On Remembrance Day, like every year, we remember the Canadians that gave the ultimate sacrifice. We remember those heroes through writings, photographs, memories, and especially through Canadian War Art. War artists have the innate ability to provide the emotions of battle through the human lens, similar to how we remember the most tragic or beautiful moments of our own lives.
We view riveting pieces like AY Jackson’s “A Copse, Evening” which showcased soldiers walking through a wasteland that once had life, and Richard Jack’s “The Second Battle of Ypres” which highlighted the bravery of Canadian soldiers in the face of tragedy and destruction. These pieces of Canadian War Art provided an emotional glimpse into the faces of war we remember today.
The Missing Faces of Canadian War Art
Unfortunately, the way we view Canadian War Art during World War 1 is not unlike the way we view most of the profound moments of our Canadian history – They come without the sacrifices of the Indigenous Peoples.
Did you know that the Canadian Expeditionary Force, which was the field combat force sent to fight during World War 1, had at least 4,000 indigenous soldiers? Even in the face of racist laws and limited rights, it was remarkable to see the indigenous peoples fight for Canada in the thousands. The reason many of us don’t know this is because of the lack of their appearance on nearly any Canadian War Art. These soldiers fought no less than any of their fellow troops, but due to the realities of institutional racism, they were left off of visual history, to be forgotten.
Showcasing The Limited Indigenous Canadian War Art
While it’s difficult to find artworks that highlight the Indigenous sacrifice during World War 1, we wanted to share a portrait of Lance Corporal John Shiwak, who was of Inuit descent and worked as a hunter and trapper before the war. Corporal Shiwak was killed by an exploding shell during the Battle of Cambrai on November 20, 1917. Corporal Shiwak was one of at-least 300 indigenous soldiers that died during World War 1.
Today, while we remember and honor those that fought for us, let’s not forget that those faces included thousands of indigenous soldiers, who have not been represented in Canadian War Art history. If we can take anything from this, it should be that it’s the responsibility of artists, especially war artists to portray the bravery of all, even in the face of systemic racism and discrimination.