Evan J Habkirk - First Nations Enlistment in the CEF: Wartime Participation and Post War Realities

With the coming of war in 1914, First Nations people in Canada reacted in many ways that, for the non-Native population, seemed to contradict their understanding of First Nations culture.  Instead of rushing to recruitment stations to fight for King and Country, many First Nations people were reluctant to go overseas to take part in a war that seemed to have little to do with them, especially in the name of the Canadian government which had done so much to erode their rights during the pre-war years.  Many Indigenous men and women who did fight for the British came back to Canada in 1918 with a renewed sense of agency and a desire to secure their long neglected treaty rights.  These veterans, alongside their traditional and community leaders, would fight the British and Canadian governments for their ongoing rights both in national and global forums, a political tradition that continues into the present day which shapes how people inside and outside Canada view the Canadian state.


Evan J. Habkirk is Ph.D. candidate in the University of Western Ontario’s History Department and an instructor in the university’s First Nations Studies Program.  His current research interests include Six Nations military involvement from the War of 1812 to the First World War, cross-cultural exchanges between First Nations and colonial powers, and Canada’s residential school policy.  He received his MA from Trent University in 2010 with his thesis, Militarism, Sovereignty, and Nationalism: Six Nations and the First World War and is currently working on his Ph.D. thesis entitled Charting Continuation: Understanding Post-Traditional Six Nations Militarism, 1814-1918, exploring the changes and continuation of Six Nations militarism from the end of the War of 1812 into the First World War.  He has worked for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Residential Schools and currently holds two graduate research assistantships at the University of Western Ontario, exploring the history of physical education and culture in Canadian Residential Schools, and exploring the personal papers of Anthropologist Franz Boas.  He is also a founding board member of the Great War Centenary Association Brantford, Brant County and Six Nations (www.doingourbit.ca), and currently acts as the vice-chair of their education and co-chair of their Six Nations sub-committees.