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Lost Harvests: Prairie Indian Reserve Farmers and Government Policy, Second Edition

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Agriculture on Plains Indian reserves is generally thought to have failed because the Indigenous people lacked either an interest in farming or an aptitude for it. In Lost Harvests Sarah Carter reveals that reserve residents were anxious to farm and expended considerable effort on cultivation; government policies, more than anything else, acted to undermine their success. Agriculture on Plains Indian reserves is generally thought to have failed because the Indigenous people lacked either an interest in farming or an aptitude for it. In Lost Harvests Sarah Carter reveals that reserve residents were anxious to farm and expended considerable effort on cultivation; government policies, more than anything else, acted to undermine their success. Despite repeated requests for assistance from Plains Indians, the Canadian government provided very little help between 1874 and 1885, and what little they did give proved useless. Although drought, frost, and other natural phenomena contributed to the failure of early efforts, reserve farmers were determined to create an economy based on agriculture and to become independent of government regulations and the need for assistance. Officials in Ottawa, however, attributed setbacks not to economic or climatic conditions but to the Indians' character and traditions which, they claimed, made the Indians unsuited to agriculture. In the decade following 1885 government policies made farming virtually impossible for the Plains Indians. They were expected to subsist on one or two acres and were denied access to any improvements in technology: farmers had to sow seed by hand, harvest with scythes, and thresh with flails. After the turn of the century, the government encouraged land surrenders in order to make good agricultural land available to non-Indian settlers. This destroyed any chance the Plains Indians had of making agriculture a stable economic base. Through an examination of the relevant published literature and of archival sources in Ottawa, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, Carter provides an in-depth study of government policy, Indian responses, and the socio-economic condition of the reserve communities on the prairies in the post-treaty era. The new introduction by the author offers a reflection on Lost Harvests, the influences that shaped it, and the issues and approaches that remain to be explored.


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Agriculture on Plains Indian reserves is generally thought to have failed because the Indigenous people lacked either an interest in farming or an aptitude for it. In Lost Harvests Sarah Carter reveals that reserve residents were anxious to farm and expended considerable effort on cultivation; government policies, more than anything else, acted to undermine their success. Agriculture on Plains Indian reserves is generally thought to have failed because the Indigenous people lacked either an interest in farming or an aptitude for it. In Lost Harvests Sarah Carter reveals that reserve residents were anxious to farm and expended considerable effort on cultivation; government policies, more than anything else, acted to undermine their success. Despite repeated requests for assistance from Plains Indians, the Canadian government provided very little help between 1874 and 1885, and what little they did give proved useless. Although drought, frost, and other natural phenomena contributed to the failure of early efforts, reserve farmers were determined to create an economy based on agriculture and to become independent of government regulations and the need for assistance. Officials in Ottawa, however, attributed setbacks not to economic or climatic conditions but to the Indians' character and traditions which, they claimed, made the Indians unsuited to agriculture. In the decade following 1885 government policies made farming virtually impossible for the Plains Indians. They were expected to subsist on one or two acres and were denied access to any improvements in technology: farmers had to sow seed by hand, harvest with scythes, and thresh with flails. After the turn of the century, the government encouraged land surrenders in order to make good agricultural land available to non-Indian settlers. This destroyed any chance the Plains Indians had of making agriculture a stable economic base. Through an examination of the relevant published literature and of archival sources in Ottawa, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, Carter provides an in-depth study of government policy, Indian responses, and the socio-economic condition of the reserve communities on the prairies in the post-treaty era. The new introduction by the author offers a reflection on Lost Harvests, the influences that shaped it, and the issues and approaches that remain to be explored.

38 review for Lost Harvests: Prairie Indian Reserve Farmers and Government Policy, Second Edition

  1. 5 out of 5

    Chris Kostov

    Carter strongly disagrees with the myth of the backward Prairie Indians, unwilling to abandon their nomadic hunters’ life style. She maintains that the Indians realized that farming is the only way for them to be self-sufficient after the disappearing of the buffalo. The Canadian government, however, did not provide the Indians with the assistance they promised. They government even did not allow to Indian farmers to sell their surplus. The only thing the government was interested in was to dism Carter strongly disagrees with the myth of the backward Prairie Indians, unwilling to abandon their nomadic hunters’ life style. She maintains that the Indians realized that farming is the only way for them to be self-sufficient after the disappearing of the buffalo. The Canadian government, however, did not provide the Indians with the assistance they promised. They government even did not allow to Indian farmers to sell their surplus. The only thing the government was interested in was to dismantle the tribal system, claims Carter. This government indifference doomed to failure most Aboriginal farmers.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Eve

    I read this book back in my university days. It is an amazing eye opener of Canada`s past and present with regards to social policy based on race. This is a vital and misunderstood part of Canadian history that is often not discussed in our education system. Well written and back up with facts. A definite must have for any history buff. I read this book back in my university days. It is an amazing eye opener of Canada`s past and present with regards to social policy based on race. This is a vital and misunderstood part of Canadian history that is often not discussed in our education system. Well written and back up with facts. A definite must have for any history buff.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Paul Burrows

    Can't recommend enough .... Carter demolishes many of the myths of Canadian 'peaceful settlement' and nation-building vis-a-vis native peoples, treaties, and government 'benevolence'. Can't recommend enough .... Carter demolishes many of the myths of Canadian 'peaceful settlement' and nation-building vis-a-vis native peoples, treaties, and government 'benevolence'.

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