THE RED MAN'S ON THE WARPATH: The Image of the "Indian" and the Second World War

By Sheffield, R. Scott; Miller, JR. | International Journal, Autumn 2005 | Go to article overview

THE RED MAN'S ON THE WARPATH: The Image of the "Indian" and the Second World War


Sheffield, R. Scott, Miller, JR., International Journal


THE RED MAN'S ON THE WARPATH The Image of the "Indian" and the second World War R. Scott Sheffield Vancouver. UBC Press, 2004. viii 232pp. $85.00 cloth (ISBN 0-7748-1094-7), $29.95 paper (ISBN 0-7748-1095-5)

Although foreign wars tend to reduce the attention democracies devote to domestic matters, they can simultaneously influence voters' thinking about issues close to home. The validity of this generalization is demonstrated by the evolution of English Canadians' image of the Indian between 1930 and 1948, as R. Scott Sheffield explains in TAe Red Man's on the Warpath. Sheffield is interested in how the image of the Indian changed, and whether wartime events contributed to the modification.

Sheffield's analysis focuses on what he calls "the administrative Indian" and "the public Indian," his terms for bureaucrats' and the public's perceptions of First Nations people. To uncover "the administrative Indian" the author uses a variety of sources: school files, the correspondence in Indian Affairs dealing with education matters for the 19305; Indian Affairs' communications during wartime with government departments that were deeply involved in prosecuting the war; a group of Indian agents' responses to a request from a new minister for tour d'horizon reports at war's end; and the records of the special joint committee on the Indian Act that operated between 1946 and 1950. For "the public Indian" Sheffield relies on newspapers, academic quarterlies, and The Canadian Forum. From these raw materials he constructs his account of the shifts in bureaucratic and English-Canadian public perceptions.

During the 19303 both the public's and bureaucrats' image of the Indian was dismal, no doubt reflecting the devastation that half a century of Indian Affairs wardship had wrought. Officials, manifesting a familiar tendency to blame the victim for policy shortcomings, considered their charges lazy, irresponsible, morally weak, and probably incapable of improvement. The public's perception was more positive only in the sense that it was more "equivocal" (25). The wartime shift in perceptions did not occur immediately. It was when the Commonwealth stood alone against Hitler in 1940 that opinions about Indians-now recognized for their high enlistment rates and generous financial contributions to the war-underwent a change. That shift was amplified, in turn, by growing awareness that, since the war effort was a . struggle against a system of organized racism, domestic belief in racial superiority was inappropriate. …

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