Daschuk book required reading for Canadians

July 17, 2013

The new book by SPHERU’s James Daschuk has been generating plenty of attention since its release by University of Regina Press this spring.

Clearing The Plains chronicles the situation for First Nations people from prehistory through the fur trade era up to the late 1800s and the time of John A. Macdonald’s National Policy.

Dr. James Daschuk
Dr. James Daschuk
After garnering positive advance press, the book has been the subject of reviews and media interviews in recent weeks. The Leader-Post interviewed Daschuk for a story following a book signing in Regina last month. While the book is history, as Daschuk tells reporter Emma Graney, the story points to the antecedents for the current health gap among First Nations, most notably federal government policies from the 1870s to the 1890s that used food as a weapon to pressure these populations, to, in effect, clear the plains of the people already living there.

The Winnipeg Free Press commended the book, calling it a “sad, amoral tale.” In his review, Donald Benham described the book as well-researched and thoroughly documented, and cited a quotation from Candace Savage, author of A Geography of Blood, saying it should be “required reading for all Canadians.”

While the Calgary Herald’s reviewer argued the book could’ve taken a more narrative approach to history, she credited Daschuk for not simplifying the relationship between Europeans and the First Nations people and says he does “an excellent job of chronicling the combustible mixture of disease, starvation and Ottawa's utterly inept management of the situation” during the late 19th century.

The book was even cited in a recent Globe and Mail feature on the logistics of flying in food to a remote community in northern Ontario – specifically on how food supply has often been used to control power. In a recent piece for the newspaper, Dashuk puts his research into the context of residential schools and the recent reports about the malnourishment studies, suggesting that while such news comes as a shock, it should not be a no surprise in light of the history.

Daschuk was also interviewed by CBC Radio’s Morning Edition on June 20, the same day as the book signing. Later that day he spoke to CKOM News 650’s John Gormley. (The podcasts are available online.) More recently, he was interviewed for CBC’s The Current on July 18 for a segment on “Starvation Politics: Aboriginal nutrition experiment,” which looked at medical experiments examining the effects of malnourishment on Aboriginal peoples.

The book also received coverage in the province’s alternative press, with a full-page article by Gregory Beatty in the June 13 issues of Saskatoon’s Planet S and Regina’s Prairie Dog.

Finally, the University of Regina website has a video interview on its website.

UPDATE: Daschuk was recently interviewed on three regional CBC radio shows in British Columbia. As well, a Facebook page has been set up for Clearing The Plains. There are also reviews for the book in the following publications: 1) Literary Review of Canada, (Review of Clearing the Plains) “Ethnic Cleansing, Canadian Style: Many myths cleared away in the sober historical analysis.” Andrew Wolford, October 2013; 2)  Globe and Mail, (Review of Clearing the Plains), “First Nations history should make us question what it means to be Canadian.” Aparna Sanyal, Sept. 27, 2013; 3)  Quill & Quire. Review of Clearing the Plains, Megan Moore Burns, Sept. 2013; 4) Saskatoon StarPhoenix, Oct. 19, 2013; 5) Mariah Griffin-Angus blog in the Huffington Post, Dec. 3, 2013. 6) Publishers Weekly, Dec. 20, 2013.


Back to Archived News