Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics, and the Loss of Indigenous Life – A Book Review

“Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics, and the Loss of Indigenous Life”
by James Daschuk
Published by University of Regina Press
Reviewed by Ben Charles
C$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 unpresented 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 literature, 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

 

Soapbox Stories Presents – A Digital Bundle: Protecting and Promoting Indigenous Knowledge Online – A Book Review

“A Digital Bundle: Protecting and Promoting Indigenous Knowledge Online”
by Jennifer Wemigwans
Published by University of Regina Press
Reviewed by Ben Charles
C$29.95 ISBN: 9780889775510

“A Digital Bundle: Protecting and Promoting Indigenous Knowledge Online”, written by Jennifer Wemigwans and published by the U of R Press is an outstanding example of how the knowledge dissemination of revolutionary Indigenous research is done correctly. In the field of Indigenous research, technology is hardly discussed, especially in the context of Indigenous sovereignty to language and information. Wemigwans, an Anishnaabekwe woman from the Wikwemikong First Nation, the president of Invert Media, and an assistant professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto challenges the reader to change this discourse and begin to evaluate how modern technology can be an invaluable asset to the retention of Traditional Knowledge.

The namesake of the book, the “Digital Bundle”, refers to Wemigwans online project www.FourDirectionsTeachings.com. This website was designed as an online tool to promote the Traditional Knowledge and worldviews of five distinct Indigenous Nations through the teachings of Elders and Traditional Teachers. These five nations include Blackfoot, Cree, Ojibwe, Mohawk, and M’ikmaq. If you were to go to the website, and I highly recommend that you do, you will find an interactive experience that will educate and inspire people of all ages. The website also contains a plethora of teaching resources and tools to increase its interactivity and keep people of all knowledge levels challenged and engaged. In the book, Wemigwans discusses the Digital Bundle including its inception, the Indigenous context in which it was created, and its implications on Storytelling, Traditional and non-traditional teaching, and decolonizing the internet. The book discusses much more, I am simply scratching the surface of the themes and sheer information discussed within. This is not only because of the vast amount of standard academic research that Wemigwans had utilized for this project, but also due to the significant consultation that Wemigwans had documented from Indigenous Elders, Knowledge Keepers, Traditional Teachers, Chiefs, artists, activists, and a wide-range of other Indigenous stakeholders with valuable Knowledge and worldviews. Quite frankly, it was very refreshing to read about an Indigenous research project that was both Indigenous-led and upheld Indigenous sovereignty and principles.

The internet is becoming a progressively more censored place. What was once a beacon of hope for the free exchange of knowledge and ideas is becoming riddled with threats to net-neutrality, corporate meddling, and the self-imposed censorships of echo-chambers found both on social media and in the deep pockets of obscure forums. Do Indigenous Ways have a place on the World Wide Web, or is the closing window of opportunity leaving only space for more misinformation and invincibility of Indigenous people? Wemigwans believes in the former, and after picking up a copy of this highly informative book so will you.

 

THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM WWW.SKBOOKS.COM

 

 

 

Let Me See Your Fancy Steps: Story of a Métis Dance Caller: The Story of Jeanne Pelletier as Told to Sylvie Sara Roy and Wilfred Burton – A Book Review

“Let Me See Your Fancy Steps: Story of a Métis Dance Caller: The Story of Jeanne Pelletier as Told to Slyvie Sara Roy and Wilfred Burton”

by Jeanne Pelletier, Sylvie Sara Roy, and Wilfred Burton

Published by Gabriel Dumont Institute Press

Reviewed by B.D. Charles

C$25.00 ISBN: 9781926795898

“Let Me See Your Fancy Steps: Story of a Métis Dance Caller: The Story of Jeanne Pelletier as Told to Sylvie Sara Roy and Wilfred Burton”, is the story of Jeanne Pelletier as told by Sylvie Sara Roy and Wilfred Burton, published by the Gabriel Dumont Institute Press. Throughout the course of this book, the reader learns that Jeanne Pelletier is an accomplished Métis woman and a revered member of the Métis community in southern Saskatchewan. Roy and Burton begin Jeanne’s story by highlighting the fact that she began her career as the first female Métis Jig dance caller in the 1970s, a time in which the dance callers were exclusively men and the community was difficult for women to traverse. Roy brilliantly showcases the life experiences and work of Jeanne’s career and rise as a prominent dance caller and Métis educator in Saskatchewan. The book recounts Jeanne’s experiences of reviving the Métis dance to the children in her community and by extension other Métis values such as community, culture, and respect. The book also acts as a vehicle for Jeanne to tell her story and pass on some of the knowledge that she has gained through her career.

The recounting of Jeanne’s work is supplemented throughout the book by testimonials of her former dance students and community members, all of whom praise the dance caller for the substantial impact that she’s had both on their personal lives, as well as the academic and social climates of the Métis community in Saskatchewan. As a Métis myself, I feel lost at times, as if my culture is fuzzy or foreign to me. Reading the life experiences, knowledge, and not to mention the wealth of Métis Jig steps found in this book gave me an overwhelming sense of peace to see research of this caliber and this level of care being invested in my culture. I would highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Métis culture and the significance that the jig has to the culture. Anyone who has seen the Métis Jig performed live knows that it is a beautiful and awe-inspiring dance, but after reading Jeanne’s explanations of the cultural significance of the dances, I will now appreciate the dance that much more as a story and celebration of my culture. It is also worth mentioning that entire dance sequences are written out to follow with Jeanne’s notes, and the book includes an instructional DVD.

I had heard recently from an older Métis gentleman that the Métis community in Saskatchewan is somewhat dormant but works as recent as this and of this quality are direct evidence of the contrary. The Métis community is alive and well, this opportunity to learn more about my culture filled me with an abundance of belonging and pride.  I am not sure of all the ways that I can thank the incredibly talented team that went into the creation of this cultural gem, but I can start with, “Miigwetch et merci”.

 

THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM WWW.SKBOOKS.COM

War & Peace in the Workplace: Diversity, Conflict, Understanding, Reconciliation – A Book Review

“War & Peace in the Workplace: Diversity, Conflict, Understanding, Reconciliation”
by Jeanne Martinson
Published by Wood Dragon Books
Reviewed by Ben Charles
C$21.99 ISBN: 9780968537022

“War & Peace in the Workplace: Diversity, Conflict, Understanding, Reconciliation” is written by Saskatchewan-native Jeanne Martinson, a renowned speaker, author, and management trainer. Published by Wood Dragon Books and distributed by Martrain Corporation and Personal Development, this national bestseller is designed as a guide for employers, organizations, managers, or those interested in navigating their workplaces in a more positive manner. The content of this book pertains to many of the challenges that the average Canadian faces in the workplace. These include diversity/bias, toxic people and environments, harassment, conflict, and much more.

Similar to one of Martinson’s other bestsellers, “From Away: Immigration to Effective Workplace Integration”, this book begins with an in-depth analysis of what diversity is, and how it may affect communities such as the average Canadian workplace. The most interesting portion of this chapter, in my opinion, is Martinson’s analysis of the factors that shape a human being’s “us vs. them” mentality, and how easy it is for us to distort information to cater to our biases. If you have an interest in human behaviour or psychology, I would recommend this book based on this chapter, alone. Martinson then moves into the “Understanding” portion of the book, which details a number of cultures, traditions, gender identities, and histories within Canada. This assists the reader with more contexts of the many factors that can make a workplace diverse, albeit difficult to avoid misunderstandings. At its core, diversity is a fantastic value for a work setting to have as it results in a variety of worldviews being brought forward. However, this diversity can also yield a fair amount of conflict simply through minor misunderstandings. In the “Reconciliation” and “Synergy” components of Martinson’s book, she brilliantly provides the reader with a plethora of techniques and strategies that one can use to navigate these challenges. I must admit that when I began this book, I had thought that a read regarding the workplace would be a dreadfully dry one. What I had found instead were incredibly applicable strategies that anyone can use to re-evaluate their own biases, provide others with more empathy, and to use the diversity in their lives as a positive factor.

Martinson had stated near the beginning of the book that her intention was to allow the reader to view themselves and their workplaces with new eyes. Personally, she succeeds with that intention from this reader. Whatever your workplace setting may be, there is something for all to gain within this book. All you have to do is pick up a copy to start working and living in a more resourceful and positive setting.

THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM WWW.SKBOOKS.COM

The RCMP

A proclaimed hunger for justice,
A silent thirst to kill.
I have the right;
Just give me a reason or two.
Both of those hands in your pockets will do.
You’ve got to be an addict and a thug.
I must assume that you’re a murderer, or at least on drugs.
I smile.
You’re too powerless to fight, too poor to sue.

The public eye scorns, the journalists cry,
“Why does another innocent person have to die!?”
We huff and we sigh.
Charade lazily,
“Our Thoughts and Prayers are with the family.”

Open tears.
Closed laughter.

This man again? What is he after!?
He’ll never learn his lesson,
I’ll fuckin’ learn him.
His drunken stumbles have stumbled on my nerves…

THE LAST FUCKING TIME!

He’ll learn his lesson.

I think a long walk home will sober him up,
Them Indians walk or ride stolen bikes,
When they’re not stealing cars,
Or stabbing each other in dykes or in bars

He’ll learn his lesson.

The Cold.
The Cold bites with the fury of one thousand suns
A thousand suns I wish for in the dark, the complete unknown.

Where am I?

Wet feet trudge towards nothing, towards a thought and a prayer
I cry.
The wind laughs at my misery and lashes my skin, my lips and my heart are sealed
I know that this it. I am condemned to die.

Dead feet trudge a dead man,
I am afraid.
Will I ever see my family again? My heart bleeds.
For I know I will not see them, they will only see me.

Dead feet trudge a dead man,
I fall.
Violent shaking, dead calmness of night.
Vivid visions of spectacular colours dance
Ancestors perform on this virgin stage of snow, ice and wind.
I watch the dance. No strength left to trudge.
The ice embraces me; I feel warmth for the last time.
I am afraid.
I don’t want to go,
But must be brave,
I accept my doom.
The RCMP
Chose this field as my tomb,
The ice as my grave.

 

 

CREATOR!

 

GOD!

Whoever is there,
Whoever can hear.
Why am I not dead yet?
Why have you forsaken
A Red Man
To turn Blue?

I repent,
I was once lost, but now am found
I was blind, but now I see
If only someone knew I was here
If only shards have ice have not blinded me
I only I wasn’t just an inconvenience in the eyes of the RCMP.

I am free.

 

“He learnt his lesson”,
Say the Children of God.
“He got what he deserved”,
Say the Children of God.

“That’s what happens when you get drunk”,
Say the Children of God.

“It was all his fault, really”,
Say the Children of God.

“His peaceful death was a blessing; he was saved from being lost. He was a drunk and a sinner, doomed for the flames of Hell. Now he’s with Jesus, Death saved him from himself.”
Say the Children of God.

 

Whatever happened to that ol’ drunk?
The one that we taught?
How come he is not here to thank us?
That’s just like them.

So entitled,

So victimized.
Just get over it, already. It’s been a long time now
since you were left childless, tongue-less and sodomized.

We are here to make you feel safe,
We are here to turn the Red to Pink,
We are here with a secret lust for blood,
We are here to bury language in the mud,
We are here to rape life, destroy peace,
We are here to keep The Problem policed,
We are here dutifully,
We are the RCMP.