A World We Have Lost

Bill Waiser's history of Saskatchewan won the Governor General's Literary Award for nonfiction in 2016.

Bill Waiser

A World We Have Lost examines the early history of Saskatchewan through an Indigenous and environmental lens. Indigenous and mixed-descent peoples played leading roles in the story — as did the land and climate — and despite the growing British and Canadian presence, the Saskatchewan country remained their territory. The region's peoples had their own interests and needs and the fur trade was often peripheral to their lives. Indigenous and Métis peoples wrangled over territory and resources, especially bison, and were not prepared to let outsiders control their lives, let alone decide their future. Native-newcomer interactions were consequently fraught with misunderstandings, sometimes painful difficulties, if not outright disputes. (From Fifth House Publishers)

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From the book

The Métis were already well positioned to intensify the bison hunt. By the end of the third decade of the nineteenth century, these "movable armies," as HBC Red River clerk Alexander Ross described them, were entering the plains in force. In 1840 alone, 620 men, 650 women, and 360 children left Pembina as part of a 1200-cart caravan. This number of participants was not simply a reflection of the growing population at Red River but an indication of how many people were involved in the summer or dried meat hunt, including priests, who regularly held mass and performed other Roman Catholic rites on the trail. Ross, who tagged along with the Métis in 1840, provided one of the best accounts of the organization and operation of the hunt. At the rendezvous, the assembled hunters elected a president or chief and twelve councillors, usually senior, experienced men. They, in turn, decided the rules that were to be followed out on the open plains, particularly during the hunt. Captains were also chosen by ten hunters voluntarily lining up behind prospective leaders. Where these procedures came from is not known; they could be either Indian or French in origin.

From A World We Have Lost by Bill Waiser ©2016. Published by Fifth House Publishers.

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