- For King and Kanata: Canadian Indians and the First World War by Timothy Winegard
Timothy Winegard’s For King and Kanata: Canadian Indians and the First World War is an important addition to the growing body of literature on twentieth-century Indigenous military service in settler state militaries. This field of study has developed significantly in this country since the burst of Indigenous, political, and scholarly enthusiasm in the 1980s and 1990s. Nevertheless, Canada has lacked quality national syntheses such as those evident in the American literature for both world wars, particularly Thomas Britten’s excellent American Indians in World Wari. Winegard’s narrative survey helps to fill that void in the Canadian historiography.
The author seeks to anchor the war years in a context of centuries of First Nations’ experiences of conflict, both as enemies and allies of European settlers. Three brief but wide-ranging chapters introduce readers to the military and cultural antecedents to the service of Indian men in the Great War. Chapters 4 to 6 take a chronological approach to track Canada’s evolving policy on whether the First Nations could voluntarily enlist or be conscripted into the army. The final three chapters of For King and Kanata set aside chronology to thematically examine the experience of First Nations soldiers at war, life on the home front, and the eventual return to civilian life after the war. Winegard concludes that, despite their sacrifices and service, Indian veterans returned to exactly the same marginalized social, [End Page 119] political, and economic position in Canada they had occupied prior to enlisting. Their inclusion in the Canadian Expeditionary Force had been driven by pragmatic manpower requirements; it “was not intended to transcend contemporary social, political, or cultural norms within Canadian society” (166).
For King and Kanata is written in a lively prose that produces a highly readable narrative. Much more than just a good read, however, this study rests on an excellent foundation of primary research. Winegard is a meticulous researcher, not only in the diffuse Canadian material but also in British imperial records of the Great War. This enables him to contribute important new materials such as a rich segment on First Nations contributions to the Boer War, previously the subject of speculation, as well as an intriguing section on Indigenous service in pre-1914 militia units. More importantly, Winegard provides the most thorough reconstruction of the shifts in policy toward Indigenous military service currently available. Previously, scholars assumed that the quasi-official, if inconsistently applied, restrictions on Indian enlistment during 1914–15 were eventually lifted in response to the growing manpower demands of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. However, Winegard’s work in British archives has turned up a pair of confidential missives from the colonial secretary, Andrew Bonar Law, to governors general around the empire in October 1915 on the “possibilities of raising native troops in large numbers . . . for Imperial service” (54). Winegard locates the shift in the Canadian government’s move to active solicitation of First Nations recruitment from late 1915 through 1917 in these imperial communiqués.
Another source of strength in this book is the refreshing aversion to romanticising Indian soldiers’ combat capabilities, high enlistment rates, and First Nations’ collective loyalty and patriotism. Too often the literature in this genre falls in to the trap of arguing Indigenous capacity by drawing on historical evidence that essentialized and stereotyped Indians as “natural” warriors and almost pathologically loyal to the Crown. It is not that Winegard fails to address these issues, or that he concludes differently, but the manner in which he proceeds is more hard-headed and based on a broader and more careful assessment of the evidence.
A couple aspects of For King and Kanata would have enhanced the final product. First, the relative attention to the home front experience is limited. The single chapter on the subject is fine, hitting all the key points one would expect, but is too brief and lacks the depth of analysis that the author directs at military...