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Native Americans in the First World War and the Fight for Citizenship

The following post is by Cynthia Smith, a reference specialist in the Geography and Map Division.

The Library of Congress is commemorating the 100th anniversary of the United States participation in World War I with an exhibit titled “Echoes of the Great War: American Experiences of World War I.” The exhibit examines the upheaval of World War I as Americans confronted it. Maps from the Geography and Map Division are included, as well as prints, photographs, manuscripts, and other rotating materials from the collections of the Library of Congress.

While searching through our collections for maps to use for display in the exhibit, I found one among our uncatalogued holdings that caught my attention. As the title states, it is a map presenting the role of North American Indians in the World War. The map was published by the Office of the Adjutant General of the Army in 1925. The text also indicates that the map was compiled and drawn by Vladimir Sournin, the “author of engineering map of the Panama Canal.”

The North American Indian in the World War. United States, Adjutant-General's Office, 1926. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

The North American Indian in the World War. United States, Adjutant-General’s Office, 1925. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

The map was displayed in the first rotation of the exhibit in April 2017. In great detail, the map shows Native American participation, graves, notable battles, and military decorations awarded in France and Belgium. It also includes an inset, seen below, titled Special sketch of noted battlefields, comprising Verdun & Meuse, Argonne & St. Mihiel operations, where the Indians occupied so many sectors and won such fine distinction.

Detail of The North American Indian in the World War. United States, Adjutant-General's Office, 1926. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

Detail of The North American Indian in the World War. United States, Adjutant-General’s Office, 1926. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

The information for the map was taken from the work of Dr. Joseph Kossuth Dixon, a former Baptist preacher who became a photographer, author, and Native American rights advocate. Prior to the war, Dixon led three expeditions throughout the United States, known as the Wanamaker Indian expeditions, to document Native American life and culture through photography, film, and sound recordings. Some of Dixon’s photographs can be found at the Library, including the one below.

Chief Umapine, Cayuse. Joseph Kossuth Dixon, 1913. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Chief Umapine, Cayuse. Joseph Kossuth Dixon, 1913. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

After World War I, Dixon traveled through Europe to document the Native American experience during the war with the hope that documenting Native American service in the military would aid the struggle to obtain general U.S. citizenship. Forty percent of Native Americans were not citizens until 1924, though more than 12,000 served in the U.S. Army during World War I. As part of their service, many Native Americans of the 142nd Infantry, 36th Division became the nation’s first “Code Talkers.” Code Talkers sent messages encrypted in their native languages over radio, telephone, and telegraph lines which were never broken by Germany. On June 2, 1924, almost six years after the end of the war, Congress passed the Indian Citizenship Act granting citizenship to all Native Americans born in the United States.

The map is now cataloged and digitized where it can be viewed and downloaded in the online catalog here. It was imperative that an image of this rare map was made widely available, as it documents the places where Native Americans fought with distinction during the First World War. Furthermore, it represents part of the broader social and political fight for Native American citizenship.

This wounded American soldier is a full blooded Choctan Indian from Oklahoma who has been in France for three months and says "sure he likes the war"... Lewis W. Hine, September 1918. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

This wounded American soldier is a full blooded Choctan Indian from Oklahoma who has been in France for three months and says “sure he likes the war”… Lewis W. Hine, September 1918. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

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