Behind the Man: John Laurie, Ruth Gorman, and the Indian Vote in Canada.


278 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-1-55238-218-9
DDC 971.23'0220922





Edited by Frits Pannekoek
Reviewed by J.R. Miller

J.R. (Jim) Miller is Canada Research Chair of History at the University
of Saskatchewan and the author of Reflections on Native-Newcomer
Relations: Selected Essays and Lethal Legacy: Current Native
Controversies in Canada.


Ruth Gorman, a Calgary lawyer, joined schoolteacher John Laurie for 14 years to assist the work of the Indian Association of Alberta (IAA), the provincial Status Indian organization. Out of admiration for Laurie, who died in 1959, Gorman drafted a biography of her mentor, including in it a good deal of information about her own contributions both during Laurie’s life and for a few years afterward. Despairing of bringing her literary effort to a successful conclusion, Gorman recruited Dr. Frits Pannekoek to complete the study. Pannekoek supplied a lengthy introduction and oversaw efforts to have Behind the Man published, though unfortunately, the book did not make it to print before the primary author’s death in 2002.


Given the political importance of the IAA and Laurie’s instrumental role in making the organization a success, the biography-memoir is a welcome addition to the literature explaining the emergence of a vibrant First Nations political movement since the Second World War. The volume provides a great deal of information on many of the principal battles in which the IAA was engaged, as well as a revealing analysis of Laurie’s remarkable dedication. Issues such as obtaining the vote in federal elections—ironically, a cause about which Laurie was not as enthusiastic as she—are covered in detail.


Where Behind the Man falls short is in its depiction of federal Indian policy, especially the legislative and administrative measures dealing with enfranchisement. To Gorman, the all-important aspect was the administrative rule that, if a status Indian voted in an election, the Indian Affairs bureaucracy could use that as a pretext to strip the voter of status. In other words, the danger was that exercising one’s franchise might result in enfranchisement, or loss of Indian status. Unfortunately, Gorman portrays this danger as being enshrined in statute, and misleadingly talks about changing the Indian Act to put an end to it.


Behind the Man is a useful addition to our knowledge of First Nations political action, but it needs to be read cautiously, especially by students just beginning to probe the Byzantine mysteries of Canadian Indian policies.


Gorman, Ruth., “Behind the Man: John Laurie, Ruth Gorman, and the Indian Vote in Canada.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 30, 2024,