Without a doubt, the most difficult book I have read in quite some time is titled Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation and the Loss of Aboriginal Life by James Daschuk (University of Regina, 2013). My interest in community gardens led me to look for historical examples of collective and collaborative growing of food. I found references to this book as I was looking for more information on how the indigenous peoples of Canada grew food together.
The book is meticulously researched and has been the winner of several awards. It is a scathing indictment of societal norms and government policy in Canada in the 1800s. Early colonists came close to exterminating the bison upon which indigenous populations in Western Canada relied; the Government of Canada responded in various Treaties with a commitment to teach on-reserve populations how to farm and committed to provide the people with farming implements and seeds. Most of these commitments were not met. In the cases where indigenous agriculture met with success, the government response was to undermine the collective approach that contributed to that success. The intention was to promote ‘individualism’, directly undermining successful collective efforts. The end result of course was malnutrition, starvation and rampant disease that decimated the Indigenous population in what is now the western prairie provinces of Canada.
I have wrestled with how to respond to these very uncomfortable truths about our history. Sometimes it seems the easiest approach is to stick my head in the sand and pretend that it didn’t happen, that it has nothing to do with me and that there is nothing I can do to right the evil that was unleashed.
Fortunately there are others in our community that are braver than I. Mississippi Mills All My Relations focuses on renewing our relationship with Canada’s First Nations peoples, emphasizing local reconciliation. The initiative is sponsored by St. Paul’s Almonte with support from other local churches and social justice organizations.
A full day event will take place this Saturday August 19 in Almonte: Renewing Our Friendship: Reconciliation and the Birch Bark Canoe. The goal is to learn together about how our Indigenous neighbours are moving forward, and how we can walk with them respectfully.
For more information and to register go to www.mmallmyrelations.ca.