Monday, December 10, 2018

Book Notes: Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada

One of the handsomest books offered in Canada this season must be The Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada, recently published by Canadian Geographic, which I have been browsing through in the last few days.

The new enthusiasm of Canadian publishers for prestige volumes about Indigenous peoples (and by indigenous creators) strikes me as a heartening sign  that Indigenous matters do increasingly command the interest and respectful attention of the general Canadian public, let alone among Indigenous peoples themselves. I hope this Atlas does well this season. You might think about gifting it to yourself or someone else (Indigo link here).

The Atlas is four hardcover volumes inside a sturdy slipcover:  First Nations, Inuit, Métis, and an introductory volume that, in fact, contains most of the maps.

The Atlas is actually not the cartographically-based publication you might expect. It is as much an anthology or gazetteer of Indigenous Peoples. The first volume does include fifty pages of handsome full-colour maps done with the skill (and beauty) for which CanGeo cartography is known. These map contemporary indigenous homelands, reserve communities, treaty territories, and land claim settlement boundaries in impressive detail across Canada.

The rest of this volume contains a set of illustrated essays on residential schools and steps toward reconciliation. The other three volumes are built entirely around lively, mostly (not entirely!) celebratory illustrated essays, with topics that range from "Sea Ice," "Visual Arts," and "Inuktut Writing Systems" (in the Inuit volume); "Bison Hunting," "Red River Resistance," and "Road Allowance People" (Métis); and "Justice," "Arts and Culture," and "Forced Population Movements" (First Nations). Virtually all the essays are by indigenous writers (some are uncredited). No general editor or supervising cartographer is identified. Each volume is introduced by a national chief or president, and the whole set is produced in partnership with the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the Métis Nation, the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, and Indspire, the indigenous educational foundation.

So: not an Indigenous equivalent of cartographic works such as the Historical Atlas of Canada or the Atlas of Canada. But as an introduction to and tribute to the richness and diversity of Indigenousness on the northern half of North America, the Indigenous Peoples Atlas is hard to beat. I hope it is very widely seen in both indigenous and settler homes this year.  Promotion seems to have been limited beyond members/subscribers to Canadian Geographic, and a quick look online suggests stock is "low" in most Chapters/Indigo stores around major Canadian cities, but it is available for online order.)

[Thanks to KidsCan Press, who delivered a review copy on request.]


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