Kipawa: Portrait of a People
J.S. Frideres is Associate Dean (Research) of the Faculty of Social
Sciences at the University of Calgary and co-author of Prairie
The author was born, raised, and later spent varying amounts of discontinuous time in the area under discussion — northeastern Ontario. However, he also lived in the “dominant society” for considerable periods of time, which allows him to bring a dual perspective when addressing the issues that Native peoples have in the area. Nevertheless, his overall perspective is “Native” in that he is not only providing an historical account of the area but is also acting as an advocate for Native rights. For those who remember, the author has been very active in various Native organizations — e.g., Native Council of Canada, Laurentian Alliance of Metis and Non-Status Indians.
The central thesis of the book is that through the process of colonialization, Native people have been conquered and dispossessed. He sees this process as continuing and he feels that, unless Native people act against this force, they will be driven to extinction — both biologically and culturally. In illustrating his thesis, one area in Ontario, namely Kipawa, has been selected to carry out an ethno-historical study. Some of the information presented in the book is a straightforward analysis of historical material (e.g., Indian agent reports, government documents). However, most of the data presented are based on oral accounts of elders in the area. While the historical material section is very weak, those readers interested in oral history will find the material rich in content and heuristic.
The book is divided into 15 short chapters dealing with diverse subject matter: e.g., spiritual beliefs, land use and ownership, foreign diseases.
What ties the book together is the chronological context of the material. This allows the reader to “experience” the massive changes that have taken place in the area over the past 100 years. To achieve this, the author begins by providing the reader with a geographical setting of the study area, then traces the historical development of the area. For example, we are shown how the area was inundated by foreign hunters and then loggers, as well as the impact they had on the local Native population both individually and culturally.
Each time a new development entered the area, non-Natives were soon to follow the industry, with negative social impacts impinging upon the Native way of life. All of this has culminated in the problems facing the Nishabi people in the area today. Specifically, since few of them have ever obtained title to their land, they are now being asked to purchase parcels of land and make payment to a specific company which “owns” the land. This has stirred them into action and they are arguing that under the Royal Proclamation of 1763, their land has been protected and they, the Nishabi, own the land they now occupy. As of today, the case remains unresolved.
The author has tried to write a history from a Native point of view. He has been successful in carrying this out. Unfortunately, the material has not been carefully pieced together and the result is that the contents of the book are disjointed. The unifying theme of chronological description does give some sense of continuity to the material, but the author’s continual interjection of distracting and superfluous issues makes it difficult to tie the material together.
The book is a good first effort by a Native writer trying to involve himself in ethno-history. The material needs considerably more work, both scholarly and editorial, before it could be considered required reading. Nevertheless, the work does contribute to a burgeoning literature on local histories.
It also provides some basis for others wanting to begin their own historical analysis of a local area.