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Thomson, Colin Argyle.

Calgary, Detselig Enterprises, c1984. 114pp, cloth, $17.95, ISBN 0-92049040-9. CIP

Grades 10 and up
Reviewed by George Hoffman

Volume 13 Number 6
1985 November

Swift Runner was a Cree Indian who lived during the last century in what is now central Alberta. His background seemed not unusual. As a young man he received a solid useful Cree education;he married and had a family of five children; he traded with the Hudson's Bay Company; and, in 1975, he served as a guide for the North West Mounted Police.

But Swift Runner's life ended in tragedy and notoriety. During the winter of 1878-79, a time of starvation and misery for the Cree people, he became possessed by the Windigo psychosis (an aberration characterized by grand delusions and cannibalistic impulses that anthropologists have identified in several Canadian Indian cultures). He murdered his wife and family and cooked and ate their flesh. Eventually he was arrested, brought to trial, and in December, 1879, hanged at Fort Saskatchewan. Stories of the grisly murders and the cannibalism abounded in the press of the time. Colin Thompson, an Alberta writer and educator, tells the story of Swift Runner in this new book.

Thompson not only provides the first detailed account of the Swift Runner case, but also describes the meaning of Windigo and speculates on why Swift Runner was affected by it. He suggests that Swift Runner's Windigo psychosis was brought on by starvation, alcohol, and desperation, all related to the coming of white civilization during this transitional age in western Canada.

Thompson's book is not a biography of Swift Runner, nor an academic history of his times. But it is an interesting account which invites further reading and study.

George Hoffman, Weyburn C.S., Sask.
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