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Reviewed by:
  • Skyscrapers Hide the Heavens: A History of Native–Newcomer Relations in Canadaby J.R. Miller
  • Keith Battarbee
J.R. Miller, Skyscrapers Hide the Heavens: A History of Native–Newcomer Relations in Canada, 4thed. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2018), 456 pp. Cased. $110. ISBN 978-1-4875-0205-8. Paper. $49.95. ISBN 978-1-4875-2175-2.

Books do not reach a fourth edition unless they have found approval within their target readerships. Miller's Skyscrapers Hide the Heavensfirst came out in 1989 and was revised in 1991, with a third edition in 2000 and now a fourth edition in 2018. The original version was the first overall survey of Aboriginal–newcomer history in Canada, and consistently highlighted the Aboriginal perspective. In the intervening three decades, the history has continued to evolve, driven by ongoing collective Indigenous mobilisation, by economic opportunities and priorities, and not least by changes in federal, provincial and territorial government.

Unavoidably, in a one-volume survey of five centuries, Miller often paints with a broad brush, but his narrative is firmly grounded in an encyclopedic familiarity with the many different events, locations, groupings, and individuals, and a recognition of both persisting continuities and crucial shifts. His overarching narrative is built around the various actors' dominant motivations, both in initial encounter and in subsequent evolving interaction. Again and again, he finds that early relations were characterised by mutuality: both the Natives and the Euro-Canadian newcomers had most to gain through collaboration, each retaining their own autonomy. This was equally true for trading relationships–above all, in the fur trade– and for military strategy; and it held good for far longer than white historiography has tended to see. Crucially, each side had resources which the other side desired, from goods to skill sets. In the fur trade, the Natives had access to the key product both locally and through their extensive trading networks; the Europeans had industrial products, and a profitable trans-oceanic market. Miller also emphasises how different First Nations competed with each other just as different European traders did.

Once Europeans began to compete with the Indigenous peoples for the same resources, however, this mutuality collapsed. The crucial resource was the land itself, as agricultural settlers arrived in increasing numbers. Moreover, once competitive warfare between the European empires–including the United States–had been set aside, military alliances with First Nations lost their relevance. Thenceforward, the newcomers saw the Indigenous peoples as obstacles to be eliminated, and the Crown shared that assumption.

The past half-century, however, has drastically challenged this mindset. Miller focuses most on the impact of Indigenous mobilisation, and the role of the courts; he perhaps underestimates the impact of the great values shift of the human rights revolution.

My niggles are very minor. The North got its own chapter in the 2000 edition, but is relatively marginal to his main narrative, and there is very little on developments in the North since then. He also uses an outdated spelling for Inuktitut terms (e.g. kabloonafor qallunaaq). For most students of Aboriginal–newcomer relations, these are very minor points, and for any student of Native–newcomer relations, this updated book is an invaluable resource. [End Page 124]

Keith Battarbee