Clearing the Plains

Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Indigenous Life


Revealing how Canada’s first prime minister used a policy of starvation against Indigenous people to clear the way for settlement, the multiple award-winning Clearing the Plains sparked widespread debate about genocide in Canada.

In arresting but harrowing prose, James Daschuk examines the roles that Old World diseases, climate, and, most disturbingly, Canadian politics—the politics of ethnocide—played in the deaths and subjugation of thousands of Indigenous people in the realization of Sir John A. Macdonald’s “National Dream. ”


  • Winner, Governor General's History Award 2014
  • Winner, Aboriginal History Prize 2014
  • Winner, Clio Prize 2014
  • Winner, Best Scholarly Book in Canadian History 2014


Clearing the Plains is a tour de force that dismantles and destroys the view that Canada has a special claim to humanity in its treatment of Indigenous peoples. Daschuk shows how infectious diseases and state-supported starvation combined to create a creeping, relentless catastrophe that persists to the present day. The prose is gripping, the analysis is incisive, and the narrative is so chilling that it leaves its reader stunned and disturbed. For days after reading it, I was unable to shake a profound sense of sorrow. This is fearless, evidence-driven history at its finest. ” —Elizabeth A. Fenn, author of Pox Americana