Sunday, January 25, 2015

Gruending On John A. & Clearing The Plains

Since James Daschuk's Clearing The Plains came out last year Canadian's have been forced to reassess  John A. MacDonald's place in the pantheon of Canadian heros.  Among a fair bit of back-and-forth on the subject, Dennis Gruending's short piece stands out.  My favorite bit from it:

In Macdonald’s case, his attitude about the inferiority of indigenous people was commonplace at the time, but the scope of his actions presents a problem for his defenders. Did he use starvation and near starvation as a weapon against indigenous people in Western Canada whose communities had been decimated by loss of the bison? Daschuk says he did and that the deliberate withholding of food to hungry people led to hundreds of deaths by starvation, and also created the conditions for a tuberculosis epidemic in indigenous communities.

I have heard no worthy refutation of Daschuk’s claim.  In fact, he has been awarded the Sir John A. Macdonald Prize for a Canadian book of history judged to have made the most significant contribution to an understanding of our past.  This is highly ironic but it also means that Daschuk has written a good book.

Incidentally, on the whole notion of  presentism; all we have to do to refute that charge in this case is to find a few folk back in John A.'s day who might have voiced moral objections to his policy.  And indeed we do find them, among the Canadian People themselves.  Apparently, MacDonald stopped just short of starving the native population to death due to worries this might cause a scandal in Eastern Canada.  From this we can conclude that at least some people back in the 1880s had qualms about refusing to provide readily available food to whole populations.  If they were allowed their doubts about John A.'s policy, so too can we be.

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