The National Gallery of Canada has installed Ace’s work “For King and Country” in the Canadian and Indigenous Galleries. The work is on a long-term loan from the Canada Council Art Bank Collection who acquired the work in 2016 (more info).
Indigenous people in Canada who resided on reserve lands and who were subject to the federal government Indian Act legislation were not accorded the full rights of Canadian citizenship that included the franchise (right to vote) in federal elections until 1960. Enfranchisement was a legal process used by the Federal Government of Canada to terminate an Indigenous person’s status in order to confer full Canadian citizenship. Once enfranchised, the individual could no longer live on the reserve lands set aside for their community, nor could they enjoy or exercise hunting and fishing rights, receive treaty annuity payments and other inherent rights as a result of their Indigenous status. There were numerous provisions within the Indian Act legislation where an individual could become enfranchised, involuntarily or voluntarily. Many status Indigenous people did not want to surrender their existing rights and become separated from their families, so they resisted enfranchisement. Since status Indigenous people were not considered full Canadian citizens, they were also exempt from military conscription, but this did not prevent many from voluntarily joining the military effort in both World Wars.
“First Nations people in most parts of Canada had the right to vote from Confederation on – but only if they gave up their status through a process defined in the Indian Act and known as “enfranchisement.” Quite understandably, very few were willing to do this. It is worth noting that this requirement to give up status was not imposed on them if they joined the military. In fact, the franchise was extended to members of the First Nations who served in both world wars – although until 1924, any First World War veterans who returned to their reserves lost the right to vote. A great many First Nations people also served with distinction in the Canadian Forces during the Second World War, and this was among the reasons eventually leading Canadians to conclude that all Aboriginal people should have the full rights of citizenship.” (A History of the Vote In Canada).
Many individuals were encouraged, misled or coerced into enfranchisement by government officials and lost their Indigenous status, but also, some voluntarily enfranchised in order to gain access Veteran’s benefits that were otherwise denied them. As well, there were many who refused to enfranchise and still served. The War Measures Act also extended the franchise (right to vote) to all military personnel during wartime service, but those status Indigenous veterans who were not enfranchised lost that right upon leaving the military and returning to their home communities. They also did not receive the same level of benefits accorded other Canadian veterans.
“Voluntary enlistment was high. Each war saw more than 3,000 registered Indians and numerous Métis and non-status people serve in the forces; many more tried to enlist and were rejected because of poor health or limited education. In Aboriginal communities where health and education levels were advanced, virtually every eligible man joined the armed forces. The overwhelming support for Canada’s war effort — shown through enlistment, contributions to war charities and labour in wartime industries — was a measure of Aboriginal people’s willingness to assume their responsibility in the crisis facing Canada. Their contribution was well received, and most Aboriginal people found acceptance as partners in the country’s war effort.
Only after the wars, when registered Indians returned to their reserves and Métis and non-status people to their own communities, did it become clear that the semblance of full citizenship had been only temporary. As a result, after the wars, veterans would become leaders in their communities, challenging the government where its policies were at odds with its earlier undertakings to Aboriginal peoples. The beginnings of change occurred when Indians testified at the hearings of a joint parliamentary committee on the Indian Act in 1946-47.” Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, Veterans, Volume 1, pages 523-564, 1996.
Despite the fact that many brave and courageous Indigenous veterans volunteered, fought and died beside their Canadian comrades in arms in both World Wars, status Indigenous people in Canada were not granted the federal vote until 1960, and were finally accorded the provincial vote in the province of Quebec in 1969.
Photo: Cecil Joseph Ace, Gunner and Dispatch Rider, 13th Canadian Field Regiment. R.C.A.