The report review the article ‘OF PURE European Descent and the White Race’ Recruitment Policy and Aboriginal Canadians, 1939–1945 was written by R. Scott Sheffield. The article publishes in 1996.

There was approximately 3,000 Statue of Liberty Indians who chose to join Canada's armed forces during World War II based on official data. There were 213 deaths among this group. As the author of the article points out, "Non-status Indian, Métis, and Inuit men served in all three branches of the military and in every theatre of conflict in which the Canadian land, sea, and air forces were engaged. Native Canadians, on the other hand, have provided little information about their military involvement, (Savard et al 2018)

Contrary to popular belief, the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) recruited more First Nations men than any other service despite the country's substantial naval presence. An explicit "color line" in official recruitment policy was maintained by the German Naval Service at the beginning of hostilities, requiring applicants to be of "Pure European Descent and of the White Race." Until this law was repealed, no Aboriginals were allowed to serve in the Navy. According to a report by the Commanding Officer, Pacific Coast (COPC), a British Columbia Coast, the reasons for this flagrantly racial limitation were laid out. According to the COPC's conclusions:

Although there is a lot of great material among the B.C. Coast Indians, all Royal Navy ships should conform to the strict requirement that all personnel is of 'Pure European Descent and the White Race.'

The report provided three reasons for this recommendation, the first of which was entirely racial. "The cramped living spaces of a naval rating do not lend themselves to satisfactory mixing of the white races with Indians," it was thought. Consequently, the adoption of Army and RCAF enrollment regulations that would have permitted the recruitment of Native Americans was prevented due to the proximity to naval duty. The second issue of debate was the legal constraints placed on Aboriginals' access to alcoholic beverages in an unregulated marine environment where binge drinking was prevalent and even encouraged, (Savard et al 2018)

Only the RCN still provides its personnel with a daily rum ration, or grog, although this issue could emerge in other branches of the military. That would cause "bad sentiment if the discrimination of supply of 'Grog' is made between the white man and the Indian."

The third point maintained that the British Royal Navy (RN) deployed "Chinese, Maltese, and Guernese" in its ships was immaterial. These men were awe-inspiring "Only in large ships, where they serve as officers' servants and stewards. In addition to the white ratings, they also have their issues. “This limited service by nonwhite ratings could not be supported by the RCN in 1941 because it was primarily a small ship navy. Because of these grounds, the Navy refused to allow any Natives to serve in the Navy.

Indigenous Canadian soldiers' stories have been documented in two recent publications by Fred Gaffen and Veterans' Affairs Canada: Forgotten Soldiers and Native Soldiers on Foreign Battlefields, respectively. Both of these studies underrepresent Native military service by focusing on anecdotes rather than analysis. Native American recruiting and military participation in the First World War has been well documented by James W. St. G. Walker. There has been no comparable research about the Second World War. So the author R. Scott Sheffield combines previous researches and comes up with new research, OF PURE European Descent and the White Race’ Recruitment Policy and Aboriginal Canadians, 1939–1945. Recruitment policies on three branches are the main focus of this research by R. Scott Sheffield R. Scott Sheffield's research aims to fill a gap in the history of the armed services by examining how the recruitment methods of the three branches of the military influenced Aboriginal males and restricted the types of military service available to Canada's First Nations. Even though many factors contributed to the character of Native American contributions to the war effort, recruitment policy was the most important one.

Recruitment policies

According to the overall article, The COPC advised the RCN to maintain the exact "color line" of all Royal Navy ships, including those of Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. Their shared parent organization, the Royal Navy (RN), passed on its traditions and policies to the Dominion fleets. For those who are unfamiliar, "color line" is a term that refers to RCN's policy of not removing it from its recruitment regulations. Vessels and men were often transferred between British and Canadian service

There appears to have been minimal pushback to the RCN's "color line" throughout the first part of the war. Due to its tiny size, the Navy was able to do this in part because it had 92,441 all ranks at its peak strength in January 1945. In addition, because the Royal Canadian Navy had a lower death toll, the Navy was able to be more selective in its recruitment. It wasn't until 1943 that the RCN officially revised its policy on racial discrimination because of a lack of pressure or need.

Privy Council Resolution 1986 was approved on March 12, 1943, by the Minister of National Defense for Naval Services. Any British male of any race might be recruited into the Canadian Naval Forces throughout the time of hostilities, according to a naval draught order attached. In the Navy, the exact number of Native American men who have served is not yet known. There's no doubt that some of these vehicles were in use before the "color line" was abolished, (Sheffield, R. Scott 2017).

In addition, another group of recruits may have been enlisted had superior officers and other ranks not been aware or had colluded to do so. It's unclear if the number of Aboriginal applications increased after 1943 or not. Compared to the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) was more welcoming to Natives. First Nations applicants were rapidly exempted from the RCAF's racial recruitment restrictions during World War II. More Native males ended up in the RCAF than the Navy as a result of the policy. While there was no explicit restriction on Native Americans serving in the military because of their race, there were real obstacles in the shape of high educational standards and strict health criteria.

The path to membership in Canada's Air Force was still a long one for young Native males. Indigenous and non-Indigenous recruits alike were turned away from the RCAF during World War II because of strict health regulations. Before enrolling in elementary flying school, each candidate had to pass three medical checks. In addition to checking for communicable diseases, the health exams also looked for minor issues with blood pressure, heart activity, and vision.

Due to their lack of education, a large number of Aboriginal males were also denied the opportunity to work. For the first two years of the war, the pre-war regulations remained in place. Junior matriculation is required for pilot training applicants. This requirement was met by just a small number of Aboriginal candidates. More than 75% of the country's Native children were only able to graduate from grades one to three during the twenties and thirties. Talent and learning capability assessments were included in the selection process. Many Native men enlisted in Canada's Army because of the difficulty they had enlisting in other branches of service. Many more factors contributed to the Army's high number of Aboriginal service members. This could have also been a decision made by Aboriginal men who were motivated by the example of 3,500 First World War Native Army veterans, (Savard et al 2018)

In general, the Army did not prohibit the enlistment of Aboriginals, and applications were generally approved without issue. This does not mean that the policies were applied consistently or that the Army was particularly eager to recruit members of the Indigenous community. As of May 19, 1942, the Deputy Minister of Mines and Resources received a memorandum from Dr. Harold W. McGill, the Deputy Superintendent General of Indian Affairs.

A general Army command impeding Native recruitment seems unlikely in light of events in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario when recruiting officers discouraged or even refused to allow Natives to register for duty. According to the Indian Affairs Branch, there were no further incidences reported in the country. Furthermore, native men were able to register and serve, which raises fundamental questions about the existence of a statewide legal barrier to Aboriginal enlistment under Army recruiting policy.


In the Nutshell, many aspects of First Nations military service in the Second World War mirrored those of the First World War, when all of the Canadian Expeditionary Force's ground soldiers were made up of First Nations men and women. As a result of Canada's huge aviation and naval forces, Aboriginal service in the Second World War may have been vastly different than in the First World War. As it has been shown, the other services were effectively removed for Aboriginal applicants because of limits on recruitment based on race, education, and health. The Army recruitment center was the sole place where Natives could express their desire to enlist. According to hearsay, there was a time when there had never been an experience like this before or after for Native men in the armed forces, be it the RCN or the RCAF. If a man's skills and abilities counted more than his ethnicity when lives were on the line, something that policy officials seemed to not comprehend, presumably. Until further evidence can be gathered, this is all just conjecture. Further research into the military service of Aboriginal men is needed before any conclusions can be drawn about the actual experiences of Native servicemen. More than a thousand Canadians enrolled and hundreds of First Nations men were killed during World War II despite the country's official qualms about recruiting them. All of them made significant contributions to Canada's military effort.


Savard et al. 2018. ""The Role of Indigenous Peoples in Armed Forces: Canadian and International Perspectives." ." Journal of Military and Strategic Studies 19, no. 2.

Sheffield, R. Scott. 2017. ""Indigenous Exceptionalism under Fire: Assessing Indigenous Soldiers in Combat with the Australian, Canadian, New Zealand and American Armies during the Second World War." ." The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 45, no. 3 (2017): 506-524.

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