amThis post is part of the LRC’s 25 year anniversary project. We are asking our readers for the most influential Canadian books published in the last quarter century. For more information, click here.
To write this moving and engaging book Wright chose five groups: the Aztek, the Maya, the Inca, the Cherokee, and the Iroquois. It is, of course, the Iroquois who lived around the Great Lakes with whom Canada has been most closely associated.
Columbus was said to have discovered the Americas in 1492. As Wright was told, however, by Dehatkadons, a traditional chief of the Onondaga Iroquois: “You cannot discover an inhabited land. Otherwise I could cross the Atlantic and ‘discover’ England.” In 1492, it is thought that North and South America together were home to some 100 million people. A hundred years later the indigenous population was thought to be some 10 million. In part this deadly decline was due to the European invaders’ superior technology, but more substantially it was due to the spread of infectious diseases to which dwellers in the Americas had no immunity.
Even infection was helped along. Wright informs us that Lord Jeffrey Amherst secured his place in history [in 1763] as the inventor of modern germ warfare with this notorious command, “Infect the Indians with sheets upon which smallpox patients have been lying, or by any other means which may serve to exterminate this cursed race.”
How are the indigenous peoples with whom immigrants live in Canada treated now?
Keith Oatley is a novelist and Professor Emeritus of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto. His latest book is Therefore Choose (2010).