- From Treaty Peoples to Treaty Nation: A Road Map for All Canadians by Greg Poelzer, Ken S. Coates
To understand the Great Plains as a region from the ground up, one should start, arguably, with the environment: the soil, the plants and animals, mountains and rivers, geographies and climates—the things that define it as a place. Beyond that, a firm understanding of its indigenous peoples should rank next. Unfortunately, this is one of the most routinely overlooked, underresearched, and misunderstood aspects of Great Plains history, experience, and contemporary living. This is true both north and south of the United States–Canadian border. For the Canadian Great Plains, issues of aboriginal homelands, pre-and postcontact migrations, involvement in European economic enterprise such as the fur trade, and reactions to Euro-Canadian expansion, war-and treaty-making, and continued presence in the region are all deeply woven into the historical contexts that explain modern-day realities. The Canadian Prairie Provinces cannot be divorced from their aboriginal roots. Indeed, this goes for the whole of Canada. In this light, the contemporary state of affairs in Canada grapples with the histories of European–First Nations interactions, and persisting problems within the same. According to Greg Poelzer and Ken S. Coates, Canada is made of treaty peoples (both aboriginal and nonab-original) and should be a treaty nation. It is, however, struggling to be such.
Surveying history and present, Poelzer and Coates attempt to explain the countless reasons for failures of Canada’s people to live up to its treaty-bound relationships. Their coverage is impressively broad and complex. This is not casual reading and not for the faint of heart. It asks Canadians of all background to rise above hundreds of years of intense betrayal, insult, violence, and disagreement in order to chart a path forward together. They offer three keys for reform: providing honor and status for aboriginal peoples in state and society; empowering aboriginal peoples in government; and expanding economic opportunity to give aboriginal peoples equal footing with other Canadians (xx). Divided into four parts, their text offers aboriginal and nonab-original perspectives on historical problems, current affairs, and possible futures, stories of success, and various policy ideas and regimes that could provide the framework [End Page 141] for further fruitful development. A fair amount of diversity is represented, in terms of geography and the wide difference in aboriginal experiences and current issues. One lacking perspective relevant to the Great Plains is the unique status of Métis peoples. A robust dialog with new scholarship by the likes of Chris Andersen (University of Alberta) or Adam Gaudry (University of Saskatchewan) would certainly enrich the debates raised by Poelzer and Coates.
In the end, that is the greatest value of this volume. It seeks to force productive debate, not fruitless finger-pointing and rancor. Whether or not it succeeds in doing so for Canada remains to be seen. Whether the United States, including the many indigenous peoples in the Great Plains, takes notice and begins more meaningful discussions of Americans as “Treaty Peoples” and a “Treaty Nation” likewise remains unclear. As a region with strong indigenous history and presence, these are debates worth having—on both sides of the border.
Brigham Young University