regime' emerges even more clearly in the contrasting context of literary sources. Franklin McDowell's The Champlain Road (1939), E.J. Pratt's Brébeuf and His Brethren (1940), and Alan Sullivan's Three Came to Ville Marie (1941), all written under the influence of the Jesuit Relations as source documents and all winners of a Governor-General's Award for fiction or poetry, implicitly identified values opposed to Nazism not with 'Indians' but with the Jesuits. A review of McDowell's novel in the Canadian Historical Review in 1940 notes that 'the sainted missionaries would be witnesses now to remind us in our time that there is something no barbarian can ever destroy.' Within such a perspective, the literary 'Indian,' even within the modulated ambiguities of Pratt's [End Page 428] 'brethren,' can only be aligned with those who oppose 'civilized values.' In this context, the positive impact of First Nations participation in the war among English Canadians marks a dramatic modification of implicitly savagist perspectives.
As public media reflected a capacity both for a changing image of Canadian First Peoples and for a tenacious continuity in old stereotypes, the political and bureaucratic machinery of the federal government's Indian Affairs branch paternalistically constructed Sheffield's 'Administrative Indian.' The complex relations between continuity and change in that construction of the Canadian Aboriginal 'as a constitutional, technological, intellectual and cultural child' and the 'usually more innocuous and equivocal images' in the broader society lie at the core...