Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics, and the Loss of Indigenous Life
by James Daschuk
Published by University of Regina Press
Reviewed by Ben Charles
$27.95 ISBN 978088776227
Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics, and the Loss of Indigenous Life, written by James Daschuk and published by University of Regina Press, can be best described as a heart wrenching but enlightening review of the systematic destruction of Indigenous peoples and culture in the prairies via the purposeful introduction of disease, starvation, and health disparities by both the Canadian government and private companies. This 2019 New Edition and winner of the Aboriginal History Prize, Cleo Prize, Governor General’s History and ironically the Sir John A. McDonald Prize, was originally published in 2013 and since then has obviously been praised by critics and readers alike. In fact, this reviewer truly believes that every Saskatchewanian should have a copy of this book on their shelves.
James Daschuk, a PhD in history and a current associate professor with the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies at the University of Regina, showcases his unprecedented capacity for research and provides the reader with fascinating (albeit sickening) review of the history of Indigenous health both pre and post-contact. During initial contact, while the country of Canada was either non-exist or in its infancy various systems where initialized by the country, by the church and by private organizations to ensure the continuous disadvantage of Indigenous people. Daschuk describes these imposed disparities and their brutal executions with such intricate detail and a level of historical research that makes it difficult for the reader to not seriously question the moral integrity of our nation’s roots and of the powers that be today.
Unlike many pieces of literature regarding Canadian history, Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics, and the Loss of Indigenous Life does not stick to the history found to the East but, as the title suggests, provides an in-depth review of the First Nations history that occurred right here at home in Saskatchewan. This is brilliantly documented from archival, academic research, interviews and a plethora of other resources.
The mostly-pleasant, comfortable life of an average Canadian typically leads them to think that Canada has always been one of the most progressive and tolerant countries in the world. In history class we are led to believe that we have always been the “nice guys”. The thought that our nation has always been founded on the systematic genocide makes most people uncomfortable; it’s certainly not dinner-talk. Genocide is a heavy word but an appropriate one. Despite this book being an academic piece, Daschuk vividly paints the brutal treatment of Indigenous peoples both across the nation and within our own province.
In conclusion, this book is a juggernaut in the context of dark Canadian history and an invaluable resource to teach readers as to how the social climate regarding Indigenous people has evolved to what it is today. The only warning that I could possibly give for this book is a trigger warning. Please be advised that there are dark themes and incredibly violent truths found within these pages.
THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM WWW.SKBOOKS.COM