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Russell, Andy

Toronto, McClelland and Stewart (A Douglas Gibson Book), 1987. 179pp. cloth. $22.95. ISBN 0-7710-7878-1. CIP

Grades 9 and up
Reviewed by Mary Fallis

Volume 16 Number 4
1988 July

Andy Russell is well known for books such as Grizzly Country (Nick Lyons Books, 1986). The Rockies (Hurtig, 1975), Memoirs of a Mountain Man (Macmillan, 1984)--big glossy books with impressive photography and wonderful yams about the natural world. This is a different kind of book with 181 pages in a slim hard-cover format. Visual images are provided only by well-chosen words of the writer addressed to a responsive reader.

There is tremendous scope to the early part of the book, in which he describes the lives of the earliest people along the Oldman, the land and people of the great ice ages, and the people who came after the ice had receded. For a time the valley of the Oldman was a refugium for species driven from their habitat by the advancing ice. He writes with deep respect for all of these and shows that the early human inhabitants had cultures that devolved from "a full understanding of the world in which they lived'' and that at each period in history the native people had a spiritual relationship with the river. Their culture, especially that of the Blackfoot, was in its golden age at the beginning of the eighteenth century.

Change came quickly as the aboriginal people came in contact with white traders from the Nor’West Company and the Hudson's Bay Company, American Indians, American traders, the railway, cowboys and ranchers. The native people found themselves rudely pushed aside into small reserves.

There came a rumour that the Oldman River was to be dammed, a rumour soon translated into fact. Deeply concerned, Russell and others found themselves up against a "get-rich-quick mentality where values of productive land, clean air and pure water were of no importance." Is it possible to "develop and adopt holistic engineering techniques" that will take these values into consideration!!

This important book is highly recommended for school, college and adult libraries across Canada. As I write, the Piegan Indians are making a stand against the government of the province of Alberta, which is proceeding to work on the Oldman River dam site.

Mary Fallis, Prince George, B.C.
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