World War I

When the U.S. entered World War I in April 1917, many Native Americans welcomed the opportunity to serve in the armed forces. By September, nearly 12,000 men had registered for military service. Native women also volunteered and served as army nurses in France. Approximately 10,000 American Indians joined the Red Cross, collecting money and donating supplies to support the war effort. All this when one third of American Indians remained unrecognized as U.S. citizens.

Joseph Oklahombi, in uniform, sitting on a porch alongside John Golombie and Czarina Colbert Conlan

Photo by Hopkins. Courtesy Oklahoma Historical Society

Joseph Oklahombi (Choctaw, 1895–1960), right, with John Golombie (Chickasaw) and Czarina Colbert Conlan (Choctaw/Chickasaw) at Oklahombi’s home. Near Wright City, Oklahoma, May 12, 1921.

Joseph Oklahombi was the most highly decorated Native American serviceman during World War I. He received a Silver Citation Star and the Croix de Guerre, France’s highest military honor for gallantry, after he and twenty-three other men rushed a German stronghold near Saint-Etienne in October 1918, capturing 171 prisoners and killing about 79.

American Indians were members of the first U.S. combat units to reach France in 1917; they fought in every critical engagement until the war ended in 1918. About 5 percent of Native American soldiers were killed, compared to 1 percent of U.S. forces as a whole.

Indigenous people fought during World War I to demonstrate their patriotism, prove themselves in battle, and defend democracy in Europe. After the war, many expected the United States to reward their service by extending citizenship to all Native people and by respecting tribal lands and autonomy. Congress granted citizenship in 1924, but Native people would have to fight in other American wars before the federal government adopted a policy of tribal self-determination.

Edith Monture sitting in a registered nurse uniform

Courtesy of John Moses

Charlotte Edith Anderson Monture (Six Nations of the Grand River, 1890–1996), 1919.

Edith Monture was the first Native Canadian registered nurse. After Indian Act restrictions of her era prevented her from pursuing professional training in Canada, she sought nurse’s training in the United States. In 1917, at the age of twenty-seven, she volunteered for the U.S. Medical Corps and served in a hospital in France, treating soldiers who had been shot or gassed. She was the only Native woman among the fourteen Canadian nurses who served in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps during World War I.

Soldier Amado Garcia standing at an angle in uniform and holding a rifle at Camp Dix, New Jersey

Mathers Museum of World Cultures, Indiana University

Amado Garcia (Acoma Pueblo), Camp Dix, New Jersey, May 17, 1919.

Amado Garcia enlisted in the United States Army on June 3, 1918, in Lamar, Colorado. He was decorated with the French Croix de Guerre with Gilt Star for his actions in Fismes, France. With two other men from his unit, Garcia advanced three hundred yards through barbed wire under heavy fire, capturing enemy guns, and returned unwounded to Allied lines.

Fifteen young male American Indian students pose for a photograph at Hog Island Shipyard, PA

National Archives photo no. 533744

American Indian students from Carlisle Indian Industrial School. Hog Island Shipyard, Pennsylvania, September 4, 1918.

Native people served the war effort in many different ways, including working in defense industries. These students from the Carlisle boarding school in Pennsylvania built ships during World War I.