Manitoba History: Review: Ian Getty and Donald B. Smith (editors), One Century Later, Western Canadian Reserve Indians Since Treaty 7

by John Milloy
Department of History, University of Winnipeg

Manitoba History, Number 2, 1981

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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In One Century Later Ian Getty and Donald Smith have gathered together a selection of papers given at the Western Canadian Studies Conference (1977) marking the 100th anniversary of the signing of Treaty 7. Except for the rather curious inclusion of E. Palmer Patterson’s article on the career of Andrew Paull, all the articles are tied to the Treaty 7 area or to the Plains region in general. There, however the unity of the collection must and does cease, for if one point is clearly established, it is the diversity of work being conducted in the broad field of Indian studies—in history, politics, education, art and so forth. For scholars involved in this field, the book is an encouraging indicator of the rapid growth of this new discipline.

Source: Archives of Manitoba

Unfortunately, the quality of the articles varies as widely as the subjects. Most are genuinely illuminating while others are seriously flawed.

Among those in the first category deserving special notice are the contributions of G. F. G. Stanley and S. Cuthand. Stanley’s history of the Sioux in Canada is a precise and thoughtful survey. It will surely by an excellent classroom tool, for though focusing on the Sioux, it demonstrates the universality of native experience after contact with the European—replete with dispossession, injustice, relegation to the backwaters of society and poverty, with its attendant social and psychological afflictions.

Stan Cuthand’s work fills a gap in the story of western Indian politics. His exploration of the dark ages of Plains history, the first half of the 20th century, discloses, through the career of such activists and organizers as Edward Ahenakew and Chief John Taylor, the resolute native struggle to be masters of their destiny—a struggle that neither ended with the disaster of 1885 nor began anew out of thin air with modern politicians such as Cardinal.

The disappointments in the collection, and there are only two, are the articles of Hugh Dempsey and Arthur Ray. In “Fur Trade History as an Aspect of Native History” Ray wishes to assist in setting aside the distorted image of the Indian and to contribute to a fuller, more positive one. His failure to achieve the latter goal is wholly of his own making. He cannot see the Indian as he does the white man, as part of a self-conscious community pursuing group self-interest which is often perceived in terms of profit with clear social and political utility, but only as a consumer a clever and demanding consumer no doubt, but nothing else. Ray’s strict concentration on the Indian’s role in fur company pricing policy, which in previous studies enabled him to add new dimension to the work of the fur trade history giants, Rich and Innis, leads him into this narrow view. Furthermore, his unsupported assumptions on the nature of native society, that there were social sanctions against wealth accumulation and that wealth was not a status tool (surely the core of Plains society). keep him a prisoner of this more complimentary yet still fragmentary image.

Hugh Dempsey’s “One Hundred Years of Treaty Seven” is an adequate summary of the Confederacy’s history. It is thin fare, however, as it lacks real analytic content. For example, does not the whole question of tribal comprehension of the treaty deserve more attention than is paid by the opinion that the Indians “had no concept of land ownership in the legal sense” and a quote from a single missionary?

Despite these reservations, the collection as a whole is a welcome addition to the growing bibliography in this field. The editors are to be congratulated and so too is the UBC Press, both for this book and for its native studies publishing program.

Page revised: 23 April 2010