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Reviewed by:
  • A Concise History of Canada's First Nations
  • John W. Friesen
A Concise History of Canada's First Nations. Olive Patricia Dickason with William Newbigging. 2nd ed. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2010. Pp. 420, $59.95

It is always interesting to examine the second edition of a work to see it has been revised and/or updated. This is indeed the case with this work by Olive Dickason (the primary author). William Newbigging, a new writing partner, replaces Moira Jean Calder, who in 2006 adapted the text of this work from the fourth edition of Dickason's watershed Canada's First Nations. The second edition retains a non-academic writing stance, again with the hope that the book will gain a wider reading audience. Certainly Dickason's work deserves to be read by all Canadians.

As to changes in the second edition, first of all, the book sports a new cover featuring a copy of 'Eagle/Salmon' by Yukon artist Vernon Asp. Second, in this edition the acknowledgements section is penned by Newbigging, instead of by Dickason. Third, an added chapter entitled 'We are sorry' appears, addressing contemporary developments such as land claims (for example, Gitskan, Wet'suweten, and Caldonia), the 2007 Residential School Settlement, and Indian activism. The [End Page 355] chapter begins with the federal apology to First Nations on 11 June 2008, then follows a historical timeline from the patriation of the Canadian constitution in 1982, which recognizes and affirms 'existing aboriginal and Treaty rights,' to the election of hereditary Chief Shawn Atleo as national chief of the Assembly of First Nations in July, 2009.

Those not familiar with A Concise History of Canada's First Nations will be pleasantly surprised by the parameters of its content. The eighteen chapters start with 'At the Beginning' (chapter 1), and end with 'The Road to Self-Government' (chapter 17) and 'We are sorry' (chapter 18). In between, the reader learns about such phenomena as 'Some Amerindian-Colonial Wars' (chapter 4), 'The "Indian Problem": Isolation, Assimilation, and Experimentation' (chapter 9), 'The First Numbered Treaties, Police, and the Indian Act' (chapter 11), and 'Canadian Courts and Aboriginal Rights' (chapter 16). The final three chapters on northern development, Aboriginal rights, and self-government provide up-to-date information about these important developments.

It is worth noting that the establishment of Nunavut in 1999 coincided with the centenary of the signing of Treaty Eight and emphasized the development of new strategies by northern First Nations. Their sense of cultural revitalization motivated them to demand full partnership in negotiating land settlements and formulating plans for expanded economic development. Further south, the origin of the warrior movement that highlighted the Oka tragedy underscored the fact that Canada's Indigenous people are a political force to be bargained with. As proof of First Nations persistence, Canadians should take note that it took nearly two hundred years to negotiate and ratify the Nisga'a Treaty. Equally important is the fact that the decision to accept oral history as evidence in court aided in bringing about a conclusion to negotiations.

Dickason documents the reality that First Nations have not fared well in the courts, particularly in the Canadian Criminal Justice System. A hope that the system may be changing was the appointment of Canada's first Aboriginal court on the Tsuu T'ina Reserve in Alberta on 6 October 2000.

The road to attaining self-government for Canada's Aboriginal people has long been fraught with legal technicalities and government equivocation. In the Lubicon case, for example, federal objections to names on band lists have conveniently served as a stalling point through numerous courts hearings, judicial inquiries, and vigorous public relations campaigns. Dickason documents several cases across [End Page 356] Canada that illustrate government reluctance to act on First Nations' behalf. For example, in 1972 Judge Albert Malouf granted the Grand Council of Crees (Quebec) and the Quebec Inuit Association an injunction to stop the James Bay hydroelectric project, only to see it suspended by an appeal a week later. It took three years to see the matter resolved (307). Similarly, action on a bill to introduce recommendations of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples died...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-1093
Print ISSN
0008-3755
Pages
pp. 355-357
Launched on MUSE
2011-06-03
Open Access
No
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