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Book Reviews

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PACIFIC ISLANDS[image, unknown] Book reviews

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This month's books include a journalistic voyage through the urban Indian world in Western Canada, and a disturbing study of the pesticide trade's impact on the Third World.

Editor: Anuradha Vittachi

Canada's aborigines

Urban Indians: The Strangers in Canada's Cities
by Larry Krotz
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Can: (pbk) 59.95 Hurtig
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'For 200 years the Indian has been the mythic skeleton in the collective white European-North American closet. He was there first when the Europeans "discovered" North America. He always had to be dealt with, whether through exploitation of his labour and his services, or through battles of extermination, or through conversion, socialization and management, while the Europeans engineered their path of "progress" across the continent. He would never go away.'

Thus Larry Krotz begins his journalistic voyage through the urban Indian world in three western Canadian cities - Winnipeg, Regina and Edmonton. The resulting book, a compilation of biographies and analysis, is a useful, readable addition to the growing volume of information on the native people in Canada's cities. Mr. Krotz's pleasant narrative style is supported by the fine photography of John Paskievich. Short photo essays on the reserve and in the city and the biographies ensure the social 'problem' documented has a human face.

Over the past decade Indian migration to the cities has increased dramatically. In Winnipeg and Edmonton Indians make up 10 per cent of the population. The prairie city of Regina is expected to be 20 per cent Indian by the end of the decade. This migration is fueled by the same overcrowding, under-employment and poverty that prompts rural populations in the Third World to move to the cities. Government policies which encourage Indian children to prefer the culture of the white majority, and the under-development of rural reserves, have deliberately encouraged this flood.

Half of those who migrate find they have exchanged the rural poverty they knew for strange, new and frightening urban poverty. With clock-like regularity the Indian migrant drifts into the city's deteriorating inner core. Housing is delapidated, absentee landlords the rule. Rents are high and overcrowding the norm. The employment picture is dismal. Few Indians who migrate have the skills needed to survive in a city. Instead there is an endless round of welfare, job training and make-work programmes. Schools in the inner city ignore Indian children. The police do not. Most Indians in a Winnipeg study are arrested for 'social crimes' like drunkenness and vagrancy.

Just 12 percent of Manitoba's population is Indian yet Manitoba jails have Indian inmate populations between 37 and 80 per cent. Underlying the statistics on urban poverty is bald racism. Rooms for rent are suddenly taken when an Indian arrives. Jobs miraculously disappear. Shopkeepers take careful watch of Indian customers. Teachers talk of savages and scalping. Police harrass, insult and arrest.

Krotz recognizes the potentially explosive situation of urban Indians. He also notes the efforts to help native people adjust: job training programmes, housing schemes, school programmes... Such schemes, doomed to failure because of lack of money and bureaucratic restraints, recur throughout the book. Even the experts are not optimistic about Canadian society's ability to solve the dilemma.

Unfortunately, the author makes the assumption that Indian migrants to the cities fit the common pattern of all migration. But indigenous peoples are not immigrants - as they keep reminding Canadians. Perhaps it is this reluctance to recognize the real historic relationship of Aboriginal Nations to Canada that explains why Mr Krotz missed the solution to the urban Indian 'problem' as seen by Indians themselves. Almost to a person the Indians quoted by Krotz say they wish to return to their reserves. They wish to live with their relatives. They want their children to play with other Indian kids. They want to work for their people. The move to the city is not necessarily permanent.

So part of the solution in Canada, as in the Third World, rests in rural development. Then Indians can live as they wish, not pressured by poverty to migrate to the cities.

Heather Ross

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Chili con pesticida

Circle of Poison: Pesticides and People in a Hungry World
by David Weir & Mark Schapiro
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Pbk US 53.95 + 10% p&p IFDP, 2588 Mission Street, San Francisco, Ca 94110, US
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'Here pesticides are the dish of the day,' says Colombian farmer Alfonso Castro, 'and lately the children are often sick.' Children such as these are just a few of the Third World people - one every minute - who are poisoned by pesticides, most of which are exported from the rich world. This trade and its impact on Third World people are the subject of The Circle of Poison, the latest book from the Institute of Food and Development Policy, publishers of Food First.

Many of the pesticides exported to the Third World by a few large western companies are subject to bans or restrictions in their countries of origin. In the US companies are even able to produce pesticides solely for export without providing health and safety data. But even a 'safe' pesticide may present a hazard to illiterate and ill organised Third World agricultural workers. Yet, despite the extra problems of using this essentially inappropriate technology in the Third World, labelling is very often inadequate and promotion widespread and indiscriminate.

About 20% of pesticides are used in the Third World, and their use is often excessive and is relatively uncontrolled. And, since most pesticides are applied to cash crops for export, production increases often fail to benefit the poor. Even pesticides used on Green Revolution food crops produces benefits which bypass the poorest people. 'The rationale of using more pesticides to protect crops to feed the hungry simply does not hold up,' say the authors. The 'Circle of Poison' is completed as the pesticides return to the US as residues in imported foodstuffs. This may add a little self-interest to the increasing demands, from the US and from many in the Third World, for tougher regulation of pesticide exports.

Pesticide sprayer in Sri Lanka. Photo: David Bull/OXFAM
Pesticide sprayer in Sri Lanka
Photo: David Bull/OXFAM

This disturbing book touches on a number of elements in the many faceted problem of Third World pesticide use. It is a good beginning to what will inevitably become a worldwide campaign on an issue central to health and agriculture in the Third World.

The presence in this book of the names of European companies, including Shell and ICI hints that this is not just a US problem. In fact, Western Europe exports nearly five times as many pesticides as the US, according to New Scientist (16 Feb 1978). And the UK and the EEC lack even the rudimentary export controls which exist in the us.

Dave Bull


Children of Hiroshima
.... being the diary of the most destructive day in human history

0N THE STEPS of the Osaka Bank (Hiroshima Branch), there used to be a curious wooden framework. It protected the dark silhouette of a man 'printed' on the stone steps and wall. The man had been sitting, thinking, an elbow on one knee and a hand under his chin on the morning of August 6, 1945. At 8.15 am there had been an intense flash and a noise like thunder. The outline of the man was instantly imprinted on the stone by the radio-active waves, marking the attitude and moment of his death.

The dark silhouette has now faded. But the survivors of the holocaust are anxious that the human reality of what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki should not be forgotten. Their message was first expressed 30 years ago, in the Japanese classic Gembaku no Ko. Several partial translations followed. Its first complete English translation Children of Hiroshima (spurred on by the International Year of the Child) has now been issued as a reminder to a nuclear-mad world.

The book is an anthology of eye-witness accounts by schoolchildren. Their naive words capture, better than any sophisticated raconteur could, both their immediate bewilderment and their growing horror at the grisly aftermath.

'The five of us left our burning home and hurried toward Koi. Around us was a sea of flames,' wrote a boy in primary school when the bomb fell. 'We saw no one but sometimes we heard moans, a sound like a wild beast... I saw a damaged water tank in which a number of people had their heads down, drinking. I was so thirsty and attracted by the sight of people that I left my parents' side without thinking and approached the tank. But when I got near and was able to see into the tank, I gave an involuntary cry and backed away. What I saw reflected in the blood-stained water were the faces of monsters. They had leaned over the side of the tank and died in that position. From the burned shreds of their sailor uniforms, I knew they were schoolgirls, but they had no hair left and their burned faces were crimson with blood; they no longer appeared human.'

A girl shares her enduring, uncomprehending pain when she was six years old: 'When (grandmother) came back after a week (of searching in the ruined city), I asked, "Where's Mother?"

"I brought her on my back," was the answer. I was very happy and shouted "Mummy!" But when I looked closely, I saw she was only carrying a rucksack. I was disappointed. My sister and our neighbours began to cry. I couldn't understand why. Then my grandmother put the rucksack down and took some bones out of it and showed them to everybody. There were my mother's gold tooth and a piece of the elbow bone.' It took three years for the horrific reality to sink in to the child's numbed understanding.

Anyone who doubts the inhumanity of the bomb should read this book. But it also implies a second warning, less obvious though no less chilling. And that is the danger of assessing the impact of a possible disaster shielded by the political economists' favourite proviso, 'all other things being equal'. The trouble is, all other things are never equal.

One might expect, for instance, that the people of Japan would have risen in fierce and immediate protest against the American action. And that the victims would have become war heroes, cared for by every available means. But to expect that is to see the dropping of the bomb as a single, abnormal event in a context of normality. A state of war is not normality. Human bodies being rotted by invisible radioactive waves is not normality.

According to the editor of Children of Hiroshima, Yoichi Fukushima, it was taboo for years even to work out how many people really died in Hiroshima. Discussing the bomb was frowned on as 'anti-American'. Research into the effects of radiation was tabooed. Bomb victims were 'feared as if they were the carriers of a contagious disease'. Even now, half a lifetime later, 'no proper relief or compensation laws have been enacted'.

So the late Dr Arata Osada, whose labour of love it was to compile this book, and all the children who contributed to it, are to be thanked for the daring they displayed in resisting pressure to stay silent, as well as for their willingness to relive a traumatic past for the benefit of the children of the future. Today's children sing a rhyme in their memory - and in fear of their own tomorrow:

A pocket full of uranium.
Hiroshima! Hiroshima!
We all fall down.

Anuradha Vittachi

Children of Hiroshima
(Japanese 1951, translation 1980)
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Japan: Publishing Committee for Children of Hiroshima
Worldwide distributors: Taylor and Francis (pbk £4.95)
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New Internationalist issue 101 magazine cover This article is from the July 1981 issue of New Internationalist.
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