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
Urban Indians: The Strangers in Canada's Cities
by Larry Krotz
Can: (pbk) 59.95 Hurtig
'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.
Chili con pesticida
Circle of Poison: Pesticides and People in a Hungry World
by David Weir & Mark Schapiro
Pbk US 53.95 + 10% p&p IFDP, 2588 Mission Street, San Francisco, Ca 94110, US
'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
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.