James Benning

Settlers, Cyborgs, and Indians: An Exploration of  Shifting Identities in First Nations Second World War Veterans

By James Benning
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When called upon by the Canadian State to defend its interests during the Second World War, First Nations rose to the occasion. While serving in the war a fundamental identity shift occurred in First Nations individuals. First Nations adopted the technologies of war which transformed them into soldiers. First Nations through their participation in war and the adaptation of the soldier persona gained equality with their white brethren overseas. In some cases they were even able to utilise their traditional cultural language (A practice forbidden at home) as a weapon against the enemy. This raises the following questions: are we as non- Aboriginal Canadians able to reconcile with this shift of identity? Were First Nations warriors themselves able to deal with the identity shifts or did conflicts occur? Does becoming a soldier change the personal narrative of the First Nations warrior upon returning home? This research is relevant because it has the potential to give insights into Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and how a shifting sense of identity can contribute to the symptoms of the injury. It also brings to attention the ability for war to be a phenomenon that eliminates societal constructions of race, gender, and class. This article concludes that upon returning home Canadians were not able to reconcile with the equalization that occurred overseas between the First Nations and their non-Aboriginal soldiers. First Nations veterans fought for Canada with the expectation of reciprocal equality. Instead were regulated upon their return home to being second class citizens. The elimination of societal constructions of race, gender, and class caused by war ceased to be a contributing factor.

Veterans, First Nations, Cyborg, WW2.

I am a first year graduate school in the department of Canadian Studies. My background consists of seven years’ experience as a soldier in Canadian Forces, specializing in the area of combat arms. I have served with the Royal Canadian Dragoons, and am currently an Officer with the Governor General’s Foot Guards. My academic background consists of holding a combined major in English and History from Carleton University. I grew up in Ottawa, Ontario, and my research interests consist of issues of identity, specifically, when it comes to the transition that occurs between civilian and military life.

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