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BIG BEAR: THE END OF FREEDOM.

Dempsey, Hugh A.

Vancouver, Douglas & McIntyre, c1984. 227pp, cloth, $24.95, ISBN 0-88894-449-7. CIP

Grades 10 and up
Reviewed by R. Rennie

Volume 13 Number 3
1985 May


The author has written articles and other books about the Western Canadian Indian peoples. As curator of the Glenbow Museum, he is in an excellent position to draw on published and unpublished sources. His bibliography is quite extensive. However, though the research is scholarly, the book is not a dry tome.

The book gives an account of Big Bear's life and his life-long aim to reach an accommodation with the encroaching white culture. His astuteness is shown by his comment he found it peculiar that the (then) Canadian government should be buying the West from the Hudson's Bay Company for $300,000 and, at the same time trying to get the Indians to sign away the land. He was willing to make war with words, not bullets, but could find no government representative willing to listen and negotiate.

Big Bear was badly maligned in his day, but he was very much a victim of his time and position. This very readable book should help many present-day Canadians have a better understanding of some present-day Indians' views of recent history.

The author does an excellent job of explaining the Indian culture and the differences between the groups involved in Big Bear's life, thus making the clashes clearer. The incoming whites often believed that matters were settled according to their understanding of how you do business and arrange treaties. The basis of distrust by both sides is much clearer when the actions of each are stated, and then the differing interpretations by each side are given.

"If they had listened to Big Bear, the government would have begun its agricultural program earlier, it would have staffed it with competent men, and it would have transformed many Indians into farmers before their spirit was broken and their hostility aroused. The transition still would have been difficult . . ., but Big Bear's way would have been better than MacDonald's or Dewdney's and cheaper, too, for there would have been no expensive rebellion to fight." Highly recommended for all high school and public libraries.


R. Rennie, Daniel McIntyre C.I., Winnipeg, Man.
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