I’ve Been Thinking About Genocide

I’ve been thinking about genocide quite a bit lately.  Most recently this thinking has been spurred by the remarks of Canada’s former Prime Minister, Paul Martin, before our Truth and Reconciliation Commission at a session in Quebec. I’m afraid my blood has gotten into a little bit of a simmer over the responses of “ordinary” Canadians in the “comments” sections of online news stories about Mr. Martin’s remarks.  I try to keep to a policy of not looking at those comments, but, even Homer nods.  Mr. Martin told the Commission that the Residential School program was, in fact, cultural genocide and that it was time that Canadians face the truth and that they needed to be educated. Online comments have certainly made Mr. Martin’s argument on the last point.  For anyone with even a passing, layperson’s acquaintance with the history of the Residential Schools and with legal matters, Mr. Martin’s comment is an unremarkable statement of the obvious.  The response his remarks have received suggests that a huge number of Canadians have vanishingly little knowledge of Residential School history and/or of legal matters.  It’s long past time for such education, although I have deep and sad doubts that the entrenched bigotry in many quarters of Canadian society against aboriginal people will be overcome easily or quickly.

Let’s look at legal matters.

On July 1, 2002, The Rome Statute came into force and the International Criminal Court was born.  Canada had signed on a number of years before the Statute came into effect.  The Court was formed to prosecute a number of heinous international crimes, one of which is Genocide. The Rome Statute defines (and States Party such as Canada also define) Genocide in Article 6 thusly:

For the purpose of this Statute, “genocide” means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a)     Killing members of the group;

(b)     Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c)     Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d)     Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e)     Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Oddly, when Canada’s Criminal Code was amended to “conform” to this international legal standard, clauses (b), (d) and (e) were quietly left out of section 318:

(2) In this section, “genocide” means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy in whole or in part any identifiable group, namely,

(a) killing members of the group; or

(b) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction.

It must give one pause to wonder why the bits about forcible transfer of children and physical or mental harm – obviously relevant to the Residential School situation – were left out.  And one shudders to consider what might be behind the expurgation of the clause concerning prevention of births.  Are there still darker secrets in Canada’s history?

Mr. Martin’s comments about “Cultural Genocide” are obviously unremarkable. The Indian Act and the Residential Schools were (and continue to be in the case of the Act) intended to destroy principally by forced assimilation, an ethnic group.  Children were (and still are) transferred from their native group (section e).  Physical and mental harm has definitely been inflicted (section b) and certainly there have been deaths (section a). I suggest an argument could be made that the reserve system under the Indian Act inflicts conditions of life calculated to bring about the destruction of the group through assimilation and attrition (section c).  As I mention above, I shudder to consider the possibility that section (d) has ever been contravened.

Mr. Martin’s description of the Residential Schools as “cultural genocide” is absolutely unremarkable except in the sense that most Canadians seem absolutely unaware of their own history and of the international legalities concerning the crime of genocide.  There can be no doubt that the Residential Schools were Canada’s Dirty War. If the program had been the legacy of a right wing dictatorship in Latin America, a racist government in Africa, or a Stalinist regime in the Balkans, right-thinking Canadians would be protesting outside embassies, demanding that those responsible for the atrocities be brought to justice before the ICC.  Canadians rightly admired South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission after the end of Apartheid. Those same Canadians are largely ignorant of our own TRC, and the Canadian Government has been doing everything it can to block the Commission’s work.

I’m thinking now of remarks Wab Kinew made some time ago about the Residential Schools experience and the “Get over it!” suggestion.  Kinew says he is over it, but he doesn’t forget it. The issue isn’t for aboriginal Canadians to “Get over it!”: non-aboriginal Canadians are the ones who need to learn, to remember and then we all can finally get over it.

Canadians must be educated about our country’s true history and the tragic, criminal legacy our history has burdened us with.  Often I’ve heard or read the horrifically vicious and insensitive comments “Get over it!” and “move on!”.  In fact, the point of the TRC and of Mr. Martin’s remarks, is precisely to help society reach the point from which we all may move forward: only by learning and acknowledging the truth can there be reconciliation. Only when Canadians – all Canadians – know the truth of their shared history – only then can we all get over it and move on.

Update, August 1, 2013

I failed to mention above that, while the definition of Genocide in the Criminal Code is lacking, the Criminal Code is not the entire criminal law of Canada. Fortunately for Justice, the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act (S.C. 2000, c. 24) provides a full definition of the crime by including the Rome Statute definition as a schedule to the Act. So, all five clauses of the definition of the Crime of Genocide in International Law are also the definition – verbatim – of the Crime of Genocide in Canadian Law.

Update, May 28, 2015

Well, two years have gone by since Mr. Martin spoke of “Cultural Genocide”.  And, tonight, Beverley McLachlin, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, is being reported to have uttered the same phrase.  As reported in the Globe and Mail, Chief Justice McLachlin remarked:

The objective – I quote from Sir John A. Macdonald, our revered forefather – was to ‘take the Indian out of the child,’ and thus solve what was referred to as the Indian problem. ‘Indianness’ was not to be tolerated; rather it must be eliminated. In the buzz-word of the day, assimilation; in the language of the 21st century, cultural genocide.

It is disgraceful that Canadians’ awareness of history is so moribund and distorted that Canada’s Genocide is the subject of breathless news stories when some official uses the G word.  Yet more proof that the true history of the Residential Schools and the extended Genocide should be a fundamental part of the core curriculum of Canada’s schools.

Making connections through The Paston Letters

Last Wednesday I made time to partake of one of my favourite activities: I walked to my local second hand bookshop, The Bookseller, and spent an hour or so browsing unencumbered by companions or rush. As usual, the proprietor, Mr. Prins, had set aside a few hardcover Everyman’s Library Editions and an old blue hardcover Oxford World’s Classic for me to consider.  Unlike most visits, today I had time.  I left the four volumes on the counter, the seed of a number of large stacks I would build as I browsed.  Throughout my visit, Mr. Prins pottered about the store, flitting from the computer on his book-stacked desk, to the shelves and to “the back” where I imagine an infinity of yet-to-be- and never-to-be-catalogued books wait to be brought into the light.

The one volume I had come specifically seeking was H. G. Wells’ little war-time (WWII) anti-Catholic diatribe, Crux Ansata (“Why don’t we bomb Rome” it begins). I had been reading it online, but, as well as finding the digital a completely unsatisfying, indeed, unsettling manner of reading, I knew that I would someday require a real copy for the Wells collection I’ve been building since that day in about 1980 that I stumbled on a copy of Ann Veronica in that bookstore that used to be in Hub Mall on the University of Alberta Campus.  If I remember correctly, that bookstore, since shifted locations a number of times, is now The Edmonton Book Store on Whyte Avenue, in the location that one time was Bjarne’s Books, a shop and proprietor I sadly miss.  Edmonton’s loss — Victoria’s and Cyberspace’s gain.

I went straight to the Fiction section and was at first disappointed by the slimness of the Wells selection.  A few of the usual War of the Worldses and Time Machines. And, there in the middle, a slim little volume bound in dark leather. Crux Ansata! With a large smile on my face I strode back to the counter and plopped my find onto the Everyman Shelley and Langland and the little blue Paston Letters.  Now to some truly unencumbered browsing!

Oh, the treasures I found!

An early edition of the Tolkien/Gordon edition of Sir Gawain; Skeet’s two volume edition of Piers Plowman and Richard the Redeless (I already had one, but this was in better condition. The next day I traded the old one for a copy of  Bentham’s Fragment on Government); a lovely copy of the first edition of Benét’s Reader’s Encyclopedia (in four volumes); Brown’s English Lyrics of the XIIIth Century; a 1959 copy of Vinaver’s Malory; nice old hardcovers of Quirk & Wrenn’s Old English Grammar and Campbell’s venerable volume on the same subject; The Oxford Book of Medieval Verse; nice editions of Ancrene Wisse and The Parlement of Foules . . .

And a copy of Sisam’s edition of 14th Century Verse and Prose, a volume I find oddly common in Edmonton — I have three copies now myself. But this latest copy, unusual in that it still had a (rubbed) dust jacket, had a little surprise for me which made me take a second look at the other books in my stacks. There on the flyleaf was written in small letters in ball-point “Raymond J. S. Grant”.

During my days at the University of Alberta, Dr. Grant was the senior Anglo-Saxonist in the English Department, standing in a venerable line stretching back to R. K. Gordon, a professor at the University’s foundation and, by the way, translator of number 794, Anglo-Saxon Poetry, in Everyman’s Library.


It was Dr. Grant who surprised me during an undergraduate directed reading of The Seafarer by saying “I think you might have a publication here.”  Because of Dr. Grant, I had my first scholarly publication accepted before I got my Bachelor’s degree.

I have gradually have fallen out of contact with the people of my University days. I regularly return to campus, but it’s a different world with different people now.  Not worse, not better, just different.  I had some sort of memory that Dr. Grant had retired and perhaps gone back to Scotland. As I gathered my thoughts for this piece I found on the University web page that Dr. Grant is, indeed, emeritus, as is my thesis supervisor, L. N. McKill, the man who first taught me Old English.  After I got home from the bookstore I discovered Dr. McKill’s name on the flyleaf of Brown’s English Lyrics of the XIIIth Century.  I held in my hands volumes that had educated my educators. These books had been around me in those offices three decades ago as I puzzled my way through great poetry sadly experienced by only a few.

What I find of extreme interest in second hand books is the little bits of paper one finds tucked into them.  Dr. Grant’s copy of Sisam’s Fourteenth Century Verse & Prose (1959) is undoubtedly a text from his student days.  Tucked into book at the first page of the Introduction are two slips of paper, one laying out the geography of dialects of Middle English with representative authors (information repeated in the facing map) and the other a cryptic, multicoloured graph of English sound changes.


These are meticulous thoughts-on-paper of a student of a different time, brief glimpses of the learning process in an age of paper, conversation and information hard-won from beautiful, tactile, fragrant objects with their own individual histories — books in a library.

Mr. Prins filled a banker’s box with my selected volumes and agreed to hold the heavy collection for me to pick up later when I’d be out with a vehicle. When I returned two stacks of brick-red hardcovers were on the counter.  “I told you I thought I had a lot of Wells back there!” Mr. Prins announced with a grin.  Indeed, he had brought from “the back” a twelve volume matched set of Wells’ novels ranging from The Time Machine to The Undying Fire.  A fine day’s discovery!

Later Wednesday evening I looked more carefully at the World’s Classics copy of The Paston Letters.  There was no name on the fly leaf.  It seemed an anonymous book with no story to tell outside of its text.  But, tucked in the back was a small blue slip of paper which indicated that this, like some others of the volumes in the box, was a review copy sent out by the publisher in the hope that professors would say nice things about it. On the back of the slip was a hand written note:


pp. 41-72 seem to be missing from this book as also 73 to 104. I suppose that is a whole gathering! Give him hell next time — you might get a real find from them.



Sure enough, a gathering is misplaced in the book.  But of far more interest to me is the note. Considering the number of Dr. Grant’s books that had recently come into the Bookseller, I have no doubt that “Raymond” addressed in the book is Dr. Grant. And I am equally certain that “Joan” who wrote the note is Dr. Joan Crowther, a Chaucerian I never met during our shared time at the University.  But I did meet and get to know Dr. Crowther in her retirement as each weekday morning I got her clubs out of storage for her round of golf.  I lost touch with Dr. Crowther after leaving the world of golf just a few years before she left this world.

As I stood looking at that little blue note on Wednesday night I recalled a brief exchange, one of many conversations we shared over clattering golf clubs.  These words came shortly after my reading crossed a very special threshhold:

“Dr. Crowther, do you find that the more you read the more everything seems to connect together?”

Dr. Crowther held her golf bag still and looked at me.

“Oh, yes, John!”

“Mind at the End of Its Tether” by H. G. Wells: a final testament of hope

I’ve just revisited H.G. Wells’ last book (apart from that thing on which he collaborated with Uncle Joe Stalin) Mind at the End of Its Tether, published in November 1945.  I feel I must emphasize at the outset that the title is not A Mind at the End of Its Tether — Wells is explicitly not saying in the title that his own mind is at the end of its tether (although that may have been a fact). No, this little collection of odd essays is about the coming end of “self-conscious existence” as the European intellectual elite had conceived it for centuries and also about the probable (from the late 1945 point of view) obliteration of Life itself:

. . . within a period to be estimated by weeks and months rather than by æons, there has been a fundamental change in conditions under which life, not simply human life but all self-conscious existence, has been going on since its beginning.

I think too often Mind at the End of Its Tether is condemned or dismissed (or praised) as a disjointed (Orwell’s description) wallow in pessimism by an old man disappointed or even heartbroken over the failure of his life-mission as he feels that life winding down to an end he knows to be only days or weeks away.  When I consider another little book Wells published just before Mind at the End of Its Tether, I find the suggestion that Wells had lost hope and given up to be preposterous.  The Happy Turning concludes with an idea very similar to the conclusion of Mind at the End of It’s Tether:

So we found ourselves in agreement that the human mind may be in a phase of transition to a new, fearless, clear-headed way of living in which understanding will be the supreme interest in life, and beauty a mere smile of approval.  So it is at any rate in the Dreamland to which my particular Happy Turning takes me.  There shines a world “beyond good and evil”, and there, in a universe completely conscious of itself, Being achieves its end.

Well!  That’s nothing other than an evolutionary jump!

And how does Mind at the End of Its Tether end?

. . . my own temperament makes it unavoidable for me to doubt, as I have said, that there will not be that small minority which will succeed in seeing life out to its inevitable end.

What? Bloody convoluted British piling up of negatives to confound whether or not one is making a positive statement!  If I parse correctly, Wells is saying that, in fact, he can’t help but think that there *will* be that small successful group which will reach life’s inevitable end.

But what is that end?

I would argue that life’s inevitable end in Wells’ view is an intellectual evolutionary jump to the situation described in The Happy Turning, that world “beyond good and evil”, that “clear-headed way of living.”

Let’s look at the book.

I think the chapter headings can vital to an understanding of what Wells is arguing:

The End Closes In Upon Mind
Mind is Retrospective to the End
There is No “Pattern of Things to Come”
Recent Realisations of the Nature of Life
Race Suicide by Gigantism
Precocious Maturity, A Method of Survival
The Antagonism of Age and Youth
New Light on the Record of the Rocks

Here is the pattern of Wells’ discussion. Self-conscious life is facing conditions which will end it, but thought will look back to past patterns till the end because there is no pattern in the chaos of the future. So Wells himself looks back to the past through the lens of evolutionary biology and presents some patterns he sees, including a tendency to large body size, except in the case of humans who have evolved through a process of progressive infantilization. Just as humanity has survived by evolving a permanent arrested physical development, it is necessary that Mind remain vibrantly youthful if there is to be a future for life.

Throughout the book, Wells is frustratingly vague about the threats to Life he sees and use deceptive terms to describe exactly what he thinks is in danger.  Just as there may be a tendency to read the title as A Mind at the End of its Tether, it is easy to misunderstand Wells’ talk of “our universe” ending rather than “the Universe”: at one point he writes “our ‘universe'” and at another it is “Our universe”.  Wells is decidedly not talking about a rolling up of the firmament and God wandering off to start anew.   At most he is anticipating a nuclear sterilization of the planet. At least he is talking about a restructuring of human society and intellect into something his generation of old men would no longer recognize as human.

Now, in more detail:

Chapter One is partly a description of the Mind of Wells’ time, of the intellectual approach to existence that Wells sees in the common folk (keep calm and carry on) and in the educated classes (keep calm and carry on).  Wells describes what his own attitude has been:

The habitual interest in his life is critical anticipation. Of everything he asks: “To what will this lead?” And it was natural for him to assume that there was a limit set to change, that new things and events would appear, but that the would appear consistently, preserving the natural sequence of life.  So that in the present vast confusion of our world, there was always the assumption of an ultimate restoration of rationality, an adaptation and a resumption.  It was merely a question, the fascinating question, of what forms the new rational phase would assume . . .

But Wells has come to the conclusion that there has come a complete breakdown in predictability, perhaps an anticipation of Chaos Theory, and he seems to be anticipating Toffler’s Future Shock in his description of the trauma of a world in which “everything was driving anyhow to anywhere at a steadily increasing velocity.”  And his description of his mid-twentieth century world is remarkable:

Distance had been abolished, events had become practically simultaneous throughout the planet . . .

If 1945 appeared to be at Tether’s End, what would Wells have done if confronted with the world today?

Although Wells has stated that prediction is no longer possible, he predicts that

the normal multitude, which will carry on in this every contracting NOW of our daily lives — quite unawake to what it is that is making so much of our existence distressful and evasive and intensifying our need for mutual comfort and redeeming acts of kindliness.


We pass into the harsh glare of hitherto incredible novelty.

Welcome to the 21st Century, Mr Wells!

What I find troubling about Chapter One is Wells’ introduction of what he calls “The Antagonist”, some sort of almost-almost personal force which is Hell-bent on destroying life.  I have trouble reconciling Wells’ seeming acceptance that the world is purposeless and virtually lacking in causality with what seems a wholly unnecessary hypothesis of an Enemy of humanity.  He is vague to the point of meaninglessness about the nature of the Antagonist.  Is the Antagonist simply entropy?  Wells’ frequent references to radioactivity — they appear in almost every chapter — makes me wonder if the Atomic Bombs dropped on Japan just a few months earlier are not the root of Wells dread.  Or is the Antagonist something about human nature, a race-suicidal imperative which nuclear fission could only exacerbate?  I don’t know, but I don’t understand why Wells felt it necessary to personify this “force” as “The Antagonist”.

The brief second Chapter is simply a condemnation of religion as a usually malicious fiction but also a necessary anodyne for the common person in the face of the futility of life:  the priests help the people keep calm and carry on until they die.

Chapter III is probably the one that causes people to judge Wells a pessimist:

After all the present writer has no compelling argument to convince the reader that he should not be cruel or mean or cowardly.  Such things are also in his own make-up in a large measure, but none the less he hates and fights against them with all his strength.  We would rather our species ended its story in dignity, kindliness and generosity, and not like drunken cowards in a daze or poisoned rats in a sack.  But this is a matter of individual predilection for everyone to decide for himself.

In Chapter IV Wells looks at evolutionary theory as it stood in his time and then applies it to humanity and the problem he sees coming.  Wells suggests that within his lifetime there has been a huge change in the relations of the sexes in Britain, a hint that evolution continues in humans.  And then, he suggests that the sorts of forces which bring about these relationship changes “may play incalculable parts in the production of a new humanity” capable of adapting to the new world.  A hint of a sort of absent-minded eugenics as the future hope.

In Chapter V Wells suggests that the first law of Life is “the imperative to aggression” which leads to large body size.  As I understand modern evolutionary theory — and the comparative numerical and biomass success of, for example, whales and beetles — Wells is beyond wrong in this detail (as he is on the diet of basking sharks).  But Wells is correct in his main point in the chapter: species rise and fall, usually to be replaced by other species but sometimes a species rebounds from an evolutionary bottle-neck.  Again, Wells is closing on a hopeful note.

In the title of Chapter VI, “Precocious Maturity, a Method of Survival”, and in the Chapter itself, Wells makes clear the basis of his hope for the future:

time after time Nature has cut out an adult form from the record altogether, abolished it, and made some larval stage the sexually mature form.

Wells is arguing that the future must be made by the young in youth, and as he closes the next chapter, he states such explicitly:  “The young are life, and there is no hope but in them.”  Is this pessimism?  I think not!

Wells’ final Chapter brings the suggestion that a small minority of highly adaptable individuals will survive the coming “end”.  Wells recaps human evolution, pointing out the progressive infantilization which must continue into any viable future and then concludes with his convoluted affirmation of his own hope for the future.

Certainly Mind at the End of Its Tether is uneven and at times frustratingly vague.  But I cannot call it disjointed — there is a very strong coherence in Wells’ discussion. And there is nothing pessimistic in the little book!  This is the final testament of a man who has seen his world very nearly destroyed in two world wars, of a man who has seen his life long work of building peace repeatedly dashed — this is the final testament of a man in a time of vanishingly little hope who stands up and points to a young couple daring to begin a life together and announces “There are the new Lords of Creation!”

And, you know what? Those young people Wells passed the torch to are our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.  We’ve made it through the End Wells expected.  We are the New Humanity, navigating a world more complicated, chaotic and terrifying than Wells could have imagined or handled.   We navigate that world with all Humanity’s knowledge at our fingertips, in our back pockets. We chat instantly with a friend on the other side of the world, with people living off the planet, for goodness sake.  We are the Shape of Things to Come.

Let’s try to keep up the “mutual comfort and redeeming acts of kindliness”.

An #IdleNoMore Reading List (sort of)


One Shelf Full

Some time ago Lise Frigault suggested to me on Twitter that I put together an #IdleNoMore reading list.  What follows I think is decidedly not exactly what she suggested. Rather, the following is a sparsely annotated bibliography of some of the things I’ve read over the years which have shaped my thinking on Aboriginal/Newcomer relations, on Canadian Constitutional and political matters and on the necessary way forward for all of us.

First, some online documents

The Royal Proclamation of October 7, 1763

The Durham Report, 1839

The Gradual Civilization Act, 1857 

The British North America Act, 1867

The Indian Act

Some Excerpts from the Bryce Report on conditions in Residential Schools, 1907

The White Paper, 1969

Citizens Plus (The Red Paper), 1970

Royal Commission Report on Aboriginal Peoples, 1996

Bill C-45, 2012

The Interim Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (pdf)

They Came for the Children narratives from the Residential School Experience (pdf)

Books on my shelf

I’m a bit of a book-hoarder. I keep my books. I don’t have much interest in e-books.  I always have a real book in my pocket. I have a lot of books.  Many of them bear directly on Canadian History and on First Nations issues.  As I grow older and read more, however, I find that everything is tied together.  This list could have been very long — I can see justification in including James’ Varieties of Religious Experience, for example, but I won’t. I’ve tried to winnow the list down severely.

User-friendly volumes

An interesting introduction is the Chronicles of Canada Series, which was published a century ago. I’m fortunate to have a nice first edition of the thirty-two volume set, but all volumes seem to be available online at various places.   The first volume, The Dawn of Canadian History: A Chronicle of Aboriginal Canada is by Stephen Leacock, and is far more sensitive than one might expect of the time.  A number of other volumes are also devoted to First Nations leaders and their roles in our shared history.  The series was written for young readers: they are brief but densly packed with information. Definitely worth a look both for stong information and as a window into historical attitudes a hundred years ago.

A modern version of something similar to the Chronicles of Canada is John Ralston Saul’s fascinating collection of biographies, Extraordinary Canadians. The biographies of Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont by Joseph Boyden and that of Big Bear by Rudy Wiebe are of particular relevence to the current subject, but making one’s way through the entire collection would not be a wasted effort.  The volumes are very readable.  I would wish a set were in every High School library in the country.

A Big Influence

The American Empire and the Fourth World by Anthony J. Hall is a sweeping analysis of the legal/constitutional history of European/First Nations relations.  Professor Hall’s analysis has been a big influence on my thinking.

The Northwest Rebellion

One of the most user-friendly volumes on this list has to be Chester Brown’s Louis Riel, a massive graphic-novel biography of the Métis leader and Father of Confederation.

Loyal to Death: Indians and the Northwest Rebellion by Blair Stonechild and Bill Waiser makes very clear that the First Nations never had any desire to be involved in the Metis Northwest Rebellion and indeed, desperately remained loyal to their treaties and the Crown.

Hugh Dempsey’s Crowfoot, a biography of the great Blackfoot leader, is one of so many of Dempsey’s vast output of Western Canadian history volumes directed at a popular audience.

Two fundamental works

The Fourth World by George Manuel and Michael Posluns
The Unjust Society by Harold Cardinal

Two interesting companion volumes about the Stoney Nation in Southern Alberta

These Mountains are our Sacred Places by Chief John Snow of the Stoney Nation
Bad Medicine by Judge John Reilly.


Contrasting takes on Canada, it’s nature, and it’s future

Lament for a Nation George Grant
The Truth About Canada Mel Hurtig
Unlikely Utopia Michael Adams
Becoming Canada Ken Dryden
A Fair Country John Ralston Saul
Navigating a New World Lloyd Axworthy
Polar Imperative Shelagh D. Grant
Unfinished Business: Aboriginal Peoples and the 1983 Constitutional Conference  Norman K. Zlotkin
How Canadians Govern Themselves Eugene A. Forsey
The Inconvenient Indian Thomas King
Hidden in Plain Sight Ed. David R. Newhouse, cora J. Voyageur, etc. is a handy tonic to the tired racist suggestion that aboriginal people are lazy do-nothings and letters to the editor of newspapers in Nanaimo.

From the other non-U.S. part of the Western Hemisphere

The Labyrinth of Solitude Octavio Paz
Open Veins of Latin America Eduardo Galeano
Do the Americas Have a Common History? ed. Lewis Hanke
Our Word is our Weapon Subcommandante Marcos

White people going native in Canada and Namibia

The Sheltering Desert Henno Martin
Maps and Dreams Hugh Brody
The Other Side of Eden Hugh Brody

Microcosm reflecting Macrocosm where the Thomson meets the Fraser

The Western Avernus by Morley Roberts
Archdeacon on Horseback by Cyril E. H. Williams & Pixie McGeachie
Where the Blood Mixes by Kevin Loring

Poetry and near-poetry

Tobacco Wars by Paul Seesequasis
Assiniboia by Tim Lilburn A disturbing poetic alternative vision of Canada.
kiyâm by Naomi McIlwraith A fascinating bilingual collection of meditative poems.
Louis: The Heretic Poems by Gregory Scofield

Contact and post-contact history, ethnology, etc.

The Conquest of Paradise Kirkpatrick Sale The classic revisionist study of Columbus’ legacy.
Time Among the Maya Ronald Wright
Stolen Continents Ronald Wright
The History of the Conquest of Mexico William H. Prescott  Prescott’s history first gave me the realization that, contrary to many conceptions, the Aztecs and the Spaniards were technologically almost an even match and that the Spanish Conquest was only successful by the skin of Spanish teeth and with the vital and massive aid of military alliances with other native nations.
The History of the Conquest of Peru William H. Prescott
The Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico Miguel Leon-Portilla
The Conquest of Mexico Hugh Thomas
La Capital Jonathan Kandell An epic history of Mexico City
Time Among the Highland Maya Barbara Tedlock
Conquest and Survival in Colonial Guatemala W. George Lovell
All of Linda Schele’s books about the Maya
The Narrative of Cabeza de Vaca by Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca An amazing narrative of first contact.
The Defeat of John Hawkins Rayner Unwin A modern telling of early British contact with the New World.
The Relation of David Ingram Richard Hakluyt Another amazing narrative of first contact.
Any of Chomsky’s political pieces (he just keeps hammering at the same ideas)


Midnight Sweatlodge by Waubgeshig Rice
Indian Horse Richard Wagamese
Green Grass, Running Water Thomas King
Three Day Road Joseph Boyden
Porcupines and China Dolls by Robert Arthur Alexie
Beautiful Losers Leonard Cohen
Elle Douglas Glover
Volkswagen Blues Jacques Poulin
Wacousta Major John Richardson

Local History Alberta and Edmonton

Walking in the Woods: A Métis Journey by Herb Belcourt
Castles to Forts: A True History of Edmonton Philip R. coutu
Fort de Prairies Brock Silversides
The Place of Bows and The Battle for Banff E. J. Hart
Stoney History Notes Chief John Chiniki
Head-Smashed-In: 5500 Years of Bison Jumping in the Alberta Plains Brian O. K. Reeves
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump Gordon Reid
Aboriginal Cultures in Alberta Five Hundred Generations  Susan Berry and Jack Brink
Medicine Wheels on the Northern Plains John H. Brumley

Some Classic pieces of European literature which are relevant

The Tempest William Shakespeare Later interpretations of Caliban have been important in discussions of colonialism.
The Aeneid Virgil perhaps Western Literature’s earliest poetic description of colonialism in action.
Candide Voltaire some fanciful descriptions of New World societies
Gargantua and Pantagruel Rabelais more fanciful descriptions of New World societies.
Gulliver’s Travels Jonathan Swift yet more fanciful descriptions of New World societies.
Some of Montaigne’s Essays more thoughtful consideration of the New World.
Heart of Darkness Joseph Conrad The Dark Heart of colonialism in Central Africa.

Still to read:

Ikonze: the Stones of Traditional Knowledge Philip Coutu and Lorraine Hoffman-Mercredi
Earth into Property Anthony J. Hall

I expect that’s enough for a start.


The Chronicles of Canada (minus the volume I’m reading)