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

We have excerpted this from a post written by Cynthia Smith, a reference specialist in the Geography and Map Division, from Worlds Revealed: Geography and Maps at the Library of Congress. You can find the complete original post here. Matt Poth, 2017-18 Teacher in Residence at the Library of Congress, contributed teaching ideas.

While searching through our collections for maps to use for display in the exhibition Echoes of the Great War: American Experiences of World War I, 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 North American Indian in the World War map 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.

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 shows Native American participation, graves, notable battles, and military decorations awarded in France and Belgium.

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. Some of Dixon’s photographs can be found at the Library.

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 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.

Students might:

  • Study the Wounded Knee Massacre, which happened less than 30 years before the United States entered the war, to better understand race relations of the time, and to offer some context for Native American participation in the war.
  • Consider the timing of the Indian Citizenship Act, granting citizenship years after the war ended. What evidence can they find to indicate whether participation in the war had any affect on the legislation?
  • Explore the importance of Meuse-Argonne & St. Mihiel, pivotal battles for the American Expeditionary Forces, and the contributions of the Native American soldiers.

What most surprised your students as they examined these primary sources?

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