Canada's First Nations: A History of Founding Peoples from Earliest Times

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University of Oklahoma Press, 1992 - History - 590 pages
The sweep of Canadian history is both broader and deeper than standard texts reveal. When Europeans first came to Canada, they did not find a wilderness; rather, they encountered a complex, rich society composed of fifty-five individual nations--the Native peoples of Canada. But because these societies were predominantly oral rather than literate, Canadian historians generally have found it easier to ignore the early existence of Native peoples. Doing so, of course, clips short Canada's history, and it clouds our view of these remarkable original cultures and their influence on the country's character. Canada's First Nations, by contrast, begins with the first appearance of humans in the Americas and, using an interdisciplinary approach, restores the full history. Although Canada's Native peoples preceded European arrival, their lives were radically altered thereafter. At first, Amerindians and Inuit cooperated with and even aided the Europeans, but the newcomers' encroachment knew no bounds. The opening of the West to fur traders and white settlers, the land-cession treaties, the Klondike gold rush, the eventual commercial exploitation of northern resources--all eroded the Native peoples' fundamental place on the land. Early trade relations were complicated by efforts to mold Amerindians to fit European cultural patterns; later Canada even inaugurated a campaign to legislate Native cultures out of existence. Far from being overwhelmed, Amerindians and Inuit from Membertou and Pontiac through to Big Bear, Abe Okpik, and Elijah Harper responded to persistent colonial pressure. Co-operative enterprises and periodic episodes of resistance characterized their early response; today they employ politically sophisticated methods to preserve territories and traditional values. The revitalization of the Native community in the continuing fight for land claims and sovereignty--dramatically expressed by the Mohawks at Oka in 1990--reminds us that an accurate perception of the past is essential to Canada's peaceful, successful future.

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I wish I had encountered this book in High School. Dickason tells it like it is and paints a more realistic picture of what life was like for our First Nations after first contact. As a student growing up in the Ontario "education" system, I always had a passion for learning about History from the First Nations' perspectives. But I can remember receiving the message (whether my teachers intended to send it or not), that the First Nations (in both Canada and the United States) "weren't historically relevant" anymore after the War of 1812 and European settlers began pushing westward. These European settlers weren't fighting any wars of independence from Europe (like they did during the American Revolution), so they felt they didn't "need" First Nations as military allies anymore. After the War of 1812, we see Europeans begin to exploit the First Nations former allies for the land they shared with one another and mainstream textbooks vilify members of First Nations communities that dared to stand up for themselves. I bought Canada's First Nations: A History of Founding Peoples from Earliest Times to complete a reading list for an Ethnohistory course (First Nations-European relations) my last year of Undergraduate work) and it was a breath of fresh air. Those that fail to learn from History are doomed to repeat it. I'm glad the Ontario History Curriculum now includes First Nations content in the Grade 10 History course. It's a start, but we still have a long way to go.  

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