OLIVE PATRICIA DICKASON's Canada's First Nations: A History of Founding Peoples from Earliest Times
(McClelland & Stewart, 590 pages, $29.99 cloth) is a quick, compendious run through of what is known or theorized about Canada's Native peoples right tip to the present, i.e. up to and including Meech Lake, the Oka crisis, and the preliminary manoeuvres leading to the current constitutional debates on Native self-government.
A former journalist turned history professor, Dickason deploys a lucid, concise, and highly readable style in detailing everything from relatively flimsy speculations on prehistoric Cambodian culture influences on tribes in the Amazon jungle to the intricacies of treaty negotiations and contemporary land-claim cases. She makes especially clear the dialectical relationship between Native movements and government policy. The American Indian Movement of the 1960s prompted a Canadian government white paper on Native equality in 1969 that, though abandoned officially, prompted an upsurge of Native demands for land and self-government; this in turn led to Elijah Harper's celebrated "no" vote, which propelled the Meech Lake Accord into the dustbin of history.
Due to the sheer breadth of ground she must cover, Dickason omits much of the wealth of colourful detail we know lurks
just beneath the surface of a book like this. But she provides excellent notes and 40 pages of bibliography as a guide for the curious reader.
Above all, she is firmly and quietly convincing on her principal point: Natives are a remarkably resilient and adaptable people who have maintained a strong sense of identity despite four centuries of unhappy history and cultural attrition. With this book, Dickason has given us a primer, an indispensable first look at, and general, overview of, a crucial aspect of this country's history.