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I Have Lived Here Since the World Began: An Illustrated History of Canada’s Native People

by Arthur J. Ray

In spite of what its first-person title might lead one to think, I Have Lived Here Since the World Began is not a history of Canada’s native people as told by the native people themselves. The author makes that clear on page one when he sweeps aside creation stories about the origins of aboriginal people in favour of the Bering Strait Land-Bridge theory based on “painstakingly collected archeological evidence.”

Although native people are quoted approvingly on nearly every page, their remarks do little more than decorate Ray’s narrowly focused thesis. A history professor at UBC who has written two books on the fur trade and co-authored another, Ray devotes at least half the book to the economic history of native people, much of it an impressive accounting of native involvement in the fur trade. In doing so, Ray documents government and corporate racism as well as the major economic role played by aboriginal women. His treatment of 20th-century history, however, is presented largely as a lifeless recitation of treaty negotiations, court battles, land claim agreements, and the evolution of native politics.

For the most part, Ray puts a pro-native slant on things, sometimes to the point of being gushy or patronizing. Almost as often, though, he retreats to play the role of a dispassionate observer with seemingly no stake, interest, or opinion in the often dreadful events he describes.

Although ambitious in scope, this book is wildly uneven in content and tone. Concentrated as it is on historical economics, contemporary politics, and non-native law, there are several gaping holes. For example, Ray tosses off the holocaust caused by European diseases in less than a paragraph, and expends just six words on the Constitution Act of 1982, which momentously affirmed aboriginal rights after a century of government denial. Finally, Ray fails to mention any modern developments, such as the increasing urbanization of native people or the accelerating disappearance of aboriginal languages – just two of the many social and cultural transformations that have taken place in native Canada since the fur trade was king.