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Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life
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Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  372 ratings  ·  56 reviews
In arresting, but harrowing, prose, James Daschuk examines the roles that Old World diseases, climate, and, most disturbingly, Canadian politics—the politics of ethnocide—played in the deaths and subjugation of thousands of aboriginal people in the realization of Sir John A. Macdonald’s “National Dream.”

It was a dream that came at great expense: the present disparity in he
Hardcover, 334 pages
Published May 13th 2013 by University of Regina Press (first published April 3rd 2013)
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4.22  · 
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 ·  372 ratings  ·  56 reviews

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Johnny D
Mar 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
I was infuriated by this book.

Infuriated that I managed to make my way all the way through an honours history degree in Canada and still only have a tentative idea of the extent of the Canadian government's explicit role in the subjugation and genocide of Canadian First Nations. All those hours my school teachers spent on talking about the importance of the railway to Confederation, and not one peep was given to this harrowing story. When we were told of any mistreatment of natives, it was alway
Kimberley Sarich
Jul 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Every single Canadian should read this well written and incredibly researched book on the history of our country. Too many extreme actions and uninformed, ignorant decisions resulted in devastating effects on aboriginal life and culture. To know the past will help to grow the future and will develop the understanding and empathy necessary for a healthy country for us all.
Nick Popull
Jan 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
The first chapter is pretty heavily academic, but once you get into the book, it really is quite an eye opener into just how the settlement of Canada really was at the expense of the Aboriginals. Really, the title says it all. I only wish that the book didn't basically end in the 1880's.
Sep 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book opened my eyes to the history of the settlement of the prairies in very important ways.

It is a history that looks at colonization and the impacts on Indigenous nations through the lens of health and climate. It contains a significant amount of detail about the interactions of different nations prior to contact and how those interactions led to territorial distribution over time.

The history of the interaction between fur traders and trappers and how those interactions led to the trans
Dec 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, indigenous
Every Canadian should read this.
Lauren Davis
Dec 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
While the tone is slightly too academic for the casual reader, the content is so important I hope it will become a standard text in Canadian schools. That this book needed to be written is a shame -- we should have known about the genocidal horrors, but most Canadians didn't, and still don't, or deny them.

Reading this will, if you have any sense of humanity, outrage and disgust you. This is as it should be. Such reactions lead to change, long overdue change.
Big Al
Jun 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
ESSENTIAL reading for anyone interested in Canadian history (the kind that you didn't learn in school). This is heavy reading in subject matter and style, but so important
Dec 25, 2014 rated it liked it
Interesting and important story, but writing is too dry and academic.
Feb 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
I haven't yet finished the book. Must return to library before requesting it again, since it's on hold. This is an important book for all Canadians (and North Americans) to read as part of understanding the history of our countries, with origins in the author's doctoral dissertation 20 years ago. Examines impact of eco-geography on population health of mostly North American aboriginal people, both before and after contact with Europeans, including from the Spanish from central America (the route ...more
Grazyna Nawrocka
Jan 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Although very factual, this book is fascinating to read. I love language, style and presentation. The facts are grim, but I'd recommend this book to any Canadian or immigrant. It shows situation of indigenous people in broader context of politic and economic reality of the times. Here are some examples:

"In 1849, 25,000 emigrants travelled through the plains at the height of the California Gold Rush, infecting the Sioux population along the route with smallpox, measles, and cholera."
"For Niitsita
Feb 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
The final paragraph of the book nicely summarizes our abysmal treatment of First Nations. "The gap between the health, living conditions, and other social determinants of health of First Nations people and mainstream Canadians continues as it has since the end of the nineteenth century. While Canadians see themselves as world leaders in social welfare, health care, and economic development, most reserves in Canada are economic backwaters with little prospect of material advancement and more in c ...more
Philip Girvan
Apr 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A staggering assessment of the horrors visited upon the North American Indians and Metis populations by pathogens, those indigenous to North America such as TB as well those carried over from Europe such as smallpox and influenza. Daschuk skillfully manages to trace ways in which human economic and political activity assisted and, in some instances, halted the march of disease.

This book provides a thorough overview of the diverse tribes living in the Great Lakes region as well as the Great Plain
Jun 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
"Acquisition of the West by the dominion of Canada in December 1869 brought unprecedented changes to the inhabitants of the plains. Within a decade, the bison would be gone, and the people who had depended on them would be marginalized by a new economic reality. Shrinking herds, coupled with imminent settlement of the plains by European immigrants, forced the original inhabitants of the region into an increasingly desperate situation."

It's one thing to (vaguely) understand that Aboriginal people
Oct 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
Despite being only 186 pages long, this is a hard history to read. I found it incredibly hard to read, in such a matter of fact manner, clear abuse of power and the opportunistic manner the Dominion of Canada used famine to starve people into submission. In combination with the knowledge that ~100 reserves in Canada still do not have potable water in 2015, it is heart breaking to know how long these concerns have been unaddressed. I think I hate Sir John A. MacDonald now and his willful blindnes ...more
Sep 07, 2015 rated it liked it
An important topic; thoroughly covered but in language inaccessible to the 99%. The author focuses on the spread of disease while relating its spread with famine, poverty, and political dissent in the North American context. Some very obvious conclusions could be drawn which would improve quality of life not only among the First Nations People but in all subjugated peoples world-wide. Unfortunately the text is far too scholarly to make any impact in today's world, outside academia.

Jan 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
It's excruciating that until very recently the truth about Canadian government policy towards the First Nations hasn't been more widely taught and understood for its evils. In 200 pages, Daschuk outlines the resulting almost complete annihilation of indigenous people due to economic change, disease and cruel, inhumane government policy. If you can get past the listing of date after date, this book is a must-read.
Matt Fodor
Dec 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I agree with the assessment that says this is a must-read work of Canadian history. It is a very thorough, fact filled account running from the fur trade through the establishment of the reserve system and Daschuk convincingly shows that Canada's "founding father" pursued a policy of starvation and neglect of First Nations people on the Prairies. The photography is an added bonus and the conclusion does an excellent job summing up the book as a whole.
Dec 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Everyone should read this book. Seriously everyone. I’m buying a stack of copies to give as birthday gifts for the next year. So well researched and written even if you know a lot, this book will teach you more about the devastating impact of colonialism on Indigenous people over the last 400 years. Essential reading.
Andrew McGillivray
Oct 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Essential reading for those interested in the history of central and western Canada/the plains region. Important reading for those interested in colonialism as applied in North America.
Leah Wilby
Aug 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
Extremely dense book but so well researched and informative. It was hard to retain the full scope of all the information given due to how thoroughly researched the subject matter was.
Morgan Dhu
May 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
In Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life, James Daschuk sets out to tell the history of the European colonisation of the the Canadian Great Plains as it affected, and continues to affect, the health of Indigenous peoples in Western Canada. As he states in his introduction: “Racism among policy makers and members of mainstream society was the key factor in creating the gap in health outcomes as well as maintaining a double standard for acceptable li ...more
Kimmy Beach
Oct 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent primer for settler Canadians like myself who were not taught this history in school. The book shows a clear connection between the diminishing health of First Nations in Canada and the subsequent implementation of the residential school system. In clear, compelling language, Daschuk lays out the history of the forced displacement and starvation of Indigenous peoples of Canada.
Brad Bell
Sep 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
On the back of this book there is a blurb that says” All Canadians should read this book” and I couldn’t agree more. Detailing in first hand accounts and archival documents Daschuk tirelessly recreates the atmosphere and conditions of early Indigenous communities and tribes that existed at the dawn of the European invasion of the land we would come to know as Canada.

I know some people who would turn away from this book because it is a historical record of a time that most Canadians would like t

Review by Matthew Brett

Official bicentennial celebrations of the "affable drunk" who founded Canada will likely mask John A. Macdonald's history of racism and deliberate starvation of First Nations, and similar policies continue today with the tar sands and fracking expansion.

James Daschuk, author of Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life, addresses Canada's history of disease, deliberate starvation, ethnic cl
Dec 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, history
I have studied the history of western Canada: early exploration, the fur trade, Hudson's Bay Company and the Northwest company, the settlement at Red River, Louis Riel, and the battles at Batoche and Duck Lake. Although it was good to learn that the Canadian government did not fight wars with native people until they were killed or beaten into submission, as was true in the United States (the land of my birth and upbringing), I was under no illusion that indigenous people had had things so much ...more
In Clearing the Plains, Daschuk analyzes the history of disease and starvation that plagued Aboriginal peoples on the plains upon the arrival of white people to Canada (and North America.) If I can be honest, this felt like a really repetitive read, most likely because the evidence and history Daschuk uses seems to repeat itself constantly. This does not speak to Daschuk as a writer or a historian, rather the history itself — the constant cycles of disease, like tuberculosis, that hit repeated ...more
Jan 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
A thorough account of a devastating part of Canadian history, the legacy of which is still pervasive but largely disregarded in current context. It is noted by the author that this book came from his doctoral work, and results in a fairly academic tone and style. For many, this may make reading frustrating, and even at times, incomprehensible because of historical context or terminology that is often only inferred to. It is worth noting that while densely packed, this book does not provide the c ...more
Feb 17, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Okay, this book is a mixed bag. Let's talk about pros: the topic of this book is very important, and helps illuminate the rift between First Nations and basically the rest of Canada. Apparently it was very thoroughly researched. There is a lot of material in this book that needs to be migrated over to Social Studies curricula across the country. I would guess that the vast majority of Canadians are unaware of the dark underbelly of Canadian history that does not make it into Heritage Minutes or ...more
Nov 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
I found this book to be really challenging on a number of levels.

The writing itself feels very academic. It was, after all, the offshoot of a thesis. I think some assumptions are made about how much the reader knows about North American Indigenous history and it left me feeling a bit lost in places. Good exercise to go to more reading to fill in the gaps.

I also found it a bit disorganized; although it was organized by date, the chapters themselves seem to jump all over the place geographically.
Andrew Fehr
Feb 12, 2018 rated it liked it
Daschuk really did justice to his topic, clearing the plains of Indigenous people, in this book. He is a thorough writer and supports every point with numerous examples. His background as an academic comes through clearly in his writing style, which is sometimes dense, and through the great number of references he cites. His writing style may be tough for some readers to get through so, despite all the praise this book has gotten, it's not going to appeal to everyone.

The book draws on examples f
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