Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life


From the Author's Introduction, Page XIX, XXII:

"The annexation of the northwest by the Dominion of Canada in 1870 changed the political, economic, and medical history of the region forever. Although acute contagious disease continued to strike the indigenous population, an epidemic transition took place within a decade of the transfer. Widespread vaccination measures diminished the threat of smallpox, but almost immediately a new pathogen emerged to take its place as the primary cause of sickness and death— tuberculosis. Appearing in tandem with a region-wide famine, tuberculosis exploded and cut down the indigenous population. An epidemic unlike anything the region had ever seen, it swept through the entire newly imposed reserve system. In contrast to smallpox and other infections that had swept through the region like wildfire, to a significant degree the TB outbreak was defined by human rather than simply biological parameters. The most significant factor under human control was the failure of the Canadian government to meet its treaty obligations and its decision to use food as a means to control the Indian population to meet its development agenda rather than as a response to a humanitarian crisis." (xix) 

"By the 1890s, tuberculosis was increasingly seen as a hereditary disease by government officials. Because the problem was perceived to result from the indigenous way of life, officials and the Canadian public could downplay sickness and mortality levels on reserves because, to a significant degree, they viewed the suffering as nature taking its course. Establishment of the residential school system, now widely recognized as a national disgrace, ensconced TB infection, malnutrition, and abuse in an institutional setting that endured for most of the twentieth century. Now, in the twenty-first century, it is for all Canadians to recognize the collective burden imposed on its indigenous population by the state even as it opened the country to our immigrant ancestors to recast the land to suit the needs of the global economy in the late nineteenth century." (xxii)

An Open Source version of Clearing the Plains is publicly accessible on Open Library 


Publication Information

Daschuk, James W. Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life. Regina: University of Regina Press, 2013.

Daschuk, James
Publication Date
Primary Resource
Resource Type