Academic journal article New Zealand Sociology

Aboriginal Populations: Social, Demographic and Epidemiological Perspectives

Academic journal article New Zealand Sociology

Aboriginal Populations: Social, Demographic and Epidemiological Perspectives

Article excerpt

Frank Trovato and Anatole Romaniuk (eds) (2014) Aboriginal populations: social, demographic and epidemiological perspectives. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press.

Reviewed by Robert Didham

This edited volume contains 19 of the papers presented at a symposium held at the University of Alberta in October 2008. The preface outlines the context, noting that "the symposium was organized with the thought in mind that a comprehensive understanding of the social demographic transformations in the Canadian Aboriginal population could be achieved through careful interdisciplinary analysis." The premise is that the demography of the First Nations in Canada has reached a critical stage and that cross-disciplinary studies are well placed to advance our understanding. Were this all the book achieves it would sit well amidst a host of other works devoted to indigeneity in the Canadian context. The book however goes beyond this, and as such pulls together a large number of intersecting themes. Thus, it delivers more that the preface promises but not quite as much as the universality implied by the title. The collection is, as with any collection of this type, a rather mixed bag, but one that well rewards a rummage. Collections of this type are rarely, if ever, read as a continuous process - the reader scans and cherry picks, usually missing chapters entirely because they don't catch the eye. In the case of this book that is unfortunate because almost every chapter has much to offer.

The introductory remarks by Frank Trovato and Anatole Romaniuk, both stalwarts of Canadian demography, and first chapter also by Romaniuk, do much more than give an overview. These pieces, taken together, outline the contents of the book as a whole, but they go beyond this and describe the data constraints, conceptual issues and key topics of general interest in the study of indigeneity. As such, the first chapter should be considered essential reading for any course concerned with identity and counting of populations. The authors also provoke. The view they present is one that is rapidly changing - which they acknowledge well with the recognition of increasing fuzziness - but they still focus on the increasingly anachronistic "aboriginal" versus "non-aboriginal" dichotomous view of the world which was already becoming problematic many decades ago and is clearly problematic for many of the authors in this collection. This should provoke readers into rethinking this approach and exploring new directions, especially in the complex field of Métis demography. The complexity of the boundaries and origins between First Nations, Métis and consequential emerging ethnicities, as well as the huge diversity within the colonial grouping of "First nations" are themes that one can expect to dominate ongoing research in this field, and the present work will remain a useful starting point.

The book is partitioned into four perspectives: demographic, epidemiological, sociological and international.

The demographic perspective is a curious one. The first chapter is a thorough summary of the history and development of Canada's indigenous populations. The clear passion Romaniuk has for the topic makes this fascinating reading. The second chapter is more prosaic, less provocative, but fundamentally important. Goldmann and Delic explain how indigenous peoples in Canada have been counted or miscounted over the last few centuries. There primary focus is of course on the most recent period. Who gets counted or not counted, and who is counted as they choose and who has identities imposed on them are centrally important considerations. Goldmann and Delic describe well the components of demographic growth, including a discussion on ethnic mobility. Much in this chapter resonates with the histories of data collection outside of Canada - notably in New Zealand and Australia - making the chapter highly relevant to aspects of demographic change beyond Canada.

Verma's chapter on population projections moves the discussion from the past and present to the future of indigenous populations in Canada. …

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