The Indigenous History Book Prize
James Daschuck, Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life. Regina: University of Regina, 2013.
Sharply focused on the nineteenth century treaty-making era, Daschuk’s book analyzes the devastating history of disease and famine endured by First Nations on the northwestern Plains. He demystifies the “naturalization of suffering” narrative long upheld by the colonial state. Clearing the Plains instead traces Canadian activities within accelerating global capitalism and environmental exploitation. This important book goes beyond standard postcolonial criticism to illustrate intentional brutalities while also highlighting diverse Aboriginal survival strategies. The work offers documentation of changing ecologies and economic decisions firmly situated within colonial political geographies. Given current concerns regarding Aboriginal health and food sovereignty, Daschuk’s interpretation is especially timely and relevant.
Robin and Jillian Ridington, in collaboration with Elders of Dane-Zaa First Nations, Where Happiness Dwells: A History of the Dane-zaa First Nations. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2013.
Where Happiness Dwells was initiated by Dane-zaa First Nations with the intention to document their “cultural memory.” At its centre are Dane-zaa notions of knowledge, power, and history presented through the rich archive of oral history research conducted by Robin and Jillian Ridington from 1965 to the present. This work is grounded in foundational narratives of the Dane-zaa, in their land-based knowledge and their oral performance conventions. Collaborators present oral traditions that challenge Euro-Canadian temporalities and notions of truth. Because of the tremendous time depth portrayed, when Europeans enter the stage we see them from the Dane-zaa point of view. Their analysis of archival and archaeological renditions of the past illuminates the comparative epistemological project at the heart of this book.