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History Native American

The Sleeping Giant Awakens

Genocide, Indian Residential Schools, and the Challenge of Conciliation

by (author) David B. MacDonald

University of Toronto Press
Initial publish date
May 2019
Native American, Human Rights, Native American Studies
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    May 2019
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  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    May 2019
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    May 2019
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Confronting the truths of Canada’s Indian residential school system has been likened to waking a sleeping giant. In The Sleeping Giant Awakens, David B. MacDonald uses genocide as an analytical tool to better understand Canada’s past and present relationships between settlers and Indigenous peoples. Starting with a discussion of how genocide is defined in domestic and international law, the book applies the concept to the forced transfer of Indigenous children to residential schools and the "Sixties Scoop," in which Indigenous children were taken from their communities and placed in foster homes or adopted.


Based on archival research, extensive interviews with residential school Survivors, and officials at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, among others, The Sleeping Giant Awakens offers a unique and timely perspective on the prospects for conciliation after genocide, exploring the difficulties in moving forward in a context where many settlers know little of the residential schools and ongoing legacies of colonization and need to have a better conception of Indigenous rights. It provides a detailed analysis of how the TRC approached genocide in its deliberations and in its Final Report.


Crucially, MacDonald engages critics who argue that the term genocide impedes understanding of the IRS system and imperils prospects for conciliation. By contrast, this book sees genocide recognition as an important basis for meaningful discussions of how to engage Indigenous-settler relations in respectful and proactive ways.

About the author

David B. MacDonald is an associate professor in political science at the University of Guelph. His publications include Introduction to Politics (co-author, forthcoming 2012), The Bush Leadership, the Power of Ideas and the War on Terror (co-editor, forthcoming 2012), Identity Politics in the Age of Genocide (2008), and Thinking History (2009). His website is

Mary-Michelle DeCoste is an associate professor of Italian studies at the University of Guelph, and in 2010 she held a Craig Hugh Smyth Visiting Fellowship at Villa I Tatti, Harvard University’s Centre for Italian Renaissance Studies, Florence, Italy. Publications include Hopeless Love: Boiardo, Ariosto, and Narratives of Queer Female Desire (2009), as well as articles in journals Quaderni d’Italianistica and Heliotropia and chapters in a number of edited books.

David B. MacDonald's profile page


  • Short-listed, Shortlisted for the 2020 Donald Smiley Prize
  • Short-listed, Best Subsequent Book of 2019 in Native American and Indigenous Studies

Editorial Reviews

"MacDonald’s argument that the harms of forcible transfer are genocidal is compelling and well made. As he also acknowledges, however, the settler state cannot resolve or fully address these harms unless it is prepared to enter into a new relationship with First Nations on profoundly different terms."

<EM>The British Journal</EM>

“In addition to residential school survivor memoirs, the superb The Sleeping Giant Awakens should be mandatory reading for all Canadians.”

<em>Ontario History</em>

Other titles by David B. MacDonald