Sask. authors Harold R. Johnson and Bill Waiser finalists for Governor General's Literary Awards

Firewater: How Alcohol is Killing my People (And Yours) by La Ronge's Harold R Johnson and A World We Have Lost: Saskatchewan Before 1905 by Saskatoon's Bill Waiser were named as finalists for a Governor General's Literary Award in the non-fiction category.

Harold R. Johnson and Bill Waiser are finalists in the non-fiction category

Harold R. Johnson will use his book to drag the stereotype of a lazy, drunken Indian into the spotlight. (Courtesy of Harold R. Johnson)

The Governor General's Literary Awards has two Saskatchewan finalists in the non-fiction category.

Harold R. Johnson, author and former Crown prosecutor, wrote Firewater: How Alcohol is Killing my People (And Yours) which was nominated in the non-fiction category. Along with Johnson, historian Bill Waiser was nominated for his book A World We Lost: Saskatchewan Before 1905.


Johnson, from Montreal Lake Cree Nation in Treaty 6 territory, wrote the book to examine the devastating impact of alcohol on Indigenous people and the stereotype of the "lazy, drunken Indian."

Johnson specifically addresses a journal entry by fur trader Daniel Williams Harmon in the 19th century, where he observed a group of Indigenous people in various states of intoxication, fighting and spilling their drink, which he described as promiscuously in some instances.

"It has never gone away," Johnson said of the stereotype to CBC Radio's The Current earlier this year. 

"It has been a constant since first contact, through the residential school era, all through colonialism," Johnson said.

Johnson said Indigenous people have internalized the stereotype to the point where they themselves believe it. 

"I had a kid on one of the reserves tell me just a couple of years ago that to be a real Indian, you have to drink," he said.

Before Saskatchewan

Bill Waiser said he wanted climate to be a character in his book, A World We Have Lost: Saskatchewan Before 1905. ((CBC))

A World We Lost is a 700 page door-stopper, as author Bill Waiser calls it. 

The book details the history of what is now known as Saskatchewan, before it was officially a province in 1905 and before it was even part of what came to be known as Rupert's Land.

Waiser said the book opens with explorer Henry Kelsey in the year 1690, during his time spent on the plains but it goes back even further than that to the time of the glaciers. 

He explained he wanted to make climate an "actor in the story." 

Waiser explained the book examines the land through the lens of an Indigenous and environmental perspective, the role people played in shaping the environment and its effect on natural resources. 

Indigenous people are not simply added into the book for the sake of having them there, Waiser said, but that they play a very large role in the book. 

Waiser said the story picks up around the time of the "new comers and the outsiders" arriving. 

As Waiser is a historian, he explained some of the challenges that went into writing the book was the huge amount of sources he had to pore over, such as Indigenous stories, archaeology, anthropology and scientific studies and translate all of those into a readable and accessible format. 

The book also contains 25 detailed maps and 200 high resolution pictures.

Waiser was previously nominated in the non-fiction category at the 1997 Governor General's Literary Awards for his work with Dr. Blair Stonechild — currently a professor of Indigenous Studies at the First Nations University of Canada — Loyal till Death: Indians and the North-West Rebellion

With files from CBC Radio's The Current