The Red Man's on the Warpath: The Image of the "Indian" and the Second World War


232 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7748-1094-7
DDC 940.53'089'97071





Reviewed by J.L. Granatstein

J.L. Granatstein, Distinguished Research Professor of History Emeritus,
York University, served as Director of the Canadian War Museum from 1998
to 2000. His latest works are Who Killed Canadian History?, Who Killed
the Canadian Military, and Hell’s Cor


This book, as every reader will immediately discern, was a doctoral
dissertation in Canadian history. It bears all the marks—copious
footnoting to demonstrate the good research accomplished, ponderous
writing, and a heavy use of social-scientific jargon. It is nonetheless
useful as an indicator of the various ways in which Canadian Natives
participated in the Canadian war effort between 1939 and 1945. There was
no widespread enthusiasm for enlistment, the response of many Native
leaders sounding very modern in denying the government’s right to
expect co-operation. Some leaders even denounced war taxation and
conscription, the latter on the grounds that Queen Victoria had promised
that Aboriginals would not be asked to fight. Some 20,000 were exempted
from service. Still, many did serve (I know of no hard statistics to
show how many) with distinction, and, as Sheffield demonstrates, the war
helped move Canada’s First Nations out of irrelevance.

Equally striking is the way the media covered the Native war effort.
Sheffield’s book title is only the most egregious example, as
newspapers regularly reported that Aboriginals had taken up the hatchet
and milked every tired cliché for its supposed news value. The volume
details government and public perceptions and contributes greatly to our
understanding of Canadian attitudes during World War II.


Sheffield, R. Scott., “The Red Man's on the Warpath: The Image of the "Indian" and the Second World War,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 13, 2024,