The Dispossessed: Life And Death In Native Canada

by Geoffrey York
283 pages,
ISBN: 0886192501

The Guest Children:
The Story of the British Child Evacuees Sent to Canada During World War II

by Geoffrey Bilson,
ISBN: 0920079423

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From Riches To Rags
by John Goddard

THE CREE PEOPLE of Chemawawin in northern Manitoba were making a prosperous living in 1963. Their economy was "thriving:` a provincial-government official reported. "There are no apparent community problems." A year later, the Chemawawin reserve was flooded by the Grand Rapids hydroelectric dam. Confidential studies predicted a drastic loss of wildlife in the region and extreme hardship for the Indians, although Premier Duff Roblin was telling band members that they "will in fact be able to earn as good a living as before and, we hope, a better living." In 1966, a federal-provincial study pronounced the relocated Indian community "a social disaster." The story is commonplace, as Geoffrey York, a reporter for the Globe and Mail, demonstrates in The Dispossessed. Whenever Indians find themselves in the path of resource development in Canada, they are pushed aside, their rights ignored. Indians are considered dispensable. "When the damage [comes] to public attention, it is usually presented as an isolated event:` York writes. Yet the evidence shows ... a clear pattern in almost every case -- a pattern of official denials, lengthy delays in compensation, a weakened or destroyed native economy, mounting dependence on welfare, and a terrible toll of violence and anger in the affected communities. Through exhaustive research from primary and secondary sources, York compiles scores of individual cases to reveal patterns of racism and human rights abuse. Some of the cases are obscure, like that of the Chemawawin Cree. Others are well known: Donald Marshall jailed for I I years on a wrongful murder conviction; Helen Betty Osborne stabbed 56 times by four white youths in The Pas who were not prosecuted until 14 years later; J. J. Harper killed on a Winnipeg street by a policeman`s gun under circumstances that remain obscure because of a botched investigation. York is good on statistics. One-third of reserve homes have no running water. The rate of fire deaths on reserves is six times the national average. From 1985 to 1987, the annual rate of recorded suicide attempts at Hobbema, Alberta, was 300. York is also good at identifying root problems. In Lytton, B.C., he comes across "residential-school syndrome," a psychological disturbance with symptoms similar to those suffered at the loss of a parent or spouse. The disturbance is widespread among Indians who lost their culture at the hands of residential-school missionaries and teachers. Jane Willis, a Cree Indian from northern Quebec, remembers being made to feet "untrustworthy, inferior, incapable and immoral." Nova Scotia Micmac Indians who attended the residential school at Shubenacadie describe it as , a house of horrors:` says Isabelle Knockwood Toney Shay, who has written about the abuse she and others Suffered there. York takes the reader to reserves across the country and puts names and faces to every problem and number he cites. His point is that the push that began with early settlers to dispossess the Indian people of their lands and way of life continues today. "Canadians know that the early settlers and governments took land from the Indians, but it is easy to feel detached from those events of long ago," he writes. it is more difficult to deny responsibility for the misguided policies of the twentieth century. And so the ugly events of recent history are buried behind a wall of illusion -- the illusion that progressive thinking and improved attitudes have brought fair treatment to Canada`s native people. Ultimately, York falls victim to another shared illusion, however. He wants to believe that the problems are being grappled with and that there is "hope for the future." Almost every chapter ends optimistically. The chapter on suicide ends with the news that the Hobbema hand has reduced its Suicide rate by 74 per cent in the space of one year, with a treatment program that "could become an inspiration for other native communities." A chapter on pervasive anti-Indian bias within the legal system ends with examples of bands that have assumed limited policing and court powers. "Sam Miles gave a glimpse of the future," York writes of a Manitoba chief on the last page. He spoke of the need for training programs to help his people become police officers, alcohol and drug counsellors, and social workers... Across Canada, a generation of native leaders has begun blazing a path toward an era of self- government and economic revitalization. For solutions to the litany of woe lie outlines, York looks almost exclusively to treatment programs and what Indians can do to help themselves. He recognizes that the abuse of Indian rights by governments and society in general has led to the Cutrent misery, but seldom points to the upholding of Indian rights as a remedy. Ultimately, and in unintentionally, York sides with the redneck who says, "Pull Yourself tip by Your bootstraps." James Tyman, the 26-year-old author of Inside Out, ranks as one of Canada`s dispossessed, the Youngest of eight children horn to a violent, alcoholic father. At the age of four, lie was taken from his parents And adopted by a white, middle- class family near Lebret, Saskatchewan. What followed was a childhood of confused identity that led to a wild, angry adolescence and a downward spiral of selfdestruction involving drugs, crime sprees, and troubles of almost every sort imaginable. While incarcerated at the Saskatoon Correctional Centre two years ago he wrote his life story, completing the first draft in six weeks. It is an engaging narrative by an intelligent, sensitive young man who understands what is happening to him but cannot help behaving pathologically. Written in an honest, direct style, the book captures some of the power of Roger Caron`s heart- breaking memoir, Go Boy! "Inside Out was not written to seek pity nor was it done to ask forgiveness," Tyman says. "I wrote this book to simply ask for understanding and acceptance for myself and all Native people." The book persuades the reader to extend both

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