Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life exposes the seamier side of Prime Minister John A. Macdonald’s National Policy. As the subtitle implies, this book offers startling new insights into the plight of First Nations people and the politics that caused it.
Author James Daschuk is an assistant professor of health studies at the University of Regina. Focusing on the medical histories of First Nations people in western Canada, he shows how diseases like smallpox, cholera, tuberculosis, and scarlet fever ravaged the native population.
Daschuk’s reinterpretation of Canadian history is a rude awakening to those who believe Canadian attitudes towards aboriginal people were much more humane than their American counterparts.
In detailing the politics of persecution and the systematic starvation of natives by withholding rations, Daschuk’s analytical narrative cuts through highly complex issues like a scalpel through skin.
He shows that some Indian agents, appointed by the federal government to feed indigenous people, were not exactly men of strong character or high moral values. When Frog Lake agent Thomas Quinn summoned natives to pick up their rations, the emaciated population stampeded to the post, only to find that Quinn had tricked them in an April Fool’s Day prank.
Daschuk backs up his narrative with meticulous research. His reference notes, index, and an extensive bibliography constitute almost 40 per cent of his 318-page hardcover book. He also includes two dozen black and white archival photos or contemporary illustrations, mostly from the Glenbow Archives in Calgary, AB.
Clearing the Plains is essential reading for anyone wishing to understand indigenous culture and a valuable contribution to our knowledge and understanding of western Canadian history.
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