This Week in History


Aboriginal Women won’t be Left Behind

For the week of Monday November 17, 2014

On November 23, 1914, shortly after the outbreak of the First World War, representatives of the recently formed Six Nations Women’s Patriotic League (SNWPL) wrote to the Department of Indian Affairs asking the government to support their initiative to send socks, preserves and general comforts to their kin overseas. The League women were determined to stand by the roughly 300 men from the Six Nations of the Grand River in Ontario – one of many First Nations in Canada contributing to the war effort – who had volunteered to serve in the war.

National Aboriginal Veterans Monument in Ottawa
© National Capital Commission

This project came about when a group of women from Brantford approached the women of the Six Nations earlier that autumn to help organize the SNWPL in support of Six Nations men fighting overseas. The SNWPL’s first project was to provide socks to the soldiers, as with communities across Canada involved in similar efforts. In the muddy trenches of Europe, warm, dry socks were an essential defence against frost bite as well as trench foot, a dangerous condition caused by perpetually wet feet. The SNWPL therefore knit as many articles as possible, with one woman knitting 225 pairs of socks herself!

The request for funding from the federal government was a last resort by the SNWPL. At various times throughout the war, their local government, The Six Nations Council, had refused on principle to financially support the League for purchases of wool because it was officially opposed to enlistment in the war. The Council finally agreed to provide money for wool in the fall of 1916, when the League assured them that all socks and other comforts would go to Six Nations men on the front.

The SNWPL’s volunteer efforts eventually transcended the needs of Aboriginal soldiers. A German blockade, which began at the end of 1914, provoked mass starvation among civilians in Belgium. The League worked alongside women across Canada to send knit items, quilts and homemade jelly to Belgium as part of the relief effort.

The work of Aboriginal individuals and communities at home and overseas is part of the Aboriginal Military Service in the First World War, a National Historic Event.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War. To read more about the Six Nations and the First World War, please see A Racing Legend is Born, Future War Hero and Calling Out the Reserves in the This Week in History archives.

Date Modified: