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  • Reflections on Native-Newcomer Relations: Selected Essays
  • Toby Morantz
Reflections on Native-Newcomer Relations: Selected Essays. J.R. Miller. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004. Pp. 304, $27.95

This collection of essays was assembled at the invitation of the Press to foreground developments in the historical literature on Native peoples [End Page 134] over the past thirty years. Their choice of J.R. Miller's writings as the vehicle is appropriate; this author is one of the most prolific writers on Native-newcomer history in Canada. In addition to in-depth studies of a variety of historic events, such as the Northwest Rebellion, residential schools, and treaties, two of his texts were the first to facilitate university level courses. The selection of articles for this volume covers some of these research interests but mainly they feature broader questions and concerns. There are twelve articles, seven of which have been published before and are grouped under five headings. The brief introduction explains the circumstances under which each was written; there is no conclusion or index.

The first article, 'Bringing Native People in from the Margins,' examines why writing on Native peoples issues, in all disciplines, is recent. While Miller finds many advances, he points to the shortcomings that could be rectified using Aboriginal sources and scholars (28), although recognizing many communities' mistrust of social scientists. 'From Riel to the Métis' (1988) similarly shows how and why they have remained invisible in the literature. Importantly, Miller provides proposals for the direction that Metis history could and should take but signals the dangers of censorship, partisanship, and government subsidies of the research. He has not updated this analysis.

His 'Methodology' section includes one article that probes the issues and another that demonstrates the benefits of using visual images, as in residential schools. 'Shifting Notions of Historical Understanding in the 1990s' focuses on, among other contentious concerns, self-censorship and cultural appropriation, which he views as intertwined with the new and shifting trends in interpretive thinking, most recently found in history and later than in the social sciences.

Under the 'Policy' heading, Miller has republished four articles. A well-known one, 'Owen Glendower,' received a "rocky reception" in 1990, as he admits (6), because in it he tried to demonstrate Native agency and was accused of downplaying the suffering of the children in the residential schools. A second, on the 1990 Oka crisis, published in 1991, exemplifies Miller's excellent research and interpretive abilities and in a research field new to him, though Native agency is less apparent here. The third article probably should not have been included; it is a general article on the first fifty years of Canada's rule over the Native peoples. The absence of Miller's usually extensive endnotes points to its more synoptic nature. Readers of this book are likely to have this knowledge. The fourth essay is a more restricted look at the differences in expectations between the federal government and the churches in the operations of the residential schools. [End Page 135]

A section entitled the 'Crown' covers two detailed discussions of why it is so important in the thinking and rhetoric of Native peoples – one covering the symbolism and the other demonstrating why the treaty agents and the western Native peoples invoked the 'Great White Mother.'

The last section, 'Academe,' includes an article on how universities could be better institutions if they incorporated the Iroquoian notions of leadership, presented in an idealized form, and one on changing developments in Native studies programs at the University of Saskatchewan as a result of the emergence of Native issues.

Miller is critical of anthropology's contribution prior to the 1970s, referring to the approach as descriptive and static (15), and is dismissive of the anthropological reports produced outside the 'academy.' However, these studies, produced for the National Museum of Man, the Northern Science Research Group of the Department of Indian Affairs, and universities (for example, Shimpo and Williams, Socio-cultural disintegration among the Fringe Saulteaux, 1965), did enquire into the social conditions and offered suggestions. They were used in university courses, and many of the professors had first-hand experience on reserves. His emphasizing...


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