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

 

 

 

Worth

You know that you have to hustle and network
to increase your net-worth.

To be in the black
you must first be in the red,

you need to be behind,
in order to get ahead.

Paying loans with loans
for things we don’t even own.

Like AC/DC, Money Talks,
but nobody told me that it never stops.

We buy and buy,
and just get by.

We always ask how,
and never ask why.

We always know our checks and balances,
it is the center of our Earth.
We always know our deals and debts,
but we rarely know our worth.

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

The Weight of The World

When a man chooses to stop learning

Is the day that he truly dies.

 

The herd of the mundane

Ridicules the fires of passion as insane.

 

And so the man suffocates it.
The embers smolder, crackle, and hiss.
He has destroyed comfort and direction.
He is now cold and blind.

“You did the right thing.”
The herd offers its petty assurance,
“At least now you’ll have health insurance.”

But it is still so dark,
The man lays to rest
He’s toiled and troubled today
for someone who doesn’t know his name.

With eyes closed, he smiles.
He sees
That roaring flame that used to be.

OWED.

OWED.

By Ben Charles

    I am owed happiness.

Says who?

                                                                 I am owed love. 

Says who?

                                                                                    I am owed sex. 

Says who?

                                                                          I am owed L I F E.

Says who?

The rolling rock gathers moss,
mankind resentfully collects and counts her cost,
while mothers weep and mourn her loss.
Divine demiurge or celestial chance,
depending on who you ask,
gathered us all here to today.
Either impossible odds or omniscient god
They gave us everything and nothing.
Gave us the night, gave us the day.
Odds of fractions to the trillions
Gave us bare feet on the grass,
gave us love shortlived, lifelong and past.

Is this owed to the simians?

Perhaps,
Every existence per hapless sap,
Spits in the face of reason,
We’re God’s Laws’ treason
searching El Dorado without a map.

So here we are.
What’s left to do?
We demand more, we demand respect.
We need a better nose, we’re owed a newer car.
I am owed an expensive vacation if not 2 or 3 on a yearly basis
I am owed paper featuring dead men’s faces.
I am owed all this, plus a wife and a bigger house than you.

I am owed.

 

I am owned.

Poetry Belongs

Poetry.
What is that? It is all, it is nothing,
it is deep, it is trite, it is to be cherished and preserved like a precious wedding ring,
it is an archaic, irrelevant, dainty art
it is shite, it is smart.
Poetry is a dead dream.
Poetry is alive and well, if you’d only care to see.

Poetry is the shit, poetry is ass. It depends on who you ask.
Who does poetry belong to? To whom does poetry belong?
It depends on whom you ask.
Poetry belongs to the teenage girl.
Barely older than fourteen, Heartbroken, destroyed and broken by the love of her life. She pens her tears, her fear, and her petty smears.
She is certain that she will never find love again.
The poet has had love and lost, Her voice is found in loose leaf despite rolling eyes.
They do not understand, they cannot critique,
What this boy meant to her that she dated for two weeks.
Is poetry pretentious? Does the best work only work for the best of us?
It depends on who you ask.
Poetry belongs to the spoken word poet in Vancouver or Seattle,
the mumble-rapper, the modern beatnik.
Armed with stones and sticks, legends of their own minds, ready for battle.
They provide the fuel this world needs in the energy crisis.
Refraction of self-satisfaction.
Perpetual motion of the ego drives to resolve the plagues of the earth, to be the scourge of evil.
The perpetual engine exhausts a smog of smug, echo chambers power the poet’s societal upheaval.
Is this all there is to see in poetry?
In 14-year-olds and $14 cups of coffee?
It depends on who you ask.
Poetry belongs to those who need it most.
To those who have no voice or to those who need to boast.
It belongs to the farmer, the working man, the average Joe.
It belongs to jealous, the sad, the glad and the mad.
Any poetry written is serendipitous- even if it is lame, limp, self-righteous and insipid. Any poetry written is within the collective soul, whether it is hidden or for show.
It belongs to those who are always talked over, interrupted, and never given speech. Silenced by family or by government, countless stories are never given release.
It belongs to the pure and the corrupt alike, it belongs to the straight, the gays, and it even belongs to the …
Sike!
But there is a place for that too, in this oddity that is poetry.
As is with all, poetry must end,
That is the only fact certain to be true.
Please do not jeer, please do not boo.
For I am a poet, my psyche is much too fragile to defend
this laughable cliché I pass off as insightful thoughts, my friends,
that poetry belongs to you.