Daschuk book looks at history's health disparities
May 30, 2013
A new book by SPHERU’s James Daschuk is just out but already garnering rave reviews.
Clearing The Plains chronicles how Old World diseases, climate and Canadian politics conspired to cause the deaths and subjugation of thousands of Aboriginal people, victims of the realization of Sir John A. Macdonald’s “National Dream.” The book is published by the University of Regina Press.
Daschuk takes a look at the connections between the past and present disparities in health and well-being for First Nations peoples. In his introduction he points out that while Canada might rank highly in the UN Human Development Index, the situation for the country’s Aboriginal people is “dismal” when compared with the mainstream population. On the same index, they would rank 63rd, equal to Panama, Belarus or Malaysia.
What this means is that they can expect to die between five and eight years earlier that the figure for the average Canadian.
Daschuk writes, “The chasm between the health conditions of First Nations people and mainstream Canadians has existed for as long as anyone can remember; it too has become part of who we are as a nation.”
The book investigates the environmental, economic and political forces that resulted in the current health crisis for Aboriginal peoples. This includes such infectious diseases as smallpox but also diseases that took hold as the 19th century wore on, such as tuberculosis, which had roots in the prolonged malnutrition of First Nations that depended on the declining bison herds as well as the new Dominion of Canada’s failure to meet treaty commitments.
The advance press has been very positive:
- “Clearing The Plains is a tour de force that dismantles and destroys the view that Canada has a special claim to humanity in its treatment of indigenous peoples. Daschuk shows how infectious disease and state-supported starvation combined to create a creeping, relentless catastrophe that persists to the present day. The prose is gripping, the analysis is incisive, and the narrative is so chilling that it leaves its reader stunned and disturbed. For days after reading it, I was unable to shake a profound sense of sorrow. This is fearless, evidence-driven history at its finest.” – Elizabeth A. Fenn, author of Pox Americana
- “Required reading for all Canadians.” – Candace Savage, author of A Geography of Blood
- “[C]learly written, deeply researched, and properly contextualized history ... Essential reading for everyone interested in the history of indigenous North America.” –J.R. McNeill, author of Mosquito Empires
Clearing The Plains (ISBN: 978-0-88977-296-0) by James Daschuk is available from the University of Regina Press. The book is currently available at the University of Regina Bookstore, the University of Saskatchewan Bookstore and McNally Robinson in Saskatoon. It will be in Chapters/Indigo on June 15.