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Indigenous Peoples of the British Dominions and the First World War.

Indigenous Peoples of the British Dominions and the First World War by Timothy C. Winegard. Cambridge Military Histories. New York, Cambridge University Press, 2012. xviii, 312 pp. $99.00 US (cloth).

It is part of conventional historical wisdom that military service is one of the major pathways to citizenship and equality for minority groups. It is also part of the conventional historiography of World War I that military service by indigenous populations from Africa, Asia, and Oceania sparked both a renewed self-consciousness and a push towards political activism, leading ultimately to the decolonization movements and native rights campaigns of the twentieth century. Timothy Winegard tests these assumptions via a comparative analysis of the experience of indigenous people during World War I from five British Dominions: Canada, Newfoundland--not formally part of Canada until 1949--Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. The five Dominions provide an interesting cross section of settler societies; in the first four countries, people of European descent outnumbered natives by substantial margins, while in South Africa the white population was a distinct minority.

Winegard begins with a consideration of the legal status of the indigenous populations before moving into an examination of the pre-1914 military history of each group. These chapters provide important context, not only because it helps to set the legal framework for wartime recruitment and service, but for what it reveals about the settlers racial assumptions about indigenous people and, most importantly for this study, the perceptions of indigenous peoples in their capacity as warriors. As readers will see later in the book (in Chapter Eight), there is a causal link between the perception of martial skill, the political reliability of tribal groups to the Dominion government, and how indigenous people were organized in military units. So for example, the Maori were not only believed to be splendid warriors, they were also considered politically reliable, and therefore both the Maori and the Pakeha (white New Zealanders), acquiesced in the creation of all native units. Meanwhile at the other end of the spectrum, the Union of South Africa feared what would happen if Kaffirs (Black Africans) were exposed to military training and white culture. Thus, they were also segregated and denied military training; a strategy Winegard argues was a foretaste of later apartheid policies. In the middle range were Native Americans, who were placed in mixed units, which could serve as a tool of assimilation. Winegard provides a visual dimension of the inter-relationship of all three factors via a graph on page 190.

Chapters Five through Seven chart the relationship between the Imperial Government's manpower policies and those of the Dominions. The Imperial government in London had in some ways the simplest expectations: they needed manpower from the Dominions and by the end of 1916 they were not as concerned about the racial composition of the troops as they were prior to 1914. Winegard carefully traces how the need for manpower, in combat and support roles, led to the increased recruitment of indigenous peoples. One of the interesting facets of this story is that the legal status of indigenous people as either wards of the state or independent via treaty, often shielded them from being drafted. By 1918 thousands of indigenous peoples from across the empire were serving the military in multiple capacities, throughout the world.

For the Dominions the war provided an opportunity to expand their autonomy within the Imperial system, as well as increasing their territorial control. For example, Australia and New Zealand wanted control of the various Pacific island archipelagos then controlled by the German empire, while South Africa wanted German South West Africa. One of the mechanisms for achieving these goals was supplying manpower to the Imperial war effort, which--given the voracious need for replacements--meant greater efforts were made to recruit among the indigenous tribes.

As for the indigenous people, Wiegard demonstrates that local factors shaped responses to the war. In Canada, for example, some tribal elders embraced military service out of loyalty to King and Empire; however, in New Zealand the Maori did not have a uniform response, and tribal often elders resisted recruitment, while younger Maori enlisted. Indeed, throughout the Dominions indigenous communities were divided between those, often political elites, who saw military service as a mechanism for gaining political rights, and the general population, whose response ranged from jingoistic patriotism to ambivalence.

Winegard's conclusion challenges the conventional interpretation of the war leading inexorably into indigenous campaigns for political equality. While many did find in their wartime experience a new self-worth, they returned to their homes and a legal status that quickly reverted to pre-war norms. Indeed, it was not until the late twentieth century that any advancement towards legal equality began to be met. As Winegard adroitly notes, the Dominion governments achieved their goals, and they did so without having to substantively compromise on their discriminatory practices towards indigenous populations.

Winegard's study is based on extensive archival work across all the Dominions, and he has a solid grasp of the secondary literature as well. In his reconstruction of the legal and political framework Winegard is careful not to lose the individual experiences and voices of the indigenous soldiers. In addition to the soldiers' experiences, he also examines the impact of the war on the indigenous Home Front. For example in Canada, Native American women made clothes for fund raising campaigns, while some of the tribal leaders became props in official propaganda. One wishes this chapter might have gone into greater detail about the use of indigenous people in government propaganda; this is, however, a minor criticism. In addition to specialists in minority groups during wartime, this book will be an interest to scholars who study the mobilization of resources in an age of total war.

Frederic Krome

University of Cincinnati Clermont College
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Author:Krome, Frederic
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 22, 2013
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