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December 18, 2008
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v2.1 Reference

We Are All Treaty People

Prairie Essays

In his collection of Prairie essays-some of them profoundly personal, some poetic, some political-Roger Epp considers what it means to dwell attentively and responsibly in the rural West. He makes the provocative claim that Indigenous and settler alike are "Treaty people"; he retells inherited family stories in that light; he reclaims the rural as a site of radical politics; and he thinks alongside contemporary farm people whose livelihoods and communities are now under intense economic and cultural pressure. We Are All Treaty People invites those who feel the pull of a prairie heritage to rediscover the poetry surging through the landscapes of the rural West, among its people and their political economy.

About the Author

Roger Epp is Professor of Political Science at the University of Alberta. He served as founding Dean of the University's Augustana Campus in Camrose from 2004 to 2011. Much of his recent writing has explored what it means to live in the prairie West with a sense of memory, inheritance, and care. He is author of We are All Treaty People: Prairie Essays (2008), co-editor of Writing Off the Rural West (2001) and co-producer of the documentary "The Canadian Clearances" for CBC Radio Ideas.


"Roger Epp...offers a thoughtful collection of essays, in We Are All Treaty People, on what it means to live in the rural west....There were powerful things going on in the rural west at one time, and Epp, in these essays, shows that power can be taken back and not left to our cities, or to faraway governments." Bill Robertson, The StarPhoenix, May 9, 2009

"Dr. Epp has just published a book entitled We Are All Treaty People: Prairie Essays, a very readable collection of personal remembrances mixed with historical overviews of radical prairie politics and the relationship between First Nations people in western Canada and the settlers and their descendants. At core, its a book that reminds us of the importance of place in defining who we are as a people, something frequently lost in the noise of urban centres. It's a call back to the land and to rural Alberta." Ken Davis, CKUA Radio, May 17, 2009 (Hear the radio interview at:

"Roger Epp lives on the margin of a margin in two different ways. First of all, he's in Canada, which the US considers a margin, and second, he's on the prairies, which Canada considers marginal. The other way is more personal. Epp is a Mennonite, a community of conscience as defined by Stanley Fish in Hobbs' way as from conscire, to know in concert with another — a consensus. His vocation is teaching and administering at a small university, Augustana, that was originally defined as a faith community, but is now attached to the University of Alberta, in Edmonton, the largest city in Alberta. Yet the students are mostly from small prairie towns. The sum of these marginalities has put Epp dead center in some of the most serious issues of our times about the safety and adequacy of our food.. Epp handles all this with friendly but dense prose.. If I were writing a prairie sermon, as I used to do, I would start on page 161 where Epp lists rural values: independence (not being bio-serfs to corporations and being able to cope on one's own in a practical sense), neighbourliness (pitching in for the other guy), 'good' work (as opposed to opportunism), rootedness, nature, mystery and gratitude, and community... [Epp] commends to us the daily, small initiatives and coalitions between concerned parties that eventually mount up to cultural revolution without bloodshed." Mary Strachan Scriver, The Goose, Spring 2009

"Epp writes of his boyhood [on land around Hanley], of the Saskatchewan town that was, and is now, put there by a national policy to populate the West and feed the world, now left to do the best it can while the dictates of a new world economy charge past it. In subsequent essays, Epp, with clear and gentle persuasion, discusses the agrarian movement in Alberta.... He writes of farmers he knows who are passionate about the their work and the land; of the two-sided coin that is 'agrarian radicalism;' of our need to get beyond our Lockean rationale for subduing the land and its inhabitants and enter a phase of reconciliation and renewal.... There were powerful things going on the rural West at one time, and Epp shows that power can be taken back and not left to our cities, or to faraway governments." Bill Robertson, The Edmonton Journal, May 17, 2009

"Roger Epp's exquisitely written We Are All Treaty People is about our region, the Prairie West, its landscape, its people, its rural and aboriginal past and present, and the future it might build for itself....We are all treaty people because we live in a state whose primarily distinguishing characteristic—constant negotiation between various peoples and levels of government—was determined by an Aboriginal approach to government, diplomacy and commercial relations. If jurisdictional disputes now seem like power grabs by provincial or (when the Liberals are in power) federal politicians, that's only because we've lost track of how treaty negotiations and renegotiations were and are understood by Indians—as attempts, necessarily contingent, to reach terms fair to everyone involved. Canadians, more than most people, are concerned about fairness." Alex Rettie, Alberta Views, October 2009

"This collection of ten conversational essays by a Professor of Political Studies combines a Dreiser-like journalistic style with populist politics and autobiography." Anne Burke, Prairie Journal, November 2009

"The book provides a new reflective approach to Western "identity," arguing that in the end all Westerners, particularly those in rural Alberta, become "indigenous" and all that that implies. Roger Epp, the dean of Augustana College of the University of Alberta, sees the people of the West, regardless of origin, as one-all linked through the land. Each of the ten chapters is a unique essay, rooted in memories, driven by connections to the environment. To Epp, an environmentalist, it is a landscape we have all shared in the past and will continue to share in the future. The first two chapters deal with the Mennonite prairie experience of his extended family in Saskatchewan, Oklahoma, and Alberta, from their first immigration at the turn of the century through their often tentative involvement in prairie protest, and then to today. The whole book is, in fact, a very personal engagement with his landscape and being a rural Western Canadian by choice. Chapter 7, "We are All Treaty People," deals with a scholarly reflection on the legal and philosophical perspectives and his very personal view of the treaties based on his sharing of the land with its indigenous peoples. He leads us through his own awareness of the very real occupation of lands that his grandparents considered theirs, but which he now realizes was always very much a part of the Aboriginal community-their landscape and life. And so it goes. Epp reduces the complex intellectual to a subtle reality. His chapter on his own institution, Augustana University College, now a college of the University of Alberta, is particularly insightful. He is aware that to be rural is to be considered "less sophisticated," to be at the periphery of learning, and to be at the periphery of "real society." He argues that universities are an urban "organized assault on parochialism" on rural students, which will ultimate destroy rather then encourage their "critical appreciation" of the world they know. Epp's careful and reflective assessment of rural Alberta, its landscape, its society, and its heritage is a must-read for any urban Canadian wanting to understand this country." Frits Pannekoek, University of Calgary

"A descendant of Mennonites who left Oklahoma for the Canadian Prairies, Epp understands the displacement of people and the yearning to belong. His ancestors farmed the land they arrived at and their struggle to survive various calamities and their respect for the spirit of the community are some of the issues he writes about. The author knows his subject well, and his writing is profound, lyrical and caring. As a boy growing up in rural Saskatchewan, Epp was always aware of the land and what it was trying to say, that the land speaks to us more than we realize. If we take care of it, the land will replenish and sustain us; if we abuse it, it will wither and blow away. ... Epp's essays raise important questions and that is good. He has provided us with a powerful tool by writing these essays. The writings give rural communities a voice, one of quiet resistance, but it is a voice that speaks louder than the wind and it is saying 'witaskiwin (living together on the land)' is what we need to be aware of, to believe in (141)." Mary Barnes, Prairie Fire Magazine, February 2010 (See full review at

"Wallace Stegner...demonstrates the power of the essay as an art form.... Roger Epp, dean of the University of Alberta's Augustana Campus in Camrose and professor of Political Studies, obviously sees the essay in the same light as Stegner as he uses the form to good measure in his [book].... Epp's father's family homesteaded at Eigenheim, SK in 1894 in the land of the Cree and his mother's family settled in Oklahoma in Cheyenne country and the history and future of both areas were heavily influenced by so-called Indian policies in the U.S. and Canada. 'I am, in other words, a product of Indian policy on both sides of the border. My story cannot be told apart from those of Cree and Cheyenne.'.... 'In a very real way, most Canadians exercise a treaty right simply by living where they do. On the prairies, we are all treaty people,' he writes.... Epp is at his best when he moves towards Stegner's approach and looks at the land and his connection to land. His becomes poetic, descriptive and the door opens wide inviting the reader to join him on the sun-baked land he obviously loves so much. But if politics is your bent, Epp is a perceptive commentator with a keen understanding of how the history and politics fit together and affect the lives of people who live on the land. Epp is a calm and careful thinker and his book of essays reflect that, as does his astute use of the essay, which demonstrates the form is alive and well..." Rob Alexander, Rocky Mountain Outlook, March 4, 2010 [Full review at]

"The author, dean of Augustana Campus in Camrose, provides a number of essays on a wide range of topics ranging form personal to historical to literary. A skillful and gifted writer, he blends many of his family's experiences with the unfolding of western history. For example, he tells of growing up in the small town of Hanley and unveils a kind of mystique about small towns. He also tells of the agrarian movement in Alberta and an essay comparing rural and urban life. Behind all the essays is the story of the rural and agricultural West. As for the unusual title, the author explains it this way. 'My claim in this essay is that on these prairies, we are all treaty people - settler and aboriginal. I am not interested in self-flagellation. Rather, it is important to recall a more complex historic relationship than mere conquest and to recast the difficulties of accomodation, memory and reconciliation as the "settler problem," rather than, as the policymakers once put it, the 'Indian problem.'" Alberta History, Summer 2009

"The provocative title of Roger Epp's book lives up to its promise. In the series of essays that make up this fine book, Epp explores the history of European immigrants to the prairies, the agreements and relationship with aboriginal peoples which made this history possible and the profound sense of place which informs this history. By using his own personal and family experiences as the narrative framework, Epp offers complex political, social and historical insights in an inviting, accessible way....This book is a 'must read' for prairie people. And it would actually be good if other Canadians read it as well." Nettie Wiebe, St. Andrews College Contact, July 2009

"'We Are All Treaty People: History, Reconciliation and the "Settler Problem"' is arguably this book's most provocative essay.... Other essays discuss the political and economic history of the rural West, and more particularly rural Alberta, during the early decades of the twentieth century.... We Are All Treaty People, which also addresses in some detail the many challenges that are now facing rural communities and farm livelihoods, is a welcome addition to the literature." J. William Brennan, Great Plains Quarterly, Summer 2010

"It is toward an honest understanding of our complicated interdependencies and conflicting interconnections that Roger Epp offers his rough and tender truths of life in the Canadian prairies. We Are All Treaty People: Prairie Essays is a collection that is simultaneously deeply moving and discomfiting; though carefully researched and elegantly written, its most significant narrative strength comes from its author's perhaps constitutional unwillingness to indulge in the easy obscurantism of mainstream cultural commentary. This is a rare and very welcome quality, one that more contemporary scholarship could profitably emulate." Daniel Heath Justice, Toronto Quarterly, Spring 2011

9780888645067 : we-are-all-treaty-people-epp
Paperback / softback
248 Pages
$29.99 USD