Exemption from Military Service Act


An order-in-council from January 17, 1918 exempted Indigenous peoples from compulsory military service (conscription) under the Military Service Act. The government argued that they were not 'full citizens,' and therefore their participation was completely voluntary and would result in automatic enfranchisement. While being exempt from conscription, this did not mean that Indigenous peoples were not drafted into military service, or had effects on their treatment during the war and experience as veterans afterwards.


Many Indigenous peoples volunteered for military service, and they were enfranchised as a result (meaning at this time they would have lost many of their treaty rights and any status they had previously held) – by enlisting, automatic enfranchisement occurred and there was no way to forego this. However, Indigenous veterans did not receive the same compensation as settler veterans. Lack of compensation for their service, Indigenous veterans were still promised that they would receive some of the same benefits but little attention to the requests were made. Automatic enfranchisement meant that a veteran would have to leave their home community if they lived on a reserve, lose their status including any future children, and any of the protections and supports that were in place for Indigenous peoples at this time. It should also be noted that some Indigenous peoples, notably Métis, reported that they or their family members were coerced to enlist in the Canadian forces for the war effort. Please see related entry "Coercion / Deception in Metis Enlistment for World War One" for more details.
Sub Event
Aboriginal Veterans Automatically Enfranchised