Clearing The Plains inspires Angus to pen song

September 11, 2013

James Daschuk’s history book Clearing The Plains has been attracting a lot of attention since its publication and not just from book reviewers or academics.

It’s also caught the eye of Member of Parliament (NDP, Timmins-James Bay) Charlie Angus. The MP leads a double life. For years, he headed up the roots band, the Grievous Angels, and he’s gotten the group together to record a song he wrote, “Four Horses,” based on what he read in Daschuk’s book.

Charlie Angus on CBC
Charlie Angus on CBC

In his northern Ontario riding, he was familiar with many of the issues First Nations people. Still, he told CBC’s The Morning Edition on Sept. 9 that he was affected by what he read, most notably Prime Minister John A. Macdonald’s use of starvation as a political tactic to control First Nations people.

“The book certainly covers a wide area and the centuries of diseases and exploitation of the communities,” he told CBC.

For Angus, words can become devalued in the political world, but they still can move people, so he started writing the song, specifically focusing on the Treaty 4 and the signing of treaty at Fort Qu’Appelle.

“I was obsessed with trying to find a way of telling the story in a simple format,” he said.

After a few cracks and some constructive criticism from his wife, he came with the song, and in the beginning of the month recorded the song with the band.

Angus learned the importance of his own Scottish roots and told the CBC all of us need to understand our history.

“It is so important for Canadians to know what happened,” he said. “If you forget, then it happens again.”

He was in Regina to work with Daschuk and the University of Regina Press on a video for the book, which will play on YouTube in the hopes of starting a dialogue about Clearing The Plains.

“We’re taught in Canada our history is boring. It’s not. That’s the cop-out,” he said. “Our history is dramatic and it’s disturbing and sometimes very hard for us to confront, but we need to do that.”


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