Araca stands for the Association de Recherche des Anciens Combattants Amérindiens. In just a few years this association, whose headquarters is in Loos-en-Gohelle, has been a key player in research into the military role played by Native Americans.
Its president, Yann Castelnot, has even become a spokesperson for the families of those Native Americans soldiers who came to Europe to fight in Canadian, British and, on occasion, French units. Its aim is to honour their memory and to recognise their commitment and sacrifice which have long been ignored.
To date, Yann Castelnot has a list of more than 4,000 names of Native Americans who fought in the First World War. These include Mohawks, Onondagas, Oneidas, Tuscaroras, Chippewas, Crees, Algonquins, Malecites, Bloods, Iroquois and Sioux, who came from numerous native nations around North America. How many of them made it to the Pas-de-Calais?
It’s a very difficult question to answer at present as historians and researchers have only shown interest in this subject over the past decade.
For his part, Yann Castelnot has embarked on a long and painstaking project, as those Native Americans who did enlist did so under French- or English-sounding assumed names. Officially, they were not allowed to sign up for purely political reasons: sending “savages” to the front wasn’t the done thing. In addition, military enlistment papers in 1914-1915 bore no indication as to whether those enrolled were Native Americans or not. The only clue was their place of birth.
However, information provided by families also had to be factored in. Many present-day Native Americans are aware that their grandfathers and great-grandfathers left for the war, but most have paid little attention to what happened or what they went through. For many, their enlistment proved their patriotism… (download the pdf to read more).