Aboriginal Peoples and the World Wars

Aboriginal Peoples and the Second World War: A Transnational Comparison

In collaboration with Scott Sheffield of the University College of the Fraser Valley, I am completing a transnational comparative history project on indigenous peoples and the Second World War in British settler societies. Wartime experiences of indigenous minorities in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States are similar, despite the diverse nature of the status of indigenous peoples and of their relationship with their respective settler society. Aborigines, First Nations, Maori and Native Americans all chose to engage actively in the Second World War.  Why?  What did the war mean for those who fought overseas?  What did it mean for those who remained on the home front?  How and why did Australians, English-Canadians, Pakeha New Zealanders and Americans respond to indigenous contributions in similar ways?  Our study answers these questions through a comparative, thematically-driven analysis of experiences in these four “British settler societies.”  Scholarship on indigenous peoples during the world wars has grown over the last two decades, providing rich foundational literature for trans-national research.  The roles played and sacrifices made by Aboriginal soldiers and communities challenged settler society notions of indigenous identity and character, as well as their constitutional/political status and their appropriate place in the national order.  Postwar policy transformations in all four countries demonstrate the lasting impact of the war on indigenous groups. 

Our study draws upon existing historical literature that sketches experiences particular to each country, coupled with original primary research in archives and newspapers. It aims to generate broader international awareness while furthering our understanding of the nuances of local conditions and responses.

We will submit this manuscript to a major international university press in 2014.


Canadian First Nations and the Second World War


During the world wars of the twentieth century, when thousands of Aboriginal men and women voluntarily enlisted in Canada’s armed forces, governments and journalists resurrected images of the “Indian brave” in a modern guise for the national cause.  Aboriginal soldiers served in units with other Canadians in every theatre in which Canadian forces took part.  Their notable contributions to the war effort became a source of inspiration and self-confidence to themselves, to their communities and to Canadians in general.  “Many soldiers of native ancestry shone individually within the various battalions,” historian Fred Gaffen concluded, “in keeping with their traditional way of life and culture where individual heroism in battle was held in high esteem.”
This book represents the culmination of two decades of research and offers the first comprehensive overview of Aboriginal peoples in Canada and the Second World War. Our primary goal is to consolidate and supplement the existing scholarship on the patterns of Canadian Aboriginal people’s and peoples’ responses to the national war effort against the Axis powers and the impacts that this “total war” had on their lives.  Specifically, we examine the broad spectrum of Aboriginal contributions to the war effort, resistance against state demands, impacts on communities and traditional homelands, and the experiences of Aboriginal veterans after the war. 

We are working with a Canadian university press to design a format for this book that combines archival and oral history "dialogues" and hope to submit the completed manuscript in late 2014 or early 2015.


I am also working with Dr. Tim Winegard on a book about the Iroquois in the world wars. This study will look at experiences on the home front and overseas, and will encompass Iroquois communities in the United States and Canada. We are also collaborating on a comparative biography of Aboriginal soldiers Tommy Prince and Ira Hayes.


My previous publications on Aboriginal peoples and the military include:

Lackenbauer, P. Whitney, John Moses, Scott Sheffield, and Maxime Gohier. A Commemorative History of Aboriginal People in the Canadian Military.  Ottawa: Department of National Defence, 2010. iv, 189. Available online at http://www.cmp-cpm.forces.gc.ca/dhh-dhp/pub/boo-bro/abo-aut/index-eng.asp.

Lackenbauer, P. Whitney. Battle Grounds: The Canadian Military and Aboriginal Lands.  Vancouver: UBC Press, 2007. xviii, 350 pp.

Lackenbauer, P. Whitney, Craig Mantle and Scott Sheffield, eds. Aboriginal Peoples and Military Participation: Canadian and International Perspectives. Kingston: Canadian Defence Academy Press, 2007. v, 326 pp.

Lackenbauer, P. Whitney, and Craig Mantle, eds. Aboriginal Peoples and the Canadian Military: Historical Perspectives. Kingston: CDA Press, 2007. xxv, 267 pp.

Lackenbauer, P. Whitney. “‘A Hell of a Warrior’: Remembering Sergeant Thomas George Prince,” Journal of Historical Biography 1/1 (Spring 2007). 26-79. A similar paper appears in Intrepid Warriors: Perspectives on Canadian Military Leadership ed. Bernd Horn. St. Catharines: Vanwell, 2007. 95-138.

Lackenbauer, P. Whitney. “‘Of Practically No Use to Anyone’: Situating a Rifle Range on the Fort William Indian Reserve, 1905-1914,” The Thunder Bay Historical Museum Society Papers & Records 34 (2006). 3-28.  Shortlisted for the 2009 J.P. Bertrand Award of the Thunder Bay Museum Society.

Lackenbauer, P. Whitney. “The Irony and the Tragedy of Negotiated Space: A Case Study on Narrative Form and Aboriginal-Government Relations during the Second World War.” Journal of the Canadian Historical Association NS #15 (2004). 177-206. Winner of the 2005 Journal of the CHA award.

Lackenbauer, P. Whitney. “‘Pay No Attention to Sero’: The Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte and Imperial Flying Training during the Great War.” Ontario History 46/2 (Autumn 2004). 143-69.

Lackenbauer, P. Whitney.  “Combined Operation: The Appropriation of Stoney Point Reserve and the Creation of Camp Ipperwash.”  Journal of Military and Strategic Studies 2/1 (Fall 1999). 29 pp. Available online at: http://www.jmss.org/1999/article4.html.

Lackenbauer, P. Whitney, and Katharine McGowan. “Indigenous Nationalisms and the Great War: Enlisting the Six Nations in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF), 1914-17,” in Aboriginal Peoples and the Canadian Military: Historical Perspectivesed. P. Whitney Lackenbauer and Craig Mantle. Kingston: CDA Press, 2007. 89-115.

 Lackenbauer, P. Whitney, and Scott Sheffield. “Moving Beyond ‘Forgotten’: The Historiography on Canadian Native Peoples and the World Wars,” in Aboriginal Peoples and Military Participation: Historical Perspectives ed. P. Whitney Lackenbauer and Craig Mantle. Kingston: CDA Press, 2007. 209-231.

Lackenbauer, P. Whitney. “Politics of Race, Gender and Sex,” in Aboriginal Connections to Race, Environment and Traditions ed. Jill Oakes and Rick Riewe. Winnipeg: Aboriginal Issues Press/University of Manitoba Press, 2006. 3-16.


Anyone interested in this subject is welcome to contact me at: pwlacken@uwaterloo.ca