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History Post-confederation (1867-)

Inventing the Thrifty Gene

The Science of Settler Colonialism

by (author) Travis Hay

afterword by Teri Redsky Fiddler

Publisher
University of Manitoba Press
Initial publish date
Sep 2021
Category
Post-Confederation (1867-), History, Native American
  • Paperback / softback

    ISBN
    9780887559341
    Publish Date
    Sep 2021
    List Price
    $27.95
  • eBook

    ISBN
    9780887559365
    Publish Date
    Sep 2021
    List Price
    $25.00

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Description

Though First Nations communities in Canada have historically lacked access to clean water, affordable food, and equitable health care, they have never lacked access to well-funded scientists seeking to study them. Inventing the Thrifty Gene examines the relationship between science and settler colonialism through the lens of “Aboriginal diabetes” and the thrifty gene hypothesis, which posits that Indigenous peoples are genetically predisposed to type 2 diabetes and obesity due to their alleged hunter-gatherer genes.

Hay’s study begins with Charles Darwin’s travels and his observations on the Indigenous peoples he encountered, setting the imperial context for Canadian histories of medicine and colonialism. It continues in the mid-twentieth century with a look at nutritional experimentation during the long career of Percy Moore, the medical director of Indian Affairs (1946–1965). Hay then turns to James Neel’s invention of the thrifty gene hypothesis in 1962 and Robert Hegele’s reinvention and application of the hypothesis to Sandy Lake First Nation in northern Ontario in the 1990s. Finally, Hay demonstrates the way in which settler colonial science was responded to and resisted by Indigenous leadership in Sandy Lake First Nation, who used monies from the thrifty gene study to fund wellness programs in their community.

Inventing the Thrifty Gene exposes the exploitative nature of settler science with Indigenous subjects, the flawed scientific theories stemming from faulty assumptions of Indigenous decline and disappearance, as well as the severe inequities in Canadian health care that persist even today.

About the authors

Travis Hay is a historian of Canadian settler colonialism who was born and raised in Thunder Bay, Ontario. He is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Indigenous Learning Department at Lakehead University. 

 

Travis Hay's profile page

Theresa (Teri) Redsky Fiddler is an Anishinabe Elder originally from Big Grassy and Shoal Lake First Nation. She is an educator, an advocate, and an important figure in Nishnawbe Aski Nation’s Health Transformation initiative.

 

Teri Redsky Fiddler's profile page

Editorial Reviews

"Hay’s chapters on Canada’s early settler colonialism and Indian policy are illuminating and well worth reading. On the science of settler colonialism, he brings to life the men who were instrumental in establishing the Indian policies, shored by the intensive and perpetual study of First Nations people."

Winnipeg Free Press

Other titles by Travis Hay