Donald Ward,
The People: A Historical Guide to the First Nations of Alberta, Saskatchewan & Manitoba
(Fifth House, 1995)

The People: A Historical Guide to the First Nations of Alberta, Saskatchewan & Manitoba can well challenge any book on the market for the most amount of information packed into a mere 118 pages. This book is like getting an entire college semester of the history of the First Nations of the three prairie provinces of Canada.

The introduction brings us through the history of the region from 25,000 years ago to the present by hitting the major points and the catalysts of change. There is a chapter for each major group: Assiniboine, Blackfoot (Siksikah, Blood, Peigan, Sarcee, Gros Ventre), Cree (Plains, Woodland), Saulteaux, Dakota, Iroquois, Kootenay, Crow, Shoshoni, Chipewyan, Beaver, Slavey and Sekani.

Each chapter provides the basics about the culture, their language, primary foods, the type of housing they used, their major ceremonies, coming-of-age, marriage, funerals, gender differences, societies within the group, how their chiefs were chosen, how they kept law and order, the incidents that promoted changes within their society and population figures. The author discusses their origin and beliefs, whether they were stationary or migratory, how they hunted, how they interacted with their neighbors and any significant encounters.

Lastly, he provides an overview of their interactions with the Europeans from first contact through treaties and settlement on reservations. His generous quotes from both natives and non-natives give an insight into their situation and make the reading more personal.

The photographs are outstanding and there are lots of them. The cover says there are more than 50. They include individuals that stood out in the history of the group, their daily activities, and the world around them. That world includes a mountainous pile of buffalo bones alongside a railroad track for quite a long distance.

Ward has an energetic, enthusiastic writing style that is rather infectious. He creates an excitement in you as you read and keeps you turning the pages. I loved everything about this book, including the cover art, except the way it goes by so quickly. You get caught up in the action and drama and do not realize how much time has passed and it seems like you were only reading for a few minutes. Of course, that is the downside of every great book.

Donald Ward is a journalist and editor residing in Saskatoon. He has edited more than a dozen books and has published poetry, short stories, essays and nonfiction.

The People is an excellent introduction to the native peoples of the subarctic and plains regions of Canada. You definitely get value for your money with this money.

book review by
Alicia Karen Elkins

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