Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

There’s No Place Like CounterPunch

There's no place like CounterPunch, it's just that simple. And as the radical space within the "alternative media"(whatever that means) landscape continues to shrink, sanctuaries such as CounterPunch become all the more crucial for our political, intellectual, and moral survival. Add to that the fact that CounterPunch won't inundate you with ads and corporate propaganda. So it should be clear why CounterPunch needs your support: so it can keep doing what it's been doing for nearly 25 years. As CP Editor, Jeffrey St. Clair, succinctly explained, "We lure you in, and then punch you in the kidneys." Pleasant and true though that may be, the hard-working CP staff is more than just a few grunts greasing the gears of the status quo.

So come on, be a pal, make a tax deductible donation to CounterPunch today to support our annual fund drive, if you have already donated we thank you! If you haven't, do it because you want to. Do it because you know what CounterPunch is worth. Do it because CounterPunch needs you. Every dollar is tax-deductible. (PayPal accepted)

Thank you,
Eric Draitser

The Wipe-Out of Canada’s First Nations


The sad, depressing reality chronicled in James Daschuk’s tour de force, Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life—describing the extermination of Canada’s First Nations—is the mirroring American readers will observe the same situation in the United States.  The clichéd expression of “the vanishing American Indian” is no figment of one’s imagination but the result of centuries-old policies of racism, greed, and the march of Western civilization into the North American continent, with little or no regard for indigenous peoples, the rightful owners of the land. Perhaps the most startling figure in a book replete with shocking details is the speculation, made fifty years ago, that “the indigenous population of North America at contact with Europeans might have been 90 million people.”

That’s actually part of the opening sentence of Daschuk’s book and although he admits that there are many people who question that figure, even if it was half that number, we are talking about a truly horrendous Holocaust.  Again, although the figures are not precise, the United States has 2.9 million Native Americans today and Canada’s Indian population is one million, but people counted today in both of those categories include many with mixed-ancestry. Ignoring the ninety million figure, Daschuk adds in that opening paragraph of his book, “scholars would probably agree that the severity of population decline and the suffering unleashed on the indigenous people of America were unprecedented….”

Most of us are familiar with part of the story: disease, starvation (game depletion), broken treaties, alcohol—not a pretty list of causes.  Nor does Daschuk deny the fact that North America was a “disease-free paradise before the arrival of Europeans.”  It wasn’t.  There was even an indigenous form of TB likely to bring death to native peoples, but not the virulent form they encountered after European arrival.  But the list is much more extensive than TB: smallpox, whooping cough, measles, syphilis, influenzia, scarlet fever, and, of course, alcohol which is not a pathogen but did its own number on people with horrendous results.  What Daschuk provides in his study is specific examples for given locales, such as the initial infection of smallpox in some communities: seventy percent.  One lengthy paragraph will explain the context:

 “Arrival of the French in [Portage la Prairie], the transportation corridor east to New France, and contact through cooperation and conflict over access to resources created the ecological conditions that sparked the virgin soil epidemic of smallpox along the boundary waters and interlaces of Manitoba.  Within a decade, the regional map would be fundamentally and permanently altered in the aftermath of disease.  Historical geographer Paul Hackett traced the origins of the epidemic to a ship that unleashed the pathogen in Boston in 1729.  From there, it spread through the English colonies, eventually arriving in Montreal, where it killed 900 people. For smallpox to have spread halfway across the continent, certain criteria had to be met. Without large urban centres in the interior, and with vulnerable populations dispersed across a vast region of the eastern and central woodlands, the virus needed speed to remain viable; the human hosts who served as unwitting carriers of the virus must have travelled swiftly.  The incubation or prodromal stage of the disease lasts from nine to sixteen days after infection.  Those who carry the germ become infectious between thirteen and twenty days after inhalation of the virus, and the disease is spread through the exhalation of infected individuals.  According to historian Steadman Upham, ‘The total infection period can last a little more than three weeks (a mean of 26.75 days) and terminates with either the patient’s recovery or death.’  It has long been recognized, however, that the smallpox corpse is a potent and continuing source of infection.”

Equestrianism sped up the process, quickly transferring the disease into the interior regions. “By the first half of the eighteenth century, smallpox had brought fundamental change to the demography of First Nations across western Canada.” Later in the century, in addition to all the diseases, there were skirmishes between traders and native peoples, provoked by the trade in beaver skins.  Alcohol was the lure.  By 1780, entire cultural entities had ceased to exist. Hunger would follow shortly because of the unstoppable clearingplainssettlement of Europeans.  The large game was depleted.  More Europeans entered the land during the gold rush, mostly leading to additional pathogens killing native peoples.  By the end of the nineteenth century there was a general agreement that diseases had been spread “purposefully.”

Then the treaties began, with the disappearance of the bison, starvation, and recurrent TB brought by Texas longhorn cattle into the northern areas.  Another telling quotation: “Studies of skeletons have shown that, in the mid-nineteenth century, peoples on the plains were perhaps the tallest and best-nourished population in the world.  By the early 1880s, the nutritional advantage provided by the herds would be gone for good.” The recently subdued peoples on the reservations were typically denied sufficient rations by dishonest contractors working for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  As the government “provided inferior, tainted food, appalling death rates continued.”  Even prostitution became a problem as many native women used their bodies to secure food. On the reserves, a pass system was implemented, designed to keep native peoples in their areas, but resulting in a form of incarceration.  “The pass system, ‘perhaps the most onerous regulation placed on the Indians’ after [a rebellion in Winnipeg], was implemented to limit the mobility of treaty Indians, keeping them on their reserves and away from European communities.”

Daschuk concludes, “The decline of First Nations health was the direct result of economic and cultural suppression.”  No surprise that “The gap between the health, living conditions, and other social determinates of health of First Nations and mainstream Canadians continues as it has since the end of the nineteenth century….  Even such basics such as clean drinking water remain elusive for some communities.”  Substitute the United States for Canada and you fill in the picture.  I don’t even want to get into the question of which nation has treated its First People worse.

James Daschuk: Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life

Univ. of Regina Press, 318 pp., $39.95

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University in Washington, D.C.  His many books include American Indian Fiction.  Email:



Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = Twitter @LarsonChuck.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 25, 2016
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation Wasted $32.2 Million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians