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Lithman, Yngve Georg.

Winnipeg, University of Manitoba Press, c1984. 186pp, paper, ISBN 0-88755-1 19-X (cloth) $20.00, 0-88755-604-3 (paper) $6.95. CIP

Grades 9 and up
Reviewed by David Chadwick

Volume 13 Number 1
1985 January

Yngve Lithman, an anthropologist from Sweden, spent three years living and working on an unnamed reserve in Manitoba. While there, he gained the trust and confidence of community leaders and acted as special adviser to the chief and council and interim director of the local education authority for over a year. Unlike most fieldworkers, Lithman had the time to explore many facets of the community, going beyond the usual sensationalist cliches about poverty and social conditions that characterize most reports and journalistic pieces.

Lithman states: "The vast amount of scholarly material has had a very minute effect as far as social change is concerned." This is undeniably true, but such books do promote understanding and rational approaches to problems. If Indian reserves are social and economic disasters as they are portrayed, why are they not being de-populated as the residents flee to the gold brick roads of urban centres? Most residents of reserves have different perceptions, for reserves are increasing in population, not fading away as they were expected to over a hundred years ago. As Lithman points out, many Indians currently residing in cities still consider themselves residents of their original reserve and expect to go back at some point.

Lithman has discovered that this particular reserve (and many others) were at one time relatively prosperous. The 1922 Manitoba Sessional Papers stated: "It should be known that the Indians are as a class self-supporting. The proportion of the native population which is indigent and in need of assistance is scarcely so numerous as the corresponding class among the white population." The same papers in 1920 stated the Indians were working as farm labourers, at road work, in mines, for railways, and as clerks. A few years later, when part of the reserve was sold and made into a paper mill company town, several hundred Indians were employed in the mill and bush operations.

Sadly, after the Depression, employment of Indians never regained these levels, and today fewer than sixty work for the paper mill. It is only in the last twenty-five years that Indian Affairs has had large budgets and great influence. The failure of Indian Affairs has been ably chronicled elsewhere, most notably by the parliamentary committee last year. Lithman ably demonstrates how reserves operate and how, paradoxically, the lack of positive white-native interaction is leading to the growth of "red consciousness."

One would like to think that, in the ten years since Lithman did his fieldwork, the situation would have improved. Certainly there have been great strides in terms of the number of Indian university students, teachers and administrators. The reserve he studied however, only last fall, closed its schools over the shocking conditions of the buildings and lack of funding, almost an exact repetition of the 1973 situation that he describes in the book.

Recommended for high schools and anyone interested in native studies in Canada.

David Chadwick, Winnipeg, Man.
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