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.

It is a common misconception that all status Indigenous veterans who served in the World Wars were involuntarily enfranchised because they enlisted in the Canadian military. 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.

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.