“No Surrender: The Land Remains Indigenous”
by Sheldon Krasowski
Published by University of Regina Press
Review by Keith Foster
$27.95 ISBN 978-0-88977-596-1
In No Surrender: The Land Remains Indigenous, Sheldon Krasowski brings a controversial interpretation to Canada’s numbered treaties – an interpretation that could blow our current understanding wide open.
This exposé with the defiant title explores the differences in perceptions of Canada’s treaties by Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. Krasowski’s thesis is simple. He contends that much of today’s confusion arises not from a difference in cultures or a misunderstanding of languages, but as a deliberate attempt by Canadian treaty commissioners to cover up a controversial surrender clause.
No Surrender provides the historical context of the numbered treaties – Treaties One through Seven signed between 1871 and 1877. Examining eyewitness accounts and private diaries, Krasowski makes a strong argument based on his in-depth analysis of the original treaty documents.
He brings a fresh approach to the treaties by incorporating Indigenous oral histories. Accessing them adds a vital dimension to our understanding of treaties. In many cases, they corroborate what’s in the written records.
Krasowski suggests looking at all the numbered treaties together rather than individually. Although the treaties were based on a similar template, there were some differences. For instance, after a smallpox epidemic, the “medicine bag” clause to provide medical assistance was added to Treaty Six.
Indigenous negotiators were tenacious. Signing a treaty was not a matter of commissioners simply reading the terms and the Chiefs signing. Rather, negotiations were drawn-out affairs, with much discussion back and forth.
Indigenous culture was primarily oral, and Chiefs tended to go by what was said rather than what was written down. Not all Chiefs were literate Most who signed Treaty Six “merely touched the pen of the clerk, who then made a mark on the manuscript.” The negotiations were topped off with a solemn ceremony. This ceremony was key to Indigenous culture. It was what made the treaties sacred and binding.
Krasowski reiterates that the commissioners emphasized the benefits to Indigenous people, while obscuring what they were giving up, and deliberately avoided discussing the clause to “cede, release, surrender and yield up” the land.
According to Krasowski, the land given to Indigenous people by the Great Spirit was to be shared, not sold. He contends that the Canadian government didn’t buy the land outright; rather, it was more like a rental or lease. Further, the treaties allowed access only to the surface – as deep as a plow blade – but not to any mineral rights underneath.
With an index, bibliography, reference notes, a map, and twenty-one black and white archival photos, No Surrender clarifies the meaning of treaties, exploring exactly what’s in them and why they’re so relevant today. Taken together, the written records and oral histories expand and enhance our knowledge and provide the basis for an informed discussion on race relations in Canada.
Like the treaties, this book is of national significance. A triumph of research and analysis, No Surrender is essential reading for anyone wishing to understand Canada’s numbered treaties in the context of current events.
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