For King and Kanata AUTHOR INTERVIEW
1) What was your motivation to write For King and Kanata?
It is unfortunate that Canadians have been fallaciously labelled an “unmilitary people,” and that the public opinion in Canada, whether by desire or ignorance, believes in, and promotes, the unquestionably false myth that we are a “Peacekeeping Nation.” Canada, and its First Peoples, has a extensive, diverse and proud tradition of military history and the profession of arms from the Colonial Wars to the War of 1812 to our present deployments in Afghanistan, Libya and the Sudan to list but a few. The First Nations of North America played a pivotal role in the shaping and evolution of Canada through their military alliance, service and sacrifice.
The participation of Aboriginal Canadians during the World Wars has been relatively, and unfairly, neglected. If culturally distinct integration of Aboriginal peoples into Canadian society is to occur, we must recognize their achievements and promote their history as allied and equal to that of other Canadians. Recognizing the past contributions of Canada’s First Peoples in the defence of Kanata, can only benefit future relations, while promoting an atmosphere of mutual pride and respect among all Canadians.
2) What kinds of research did you do for the book?
Research for this book began in 2004. Given the scant secondary literature on the subject, and the fact that what was written previously is driven by narrative and recycled generalizations, the vast majority of my research was conducted at various archives, political departments, and libraries in Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States, and through various First Nations Councils and archives. Previously, historians have not moved beyond blinding national affiliations and have completely disregarded the position of the British Colonial and War Offices in requesting, and promoting, the military service of First Nations men. This book addresses this national component, coupled to the dominant international themes that directly influenced First Nations participation, and the policies and administration surrounding their multi-faceted involvement in the Great War.
Accordingly, First Nations involvement during the war is inextricably coupled to that of Canada and Britain and, to some extent, to the evolution of the war in its entirety. The actions of the senior British government and military command, its junior ally of Canada and First Nations did not exist in isolation; rather, formed a tripartite relationship that is the history of Canada’s Indigenous populations during the Great War. Canadian histories of the First World War all too often depict Canadian contributions as if detached from the governing political and military structures of the Imperial government; Canadian formations were part of the larger British Expeditionary Force. Correspondingly, the political influence of the British War and Colonial Offices in Canadian decisions surrounding the military service of Aboriginal men has been wholly and detrimentally overlooked.
3) What do you most hope readers will learn after reading your book?
The elevated First Nations participation during the “Great War for Civilization” was the potential pivotal catalyst to accelerate their attainment of equal rights. For the first time in history they had been summoned, in unprecedented numbers, to fight and labour on foreign fields alongside Canadian, imperial and other Allied soldiers for the common purpose of defending liberty and civilization.
For Canada, the First World War was the transformative, even pivotal, event of the twentieth century, and the sacrifices First Nations soldiers and communities made during this conflict shaped the eras that followed. These experiences challenged notions of Aboriginal identity, as well as their constitutional/political status and their appropriate place in national orders.
In effect, just as the First World War stimulated, and was used to promote, nationalist attitudes and demands in Canada in relation to the imperial government, the same can be said for First Nations in relation to Canada. As a microcosm, First Nations sought the same recognition from Canada (and to a certain extent the Crown), as Canada sought from the mother country—equality and autonomy. For both parties, significant participation in the war represented one avenue to achieve these ambitions. In this sense, the patriotic reactions of many First Nations leaders in 1914, and their subsequent actions throughout the war, were no different from those of Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden and senior Canadian politicians.
4) What fascinates you so much about the history of war? Is this a topic you see yourself writing more about in the future?
I have been enthralled with warfare from a very young age. I can remember being in Grade One or Two and getting so excited for the Book Mobile to make its weekly visit to my school, because each week the librarians brought new war books specifically for me. To be honest, I suspect that many of them never actually got read, but I was fascinated by the photographs, knowing that my Grandfathers had served for Canada in these wars. My Great-Great-Grandfather Charles served in the Boer War and the First World War. My Great-Grandfather William served in both World Wars and his son, my Grandpa William, in the Second World War. They all served as “civilian soldiers.” I also have family members who served in Korea, Vietnam and the First Gulf War. Accordingly, I served nine years as an officer in the Canadian Forces, including a two-year attachment to the British Army. My name, Timothy Charles William Winegard, is a testament to their impact upon my family, and certainly myself.
My two passions are military history and Indigenous peoples. In my writings I often combine both interests as this book attests to. I have also written a book on the 1990 Oka Crisis and the role of the Canadian Forces, Oka: A Convergence of Cultures and the Canadian Forces (2008). My book Indigenous Peoples of the British Dominions and the First World War (2011), which compares the First World War experiences of the Indigenous peoples of Canada, Australia, Newfoundland, New Zealand and South Africa, was recently published by Cambridge University Press.
Of late, my research has shifted back to my roots as a military historian. I have a journal article coming out shortly in the International History Review detailing Canada’s diplomatic and military actions during the 1982 Falklands War between Britain and Argentina. In addition, I have just begun writing my next book. It explores the 1918 deployment of 450 select British and Dominion soldiers which made up the “hush-hush” special forces unit dubbed Dunsterforce. Under the command of Major-General Lionel Dunsterville, this unit traversed Mesopotamia, Persia and the southern Caucasus region—from Basra to Baku—with a view to protecting British strategic interests in the Caucasus—chiefly the oil fields at Baku, while preventing the Turks and Germans a route to India and its vital commodities.
5) What else would you like our readers to know about the book, your writing, or yourself?
If I must summarize, my book is a very small piece of a much larger issue; which is, that we all share this amazing land of Canada, and these partnerships must be mutually beneficial to all Canadians, including the First Peoples of our country. Their history is important and proud, and unequivocally benefits, and enhances, the Canadian mosaic in its entirety.