A Review of “Indigenous Writes” by Chelsea Vowel

Chelsea Vowel’s new book “Indigenous Writes” is a must-read for anyone who wants to improve their understanding Indigenous-Settler relations in Canada. Here’s my review of the book at the Montreal Review of Books.


Update Dec 29, 2016  – This review in the Montreal Review of Books was that website’s most read piece of the year!


Two New Research Grants

I am happy to announce that two of my current research projects have received funding and are now well under way. The first is a SSHRC-funded project (with Brian Gettler of U of T and Maxime Gohier of UQAR) to make Indian Affairs documents from 1860 to 1873 searchable and available for the first time, and to thus open up new understandings of Indigenous-Canadian relations at the time of Confederation. The second is a a project titled “Stakeholders: Land Surveyors in the Global Settler Colonial Project” which closely examines the work of land surveyors in settler colonies around the world. This project has been funded by a seed grant from the uOttawa Faculty of Arts.

For are more detailed summary, check out the below text from the (now deleted) news section of the Institute for Canadian and Aboriginal Studies website in French and English.

camp-of-otto-j-klotz-summit-of-rockies-1886-nacCamp of Otto J. Klotz, Summit of Rockies, 1886 (LAC)


Daniel Rück, un professeur de l’IÉAC, obtient des bourses de recherches

Daniel Rück, un professeur de l’Institut des études autochtones et canadiennes, avec Brian Gettler de l’Université de Toronto (le chercheur principal) et Maxime Gohier de l’Université du Québec à Rimouski, a récemment reçu une subvention de développement Savoir par le Conseil de recherches en sciences humaines (CRSH). Le projet, intitulé « Indian Affairs and Confederation, 1860-1876 » vise à stimuler un débat sur l’histoire de la formation de l’État canadien par une réévaluation de la position du ministère des Affaires indiennes au sein de l’état dans une période changements institutionnels et politiques. Pour la première fois, ce projet dégagera une partie critique des documents d’archives du ministère des Affaires indiennes à des fins d’analyse. De 1862 à 1872, le ministère des Affaires indiennes a utilisé un système particulier pour l’organisation de ses archives qui est incompréhensible par la plupart des chercheurs aujourd’hui. Puisque les chercheurs ont été incapables de trouver leur chemin dans cette masse de documents (environ 40 000 pages), aucune analyse sur le rôle du ministère des Affaires indiennes de la Confédération n’a été entreprise jusqu’à présent. Ce projet d’histoire numérique rendra ces documents accessibles pour la première fois, et ouvrira de nouvelles connaissances sur les relations autochtones canadiennes au moment de la Confédération.

Rück a également reçu une subvention de démarrage par la Faculté des Arts de l’université d’Ottawa pour un projet intitulé « Stakeholders: Land Surveyors in the Global Settler Colonial Project ». Ceci est un projet numérique de l’histoire qui vise à approfondir notre compréhension de la création de colonies du peuple européen, dont le Canada, de 1750 à 1950. Le projet examine de près la vie et le travail des arpenteurs-géomètres, transcrivant leurs textes, et la visualisant leur vie et leur travail en utilisant des outils numériques. Comme les soldats et les policiers, les arpenteurs-géomètres étaient parmi les « troupes de choc » pour l’expansion des colonies et des États, et ont été la clé de la transformation radicale des terres autochtones en propriété privée disponible pour (la plupart) des hommes blancs. Les parties prenantes cherchent à créer un site Web qui permettra aux chercheurs du monde entier à télécharger, partager et analyser les données produites par les topographes qui utilisent le SIG (système d’information géographique) et des outils logiciels Omeka. Lui et son équipe de chercheurs sont actuellement dans la première phase de ce projet, comprenant la transcription, le codage et la visualisation des travaux de l’arpenteur-géomètre canadien Otto J. Klotz.

Rück est reconnaissant pour l’espace offerts par l’Institut des études canadiennes et autochtones qui lui ont permis de mettre en place un laboratoire de recherche de travail qui offrira un endroit pour les chercheurs qui travailleront sur les deux projets.


Daniel Rück’s Research Wins Awards

Professor Daniel Rück, along with colleagues Brian Gettler (principal investigator, University of Toronto) and Maxime Gohier (Université du Québec à Rimouski), was recently awarded an Insight Development Grant by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSRHC). The project is titled “Indian Affairs and Confederation, 1860-1876” and aims to spur debate on the history of Canadian state formation through a reassessment of Indian Affairs’ position within the state at a time of sweeping institutional and political change. This project will open a critical portion of the Department of Indian Affairs archival record to analysis for the first time. From 1862 to 1872 Indian Affairs used an idiosyncratic system for organizing its archives that is not understood by most researchers today. Since scholars have been unable to find their way through this mass of documentation (on the order of 40,000 pages), no analysis of Indian Affairs’ role in Confederation has been undertaken until now. This digital history project will make these documents searchable and available for the first time, and will open up new understandings of Indigenous-Canadian relations at the time of Confederation.

Rück has also been awarded a seed grant by the uOttawa Faculty of Arts for a project titled “Stakeholders: Land Surveyors in the Global Settler Colonial Project.” This is a digital history project that aims to further our understanding of the establishment of European settler colonies, including Canada, from 1750 to 1950. The project closely examines the lives and work of land surveyors, transcribing their texts, and visualizing their lives and work using digital tools. Like soldiers and policemen, land surveyors were among the ‘shock troops’ of expanding settler colonies and states, and were key to the radical transformation of Indigenous lands into private property available for (mostly) white men. Stakeholders seeks to create of a website that will allow researchers around the world to upload, share, and analyse data produced by surveyors using GIS (Geographic Information Systems) and Omeka software tools. He and his team of researchers are currently in the first phase of this project, involving the transcription, coding, and visualization of the work of the Canadian land surveyor Otto J. Klotz.

Rück is grateful for space offered by the Institute for Canadian and Aboriginal Studies that has allowed him to set up a working research lab that will provide space for researchers working on both projects.

Some Good Introductory Books on Indigenous History

A friend who recently moved to Canada told me he would like to read something about the history of Indigenous peoples in Canada / North America, and asked for introductory book suggestions. His request inspired me to come up with list of books that would provide someone with little background a good introduction to the subject, in no particular order. I also asked for suggestions on twitter and facebook, and some of those found their way onto my list.

King, Thomas. The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People In North America. Toronto: Doubleday, 2012.

Wright, Ronald. Stolen Continents: The “New World” through Indian eyes. Toronto: Penguin, 1992.

Brown, Chester. Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography. Montréal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2006.

Brody, Hugh. The Other Side of Eden: Hunters, farmers and the shaping of the world. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2000.

Mann, Charles C. 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. Vintage, 2006.

Dickason, Olive Patricia, and William Newbigging. A Concise History of Canada’s First Nations. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2015 (3rd edition)


Freeman, Minnie Aodla. Life among the Qallunaat. Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1978.

Byrne, Nympha, and Camille Foulliard, eds. It’s Like a Legend: Innu Women’s Voices. Charlottetown, PEI: Gynergy Books, 2000.

Many thanks to all of you who submitted suggestions by twitter and facebook:

Please use the comments section to let me know about books you would recommend.

Mapping Trails and Surveyors

One of my research projects concerns Otto J. Klotz, a German-Canadian surveyor in the 1870s and 1880s. Klotz is not well-known today, but he left a rich personal diary with an entry for every day of his adult life. He was involved in creating the property grid of the Dominion Land Survey on what would become the Canadian Prairies, and would later go on to become Canada’s top astronomer. I say “what would become the Canadian Prairies” because the prairies Klotz first encountered were not Canadian: the majority populations were Indigenous, Indigenous nations were politically and militarily powerful, and the primary languages spoken were Indigenous languages including Michif (the language of the Métis). The eventual dominance of the Canadian state was still far from certain. It was surveyors like Klotz, along with police officers, railway engineers, and Indian Affairs officials, who made the Canadian state a reality on the Prairies.

Screenshot of Work in Progress: Cart Trails of the Prairie West in the 1880s

This summer I have been mapping out Klotz’s travels, as a way to better understand Canadian colonization of the Prairie West. The above image is a screenshot I took while using GIS software to trace out the cart trails that crisscrossed the northern Prairies in the 1880s. Using Klotz’ professional surveying notebooks, it is relatively easy to spatialize his travels for the days when he was working to create the Dominion Land Survey (the rectangular property grid that covers the Prairies from western Ontario to parts of British Columbia). His notebooks give his geographical coordinates for every day he was in the field, but not for the days when he was traveling to and from his worksite. Using only Klotz’s diaries and notebooks there was no way to precisely map his travels. His diaries sometimes indicate which cart trail he traveled, but those cart trails no longer exist, and I needed to find where they used to be. Thankfully I was able to find some high quality digital images of Northwest Mounted Police map and a Dominion Lands Survey map from the 1880s that showed cart trails (thank you University of Alberta libraries!), then georeferenced them, and began to trace out the trails.

This screenshot shows a work in progress along with a georeferenced DLS map of eastern Manitoba and western Ontario. For the purposes of orienting the viewer, the purple lines are largely focused on Manitoba, and the yellow lines on what is today Saskatchewan and Alberta. The network of trails revealed by the image shows that the pre-railroad land transportation network was well-established and wide-spread, and that certain places that are ghost towns today (like Fort Elice, the busy node where maroon and yellow lines meet) were central transit hubs 130 years ago. When I complete this work, I will provide the University of Alberta libraries with the georeferenced maps and shape-files for the cart trails so they can be made available to other researchers. With few traces of these trails remaining on the ground, this will help us to better understand life on the Prairies before and during colonization.


2013 photo of a historical plaque in Southern Saskatchewan marking the location of the Weyburn Cart Trail.

Some Great Websites on Issues Related to Settler Colonialism and Indigenous Studies

Decolonizaton: Indigeneity, Education, and Society: “This is the blog site of the online, interdisciplinary, Open Access journal, Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, which can be found at www.decolonization.orgDecolonization is a journal which centers and privileges various forms of Indigenous knowledges, epistemologies and methodologies for the purpose of decolonization at all levels.”

Media Indigena: an interactive, multimedia magazine dedicated to Indigenous news, views and creative expression.”

Jarrett Martineau – Culterite: explores Indigeneity, politics, media, hip-hop, art, culture, philosophy & technology.”

âpihtawikosisân Law, Language, Life: A Plains-Cree speaking Métis woman in Montreal