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Book Review: History, Reckoning and Ecological Hope.

Book Review: History, Reckoning and Ecological Hope.
Book Review: History, Reckoning and Ecological Hope.

A reliable story about what has been driven from the land.

‘Towards a prairie reconciliation’

by Trevor Herriot

Published by University of Regina Press

$22.95 ISBN 9780889779648

Award-winning writer, prairie naturalist and birdwatcher extraordinaire – Trevor Herriot of Regina needs little introduction. River in a Dry Land: bestseller. CBC Radio: regular. I just devoured Herriot’s Towards a Prairie Atonement – an eloquent treatise on the interconnected injustices that colonialism and profit-at-all-costs have inflicted on the prairie Métis and all living things that depend on the grasslands of Aspen Parkland. Although compact, this three-part essay provides a tremendous amount of history, calls for a reckoning, and provides a few small feathers of ecological hope. Herriot says he “set (his) heart on telling a story that (would) inspire people to take another look at what we have all lost, and could still recover, in our focus on more refined and nuanced forms of land management”.

The cleverly woven text begins with a map of the Saskatchewan and Manitoba rivers and the historical sites discussed, and a building timeline that stretches from the 1600s to 2012. These centuries saw the beginnings of the Canadian fur trade; the collapse of the North West and Hudson’s Bay Companies; the demise of buffalo; a plethora of government decisions that had major consequences for the Métis; the fate of Louis Riel; the establishment (and resulting brutal displacement) of a 250-strong Métis settlement around the Ste. Madeleine mission north of Fort Ellice; the establishment of community pastures in Saskatchewan and Manitoba through the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Act (the Canadian government’s answer to the Dirty Thirties); and Stephen Harper’s reckless gutting of the PFRA, which was created in 1935 to “protect and program vulnerable grassland ecosystems.”

In each of Herriot’s books, it is not just what he says (and given his passion, intelligence and concern, he has much to say) that is appealing, but how he says it. Birds are never far away, and here we find the “warm and sacred” eggs of the longspur in his first paragraph, where he walks, as he has done for two decades, “up the scattered archipelago of native prairie islands, surrounded by a sea of ​​cash crops”.

His human companions in this story include fellow grassland researcher and photographer Branimir Gjetvaj and Michif Elder Norman Fleury; Fleury provided the book’s “Afterword.” Together, they walk and talk in the meadow of the Spy Hill-Ellice community, among rare birds, “little mandalas of flowering antennae,” and the Ste. Madeleine headstones. Years before, the Métis in this place “spoke the language, sang the songs, and told the stories that their fur-trading ancestors first told to the prairie world.” Even now, Métis families (“new people who were neither this nor that,” Fleury says) gather at the meadow’s “well-tended” campsite for a summer party, and indeed, the meaning of community and “how the prairie could bring us together” are part of what Herriot advocates. The Michif are persistent.

Colonialism, Herriot claims, is “a completely unreliable narrator” and reconciliation begins with “recognizing and honoring what was and is indigenous” but “has been driven from the land – native plants and animals, but also the original peoples, cultures and languages.” I maintain that Herriot is a completely reliable narrator, and I will never tire of his compelling themes.

This book is available at your local bookstore or at www.skbooks.com.