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12 Best Non-Fiction Books for Understanding Canada

By Jennifer McCartney
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From bears to broken treaties, Alberta to America, these are the the 12 best non-fiction to help you understand Canada, Canadian history, and Canadians!
The Invasion of Canada

The Invasion of Canada

1812-1813
edition:Paperback
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Why it's on the list ...
Why isn't Canada, well, part of America? This war is why.
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Shake Hands With the Devil

Shake Hands With the Devil

The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda
edition:Paperback
tagged : military
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Excerpt

Introduction

It was an absolutely magnificent day in May 1994. The blue sky was cloudless, and there was a whiff of breeze stirring the trees. It was hard to believe that in the past weeks an unimaginable evil had turned Rwanda’s gentle green valleys and mist-capped hills into a stinking nightmare of rotting corpses. A nightmare we all had to negotiate every day. A nightmare that, as commander of the UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda, I could not help but feel deeply responsible for.

In relative terms, that day had been a good one. Under the protection of a limited and fragile ceasefire, my troops had successfully escorted about two hundred civilians -- a few of the thousands who had sought refuge with us in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda -- through many government- and militia-manned checkpoints to reach safety behind the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) lines. We were seven weeks into the genocide, and the RPF, the disciplined rebel army (composed largely of the sons of Rwandan refugees who had lived over the border in camps in Uganda since being forced out of their homeland at independence), was making a curved sweep toward Kigali from the north, adding civil war to the chaos and butchery in the country.

Having delivered our precious cargo of innocent souls, we were headed back to Kigali in a white UN Land Cruiser with my force commander pennant on the front hood and the blue UN flag on a staff attached to the right rear. My Ghanaian sharpshooter, armed with a new Canadian C-7 rifle, rode behind me, and my new Senegalese aide-de-camp, Captain Ndiaye, sat to my right. We were driving a particularly dangerous stretch of road, open to sniper fire. Most of the people in the surrounding villages had been slaughtered, the few survivors escaping with little more than the clothes on their backs. In a few short weeks, it had become a lonely and forlorn place.

Suddenly up ahead we saw a child wandering across the road. I stopped the vehicle close to the little boy, worried about scaring him off, but he was quite unfazed. He was about three years old, dressed in a filthy, torn T-shirt, the ragged remnants of underwear, little more than a loincloth, drooping from under his distended belly. He was caked in dirt, his hair white and matted with dust, and he was enveloped in a cloud of flies, which were greedily attacking the open sores that covered him. He stared at us silently, sucking on what I realized was a high-protein biscuit. Where had the boy found food in this wasteland?

I got out of the vehicle and walked toward him. Maybe it was the condition I was in, but to me this child had the face of an angel and eyes of pure innocence. I had seen so many children hacked to pieces that this small, whole, bewildered boy was a vision of hope. Surely he could not have survived all on his own? I motioned for my aide-de-camp to honk the horn, hoping to summon up his parents, but the sound echoed over the empty landscape, startling a few birds and little else. The boy remained transfixed. He did not speak or cry, just stood sucking on his biscuit and staring up at us with his huge, solemn eyes. Still hoping that he wasn’t all alone, I sent my aide-de-camp and the sharpshooter to look for signs of life.

We were in a ravine lush with banana trees and bamboo shoots, which created a dense canopy of foliage. A long straggle of deserted huts stood on either side of the road. As I stood alone with the boy, I felt an anxious knot in my stomach: this would be a perfect place to stage an ambush. My colleagues returned, having found no one. Then a rustling in the undergrowth made us jump. I grabbed the boy and held him firmly to my side as we instinctively took up defensive positions around the vehicle and in the ditch. The bushes parted to reveal a well-armed RPF soldier about fifteen years old. He recognized my uniform and gave me a smart salute and introduced himself. He was part of an advance observation post in the nearby hills. I asked him who the boy was and whether there was anyone left alive in the village who could take care of him. The soldier answered that the boy had no name and no family but that he and his buddies were looking after him. That explained the biscuit but did nothing to allay my concerns over the security and health of the boy. I protested that the child needed proper care and that I could give it to him: we were protecting and supporting orphanages in Kigali where he would be much better off. The soldier quietly insisted that the boy stay where he was, among his own people.

I continued to argue, but this child soldier was in no mood to discuss the situation and with haughty finality stated that his unit would care and provide for the child. I could feel my face flush with anger and frustration, but then noticed that the boy himself had slipped away while we had been arguing over him, and God only knew where he had gone. My aide-de-camp spotted him at the entrance to a hut a short distance away, clambering over a log that had fallen across the doorway. I ran after him, closely followed by my aide-de-camp and the RPF child soldier. By the time I had caught up to the boy, he had disappeared inside. The log in the doorway turned out to be the body of a man, obviously dead for some weeks, his flesh rotten with maggots and beginning to fall away from the bones.

As I stumbled over the body and into the hut, a swarm of flies invaded my nose and mouth. It was so dark inside that at first I smelled rather than saw the horror that lay before me. The hut was a two-room affair, one room serving as a kitchen and living room and the other as a communal bedroom; two rough windows had been cut into the mud-and-stick wall. Very little light penetrated the gloom, but as my eyes became accustomed to the dark, I saw strewn around the living room in a rough circle the decayed bodies of a man, a woman and two children, stark white bone poking through the desiccated, leather-like covering that had once been skin. The little boy was crouched beside what was left of his mother, still sucking on his biscuit. I made my way over to him as slowly and quietly as I could and, lifting him into my arms, carried him out of the hut.

The warmth of his tiny body snuggled against mine filled me with a peace and serenity that elevated me above the chaos. This child was alive yet terribly hungry, beautiful but covered in dirt, bewildered but not fearful. I made up my mind: this boy would be the fourth child in the Dallaire family. I couldn’t save Rwanda, but I could save this child.

Before I had held this boy, I had agreed with the aid workers and representatives of both the warring armies that I would not permit any exporting of Rwandan orphans to foreign places. When confronted by such requests from humanitarian organizations, I would argue that the money to move a hundred kids by plane to France or Belgium could help build, staff and sustain Rwandan orphanages that could house three thousand children. This one boy eradicated all my arguments. I could see myself arriving at the terminal in Montreal like a latter-day St. Christopher with the boy cradled in my arms, and my wife, Beth, there ready to embrace him.

That dream was abruptly destroyed when the young soldier, fast as a wolf, yanked the child from my arms and carried him directly into the bush. Not knowing how many members of his unit might already have their gunsights on us, we reluctantly climbed back into the Land Cruiser. As I slowly drove away, I had much on my mind.

By withdrawing, I had undoubtedly done the wise thing: I had avoided risking the lives of my two soldiers in what would have been a fruitless struggle over one small boy. But in that moment, it seemed to me that I had backed away from a fight for what was right, that this failure stood for all our failures in Rwanda.

Whatever happened to that beautiful child? Did he make it to an orphanage deep behind the RPF lines? Did he survive the following battles? Is he dead or is he now a child soldier himself, caught in the seemingly endless conflict that plagues his homeland?

That moment, when the boy, in the arms of a soldier young enough to be his brother, was swallowed whole by the forest, haunts me. It’s a memory that never lets me forget how ineffective and irresponsible we were when we promised the Rwandans that we would establish an atmosphere of security that would allow them to achieve a lasting peace. It has been almost nine years since I left Rwanda, but as I write this, the sounds, smells and colours come flooding back in digital clarity. It’s as if someone has sliced into my brain and grafted this horror called Rwanda frame by blood-soaked frame directly on my cortex. I could not forget even if I wanted to. For many of these years, I have yearned to return to Rwanda and disappear into the blue-green hills with my ghosts. A simple pilgrim seeking forgiveness and pardon. But as I slowly begin to piece my life back together, I know the time has come for me to make a more difficult pilgrimage: to travel back through all those terrible memories and retrieve my soul.

I did try to write this story soon after I came back from Rwanda in September 1994, hoping to find some respite for myself in sorting out how my own role as Force Commander of UNAMIR interconnected with the international apathy, the complex political manoeuvres, the deep well of hatred and barbarity that resulted in a genocide in which over 800,000 people lost their lives. Instead, I plunged into a disastrous mental health spiral that led me to suicide attempts, a medical release from the Armed Forces, the diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, and dozens upon dozens of therapy sessions and extensive medication, which still have a place in my daily life.

It took me seven years to finally have the desire, the willpower and the stamina to begin to describe in detail the events of that year in Rwanda. To recount, from my insider’s point of view, how a country moved from the promise of a certain peace to intrigue, the fomenting of racial hatred, assassinations, civil war and genocide. And how the international community, through an inept UN mandate and what can only be described as indifference, self-interest and racism, aided and abetted these crimes against humanity -- how we all helped create the mess that has murdered and displaced millions and destabilized the whole central African region.

A growing library of books and articles is exploring the tragic events in Rwanda from many angles: eyewitness accounts, media analyses, assaults on the actions of the American administration at the time, condemnations of the UN’s apparent ineptitude. But even in the international and national inquiries launched in the wake of the genocide, the blame somehow slides away from the individual member nations of the un, and in particular those influential countries with permanent representatives on the Security Council, such as the United States, France and the United Kingdom, who sat back and watched it all happen, who pulled their troops or didn’t offer any troops in the first place. A few Belgian officers were brought to court to pay for the sins of Rwanda. When my sector commander in Kigali, Colonel Luc Marchal, was courtmartialled in Brussels, the charges against him were clearly designed to deflect any responsibility away from the Belgian government for the deaths of the ten Belgian peacekeepers under my command. The judge eventually threw out all the charges, accepting the fact that Marchal had performed his duties magnificently in a near-impossible situation. But the spotlight never turned to the reasons why he and the rest of the UNAMIR force were in such a dangerous situation in the first place.

It is time that I tell the story from where I stood -- literally in the middle of the slaughter for weeks on end. A public account of my actions, my decisions and my failings during that most terrible year may be a crucial missing link for those attempting to understand the tragedy both intellectually and in their hearts. I know that I will never end my mourning for all those Rwandans who placed their faith in us, who thought the UN peacekeeping force was there to stop extremism, to stop the killings and help them through the perilous journey to a lasting peace. That mission, UNAMIR, failed. I know intimately the cost in human lives of the inflexible UN Security Council mandate, the penny-pinching financial management of the mission, the UN red tape, the political manipulations and my own personal limitations. What I have come to realize as the root of it all, however, is the fundamental indifference of the world community to the plight of seven to eight million black Africans in a tiny country that had no strategic or resource value to any world power. An overpopulated little country that turned in on itself and destroyed its own people, as the world watched and yet could not manage to find the political will to intervene. Engraved still in my brain is the judgment of a small group of bureaucrats who came to “assess” the situation in the first weeks of the genocide: “We will recommend to our government not to intervene as the risks are high and all that is here are humans.”

My story is not a strictly military account nor a clinical, academic study of the breakdown of Rwanda. It is not a simplistic indictment of the many failures of the UN as a force for peace in the world. It is not a story of heroes and villains, although such a work could easily be written. This book is a cri de coeur for the slaughtered thousands, a tribute to the souls hacked apart by machetes because of their supposed difference from those who sought to hang on to power. It is the story of a commander who, faced with a challenge that didn’t fit the classic Cold War-era peacekeeper’s rule book, failed to find an effective solution and witnessed, as if in punishment, the loss of some of his own troops, the attempted annihilation of an ethnicity, the butchery of children barely out of the womb, the stacking of severed limbs like cordwood, the mounds of decomposing bodies being eaten by the sun.

This book is nothing more nor less than the account of a few humans who were entrusted with the role of helping others taste the fruits of peace. Instead, we watched as the devil took control of paradise on earth and fed on the blood of the people we were supposed to protect.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Why it's on the list ...
What happened in Rwanda? Why was Canada there and what went wrong? This book is a must read for every Canadian.
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Extraordinary Canadians: Tommy Douglas
Why it's on the list ...
Why do we have universal healthcare? This prairie preacher is why.
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They Called Me Number One

They Called Me Number One

edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
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Excerpt

Introduction

I was seventeen years old; desperate to escape my misery and all I could think of was to die.

I was so young but my life’s experiences had made me feel so worthless. All those years of abuse and putdowns finally caught up to me that night. I was so tired of trying to fit in somewhere, anywhere. A silly incident was the deciding factor. If anything was going to make me take my life, it should have been worse things that had happened in the past, yet that is all it took.  At the time, it did not seem so little.  That moment meant life or death, and I chose death.  There did not seem to be any point to living.

I had taken my Mom’s bottle of sleeping pills away from her earlier that day because she had been drinking and had talked about taking her life. As unhappy as Mom's life was, I still thought she had reasons to live. Now, there I was holding the pills in my hand. I threw them in my mouth and swallowed easily. I lay down in the bedroom and waited to go to sleep. I did not think about people who were worse off than I was. I did not think about the family and friends I would hurt. I just thought about how lost and lonely I felt and how desperately I wanted out of this world, a world that seemed to offer only intense unhappiness. I did not have to wait long before I felt myself going to sleep …

I started writing this book in the early 1990s when our communities first started to explore and deal with the “aftermath” of the Indian residential schools. A close relative heard that I was writing a book and said to me angrily, “I heard you are writing a book. Boy, you better not be writing anything about me!” This reaction changed my mind about making my story public, but I continued putting my thoughts and memories on paper. In 2004 I decided to finish the book, even if it turned out to be only an historical record for my family.

I asked myself, “Is it possible to make other people feel what I once felt and understand the message I am trying to convey? Is it possible to make others realize the damage they are doing to themselves and their loved ones? Is it possible to help others by writing of my experiences, or will it only create tension with my loved ones who have been a part of those experiences? Should my memories stay just memories?”
  
I have concluded that I had to write this book and share with those who I know are suffering the same experiences as me. In speaking with others who went to the residential schools in other areas of Canada I am amazed at how similar our stories are about the treatment of the children. It is as if the various churches running the schools were all in the same training program on how to run these schools.

My restricted view of the world and the oppressive conditions under which I lived were not the only options for me, although my experiences until then did not reveal otherwise. In writing the book, I have realized that I am still disassembling the restrictive world in which I once lived.     

WHAT PAIN HAVE YOU SUFFERED?

In the early 1990s, I went into the local shopping mall in Williams Lake, British Columbia. I noticed a couple of women who were both at St. Joseph’s Mission while I was there. I went over to say hello and our conversation got around to my speaking out about the residential schools. One of the women said to me, “Why do you speak on residential schools? What pain have you suffered in your life that qualifies you to speak on the schools?” I was surprised at her question. I do not remember my response.
 
How do you measure pain? Some students looked forward to going back to the mission because their homes were so chaotic from all the alcohol in their communities. Unfortunately, some kids did not have a home to go to during our holidays. The woman who asked me the question was one of those whose home was completely broken because of alcoholism. Does that make her suffering more than mine? Or was my pain more because I knew there was something better at home for me than the life and abuses we suffered at the schools? Does the fact that I chose not to become addicted to alcohol or drugs disqualify me from suffering?  Or, was my suffering more because I did not live my life in a fog that alcohol and drugs provided? If I chose to live through it, deal with it, feel the full extent of the pain and allow myself to grow emotionally and mentally, does that lessen my suffering?
 
Others in different countries have been persecuted. The Jewish peoples, the people in Rwanda and Bosnia, the Black people in the United States and others have atrocious stories to tell. Aboriginal people in Canada have a story to tell as well, a story of which most non-Aboriginal people in Canada are unaware. All of this happened in a country that proudly boasts as being one of the best places in the world to live; a supposedly democratic country where the freedoms and cultures of all are protected and respected. It is the greatest place to live for anyone, except for the original inhabitants of this land, the Aboriginal people.
 
I am angry about the way Aboriginal people have been and still are treated in Canada, but writing this book has allowed me to grow. I realize that complaining about the treatment of our people is justified, but doing something about it is more important. I found that I was not able to do anything to help my family, my community and Aboriginal people in general until I learned to help myself. Despite all of our experiences, it rests within each one of us to live up to our full potential.
 
I read somewhere that everyone is born with the potential for success, and it is only through life’s experiences that we develop or destroy that potential. For many Aboriginal people, our most vulnerable and impressionable years, our childhood years, were spent at residential schools. Our mental, emotional and spiritual growth was extremely stunted because of the way we were treated there.
 
You have to tell our story like it is, don’t hold back or make it seem like it wasn’t as bad as it actually was. People have to know and believe what happened to us. That’s what hurts … when people don’t believe what happened.

That is what Charlie Gilbert from the Williams Lake Indian Band (a.k.a. Sugar Cane) said to me when I started speaking out about the residential schools and the damage done to our people. I cannot tell everyone’s story. Others have told me some horrific stories about things that happened at residential schools, including a few potential murders but they are not my stories to tell. I do not have any right to speak on behalf of other people but my personal experience has exposed me to the effects the residential schools and other non-Aboriginal institutions have had on our society and people. I do not speak on behalf of anyone else’s experience unless it crossed with mine, and then I tell the story only from my perspective. The residential school and non-Aboriginal institutions had a drastic effect on me, and I am eminently qualified to speak on that.

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Why it's on the list ...
This is one woman's memoir of her time in a residential school.
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The Inconvenient Indian

The Inconvenient Indian

A Curious Account of Native People in North America
edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback
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Excerpt

About fifteen years back, a bunch of us got together to form a drum group. John Samosi, one of our lead singers, suggested we call ourselves “The Pesky Redskins.” Since we couldn’t sing all that well, John argued, we needed a name that would make people smile and encourage them to overlook our musical deficiencies.

We eventually settled on the Waa-Chi-Waasa Singers, which was a more stately name. Sandy Benson came up with it, and as I remember, waa-chi-waasa is Ojibway for “far away.” Appropriate enough, since most of the boys who sit around the drum here in Guelph, Ontario, come from somewhere other than here. John’s from Saskatoon. Sandy calls Rama home. Harold Rice was raised on the coast of British Columbia. Mike Duke’s home community is near London, Ontario. James Gordon is originally from Toronto. I hail from California’s central valley, while my son Benjamin was born in Lethbridge, Alberta, and was dragged around North America with his older brother and younger sister. I don’t know
where he considers home to be.

Anishinaabe, Métis, Coastal Salish, Cree, Cherokee. We have nothing much in common. We’re all Aboriginal and we have the drum. That’s about it.

I had forgotten about “Pesky Redskins” but it must have been kicking around in my brain because, when I went looking for a title for this book, something with a bit of irony to it, there it was.

Pesky Redskins: A Curious History of Indians in North America.

Problem was, no one else liked the title. Several people I trust told me that Pesky Redskins sounded too flip and, in the end, I had to agree. Native people haven’t been so much pesky as we’ve been . . . inconvenient.

So I changed the title to The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious History of Native People in North America, at which point my partner, Helen Hoy, who teaches English at the University of Guelph, weighed in, cautioning that “history” might be too grand a word for what I was attempting. Benjamin, who is finishing a Ph.D. in History at Stanford, agreed with his mother and pointed out that if I was going to call the book a history, I would be obliged to pay attention to the demands of scholarship and work within an organized and clearly delineated chronology.

Now, it’s not that I think such things as chronologies are a bad idea, but I’m somewhat attached to the Ezra Pound School of History. While not subscribing to his political beliefs, I do agree with Pound that “We do NOT know the past in chronological sequence. It may be convenient to lay it out anesthetized on the table with dates pasted on here and there, but what we know we know by ripples and spirals eddying out from us and from our own time.”

There’s nothing like a good quotation to help a body escape an onerous task. So I tweaked the title one more time, swapped the word “history” for “account,” and settled on The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America. Mind you, there
is a great deal in The Inconvenient Indian that is history. I’m just not the historian you had in mind. While it might not show immediately, I have a great deal of respect for the discipline of history. I studied history as part of my doctoral work in English and American Studies at the University of Utah. I even worked at the American West Center on that campus when Floyd O’Neil and S. Lyman Tyler ran the show, and, over the years, I’ve met and talked with other historians such as Brian Dippie, Richard White, Patricia Limerick, Jean O’Brien, Vine Deloria, Jr., Francis Paul Prucha, David Edmunds, Olive Dickason, Jace Weaver, Donald Smith, Alvin Josephy, Ken Coates, and Arrel Morgan Gibson, and we’ve had some very stimulating conversations about . . . history. And in consideration of those conversations and the respect that I have for history, I’ve salted my narrative with those things we call facts, even though we should know by now that facts will not save us.

Truth be known, I prefer fiction. I dislike the way facts try to thrust themselves upon me. I’d rather make up my own world. Fictions are less unruly than histories. The beginnings are more engaging, the characters more co-operative, the endings more in line with expectations of morality and justice. This is not to imply that fiction is exciting and that history is boring. Historical narratives can be as enchanting as a Stephen Leacock satire or as terrifying as a Stephen King thriller.

Still, for me at least, writing a novel is buttering warm toast, while writing a history is herding porcupines with your elbows.

As a result, although The Inconvenient Indian is fraught with history, the underlying narrative is a series of conversations and arguments that I’ve been having with myself and others for most of my adult life, and if there is any methodology in my approach to the subject, it draws more on storytelling techniques than historiography. A good historian would have tried to keep biases under control. A good historian would have tried to keep personal anecdotes
in check. A good historian would have provided footnotes.

I have not.

And, while I’m making excuses, I suppose I should also apologize if my views cause anyone undue distress. But I hope we can agree that any discussion of Indians in North America is likely to conjure up a certain amount of rage. And sorrow. Along with moments of irony and humour.

When I was a kid, Indians were Indians. Sometimes Indians were Mohawks or Cherokees or Crees or Blackfoot or Tlingits or Seminoles. But mostly they were Indians. Columbus gets blamed for the term, but he wasn’t being malicious. He was looking for India and thought he had found it. He was mistaken, of course, and as time went on, various folks and institutions tried to make the matter right. Indians became Amerindians and Aboriginals and Indigenous People and American Indians. Lately, Indians have become First Nations in Canada and Native Americans in the United States, but the fact of the matter is that there has never
been a good collective noun because there never was a collective to begin with.

I’m not going to try to argue for a single word. I don’t see that one term is much better or worse than another. “First Nations” is the current term of choice in Canada, while “Native Americans” is the fashionable preference in the United States. I’m fond of both of these terms, but, for all its faults and problems—especially in Canada—“Indian,” as a general designation, remains for me, at least, the North American default.

Since I’m on the subject of terminology and names, I should mention the Métis. The Métis are one of Canada’s three official Aboriginal groups, Indians (First Nations) and the Inuit being the other two. The Métis are mixed-bloods, Indian and English, Indian and French, for the most part. They don’t have Status under the Indian Act, but they do have designated settlements and homelands in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. Many of these communities maintain a separate culture from their White and First Nations neighbours, as well as a separate language—Michif—which features components of French and Aboriginal languages.

Terminology is always a rascal. I’ve tried to use “reservations” for Native communities in the United States and “reserves” for Native communities in Canada, and “tribes” for Native groups in the United States and “bands” for Native groups in Canada. But in a number of instances, when I’m talking about both sides of the border, I might use “reservation” or “reserve” and “band” or “tribe” or “Nation,” depending on rhythm and syntax. I actually prefer “Nation” or a specific band or tribal name, and I try to use this whenever possible.

And Whites. Well, I struggled with this one. A Japanese friend of mine likes to call Anglos “crazy Caucasoids,” while another friend told me that if I was going to use the term “Indians” I should call everyone else “cowboys.” Both of these possibilities are fun, but there are limits to satire. Besides, “Whites” is a perfectly serviceable term. Native people have been using it for years, sometimes as a description and sometimes as something else. Let’s agree that within the confines of this book the term is neutral and refers to a general group of people as diverse and indefinable as “Indians.”

There is an error in the text of the book that I have not corrected. “The Bureau of Indian Affairs” is the correct designation for the U.S. agency that is charged with looking after matters pertaining to Indians in that country, but for Canada, I have continued to use the “Department of Indian Affairs” even though the ministry is now called “Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.” I simply like the older name and find it less disingenuous.

In the end, I’m not so much concerned with designing a strict vocabulary as I am with crafting a coherent and readable narrative.

One of the difficulties with trying to contain any account of Indians in North America in a volume as modest as this is that it can’t be done. Perhaps I should have called the book The  Inconvenient Indian: An Incomplete Account of Indians in North America. For whatever
I’ve included in this book, I’ve left a great deal more out. I don’t talk about European explorers and their early relationships with  Native people. I haven’t written much about the Métis in Canada and, with the exception of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, I don’t deal with the Inuit at all. I touch on early settlement and conflicts, but only in passing. I spend a great deal of time on Native people and film, because film, in all its forms, has been the only
place where most North Americans have seen Indians. I talk about some of the resistance organizations and the moments that marked them, but I don’t spend any time on Anna Mae Aquash’s murder or on the travesty of Leonard Peltier’s trial and imprisonment.

Nor do I talk about Native women such as Brenda Wolfe, Georgina Papin, and Mona Wilson, women whom Robert “Willie” Pickton murdered at his pig farm in British Columbia, or the Native women who have gone missing in Vancouver and along the highway between Prince Rupert and Prince George. Nor do I bring up the murder of Ditidaht First Nation carver
John T. Williams, who, in 2010, was gunned down in Seattle by a trigger-happy cop.

While I spend time in the distant and the immediate past, I’ve also pushed the narrative into the present in order to consider contemporary people and events. This probably isn’t the best idea. The present tends to be too fresh and fluid to hold with any surety. Still, as I argue in the book, when we look at Native–non-Native relations, there is no great difference between the past and the present. While we have dispensed with guns and bugles, and while North America’s sense of its own superiority is better hidden, its disdain muted, twenty-first-century attitudes towards Native people are remarkably similar to those of the previous centuries. Finally, no doubt, someone will wonder why I decided to take on both Canada and the United States at the same time, when choosing one or the other would have made for a less involved and more focused conversation. The answer to this is somewhat complicated by perspective. While the line that divides the two countries is a political reality, and while the border affects bandsand tribes in a variety of ways, I would have found it impossible
to talk about the one without talking about the other.

For most Aboriginal people, that line doesn’t exist. It’s a figment of someone else’s  imagination. Historical figures such as Chief Joseph and Sitting Bull and Louis Riel moved back and forth between the two countries, and while they understood the importance of that border to Whites, there is nothing to indicate that they believed in its legitimacy.

I get stopped every time I try to cross that border, but stories go wherever they please.

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Why it's on the list ...
Why is it not okay to dress up as a native american person on Halloween? What's so problematic about the way indigenous people are historically portrayed in the media anyway? This book explains why. And it's funny.
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The Black Grizzly of Whiskey Creek
Excerpt

There are trails near the timberline, connecting between the ranges, whose purpose is known to very few, because they are not part of the trail system used by humans. Known as bear roads, they tunnel through the krummholz and slide alder where most people stop, baffled, unwilling to get down on all fours and crawl, unsure of their welcome in that hedged darkness. They are roads of ancestral knowledge, passed on from the mother bear to the cubs, imprinted in the brain to be recalled later, perhaps some years after the cubs have dispersed, maybe long after the siblings have gone their separate ways. Mothers and cubs might meet again on those roads, and recognize each other, and pass each other by without doing harm.

One road, of many such, crosses rock slides where the shale is packed into the interstices between great fallen blocks of limestone by the coming and going of padded feet. Here a hole in the path marks where a boulder the size of a small car was grappled and shoved out of the way, and sent rolling down the mountain like local thunder. This road winds across avalanche chutes, over the flayed trunks of old-growth trees that can be three feet or more in diameter, trees that lived for a century or longer before a winter avalanche finally called them to account, leaving their bones like giant pick-up sticks between the boulders, the trunks now scarred by claw marks. Here and there will be a drift of snow, insulated by a layer of broken shale that fell, piece by piece, from the precipice high above earlier that spring, as meltwater loosened the rocks, so in the heat of summer there are still places where the traveller beast can stretch out and rub its back and cool off in the icy slush for a moment below a boiling of frustrated deer flies. The bear road curls through a mossy gulch now and then, where a brook purls down the mountain to form a pool of icy water in which a bear may stop to bathe its hot, cracked footpads in the mud

while slaking its thirst. And if, later, you came upon the spot by chance, you might think that a huge man had stood barefoot in the mud; you might wonder if the stories about Sasquatch are true, and then you might note how the mud is punctured at the end of each toe pad. And this fact will make you stand up quickly; it will make you turn around, and listen, and listen.

In the old-growth forest, where the deep layers of duff and moss sometimes serve as the flimsy roof over a rock crevice, a place to be sniffed at and passed by carefully, or else out on the flatter lie of a bog, the road is marked by tracks a foot deep and a foot or more long. These tracks were made over the centuries by the padded humanoid feet of bears that journey between mountain ranges; each has put its front foot and then the corresponding rear foot down in the same print the first of its tribe made here centuries before. It may seem as if this were a trail made by human footsteps, but you will look in vain for any other sign of their habitation or resort. There are no axe blazes, no fire circles or rusty tin cans. The road may be grown in with fresh green moss as if it had been unused for years, but it has not been forgotten, and won’t be as long as bears are allowed to live.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Why it's on the list ...
Bears! This is as much about pioneering conservation efforts developed in Alberta over the last 30 years as it is a gripping adventure story.
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Children of the Broken Treaty

Children of the Broken Treaty

Canada's Lost Promise and One Girl's Dream (New Edition)
edition:eBook

In this new edition of Charlie Angus's award-winning and bestselling book, he brings us up-to-date on the unrelenting epidemic of youth suicides in Indigenous communities, the Thunder Bay inquiry into the shocking deaths of young people there, the powerful impact of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's final report, and how the Trudeau government's commitment to Indigenous communities continues to be stymied by decades-old policy roadblocks.

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Race Against Time

Race Against Time

Searching for Hope in AIDS-Ravaged Africa
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback

"I have spent the last four years watching people die." With these wrenching words, diplomat and humanitarian Stephen Lewis opens his 2005 CBC Massey Lectures. Lewis's determination to bear witness to the desperate plight of so many in Africa and elsewhere is balanced by his unique, personal, and often searing insider's perspective on our ongoing failure to help.

Lewis recounts how, in 2000, the United Nations Millennium Summit in New York introduced eight Millennium Development Goals, which focu …

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Excerpt

A UN meeting was planned for May 31 to June 2, 2006, to review the progress that had been made since a Declaration of Commitment on hiv/aids had been endorsed by the international community some five years earlier. I had occasion to be speaking again with Mark in early February, when he suddenly said that he had a delicate/awkward matter to raise with me. Apparently there was a possibility that President Bush would attend the UN meeting scheduled for the end of May, and the UN desperately wanted him to be there.

I had been told (I can surmise by whom, but it was never revealed) that if I were to attack the United States before that date, the president probably wouldn't come.

You must understand that though I take myself overly seriously from time to time, it was a bit much to think that my words could deter the President of the UNited States. Nonetheless, Mark said to me (I think I'm capturing it with authentic accuracy), "Stephen, I must ask you, no, I must plead with you, no, I must instruct you that you are not to attack U.S. policy before the meeting in May. I don't care what you do after that, but beforehand, you must refrain from criticism."

I could scarce credit what I was hearing. I laughed again, and told Mark that it seemed to me that things were verging on the absurd. On the other hand, I also assured him that I had no immediate plans to go on the attack, and if I did, I'd let him know in advance and resign with appropriate dignity.

I relate these surreal circumstances because they speak to an UNlovely pattern of Pavlovian obeisance to the UNited States. Apparently, criticism is permitted of the G8, Tony Blair's Commission on Africa, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, the Government of South Africa, the Government of Zimbabwe, the King of Swaziland, and the United Nations itself -- all of whom this book excoriates from time to time -- but almost never the sacrosanct "integrity" of the United States of America.

But that's only one small part of my postscript to these lectures. There's much more, and of a far more telling nature.

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