ActiveHistory.ca repost – An Unsettling Prairie History: A Review of James Daschuk’s Clearing the Plains

ActiveHistory.ca is on a two-week hiatus, but we’ll be back with new content in early September. During the hiatus, we’re featuring some of our most popular blog posts from this site over the past five years and some of the editors’ favourite posts from the past year. Thanks as always to our writers and readers – see you again in September!

The following post was originally featured on December 5, 2013.

By Kevin Plummer

“Those Reserve Indians are in a deplorable state of destitution, they receive from the Indian Department just enough food to keep soul and body together, they are all but naked, many of them barefooted,” Lawrence Clarke wrote in 1880 of near-starvation Cree around Fort Carlton. “Should sickness break out among them in their present weakly state,” the long-time Hudson’s Bay Company employee concluded, “the fatality would be dreadful” (Daschuk, 114).

Sickness did break out, with tuberculosis and other infectious diseases decimating a reserve population made vulnerable to disease by years of famine and inadequate government rations. The loss of life was immense, James Daschuk recounts in Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Lifeand amounted to a “state-sponsored attack on indigenous communities” whose effects “haunt us as a nation still” (186).

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