Bridging Two Peoples
Chief Peter E. Jones, 1843–1909
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$29.95 Paper, 270 pp.
Winner of the 2012 Joseph Brant Award (Ontario Historical Society)
Bridging Two Peoples tells the story of Dr. Peter E. Jones, who in 1866 became one of the first status Indians to obtain a medical doctor degree from a Canadian university. He returned to his southern Ontario reserve and was elected chief and band doctor. As secretary to the Grand Indian Council of Ontario he became a bridge between peoples, conveying the chiefs’ concerns to his political mentor Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald, most importantly during consultations on the Indian Act.
The third son of a Mississauga-Ojibwe missionary and his English wife, Peter E. Jones overcame paralytic polio to lead his people forward. He supported the granting of voting rights to Indians and edited Canada’s first Native newspaper to encourage them to vote. Appointed a Federal Indian Agent, a post usually reserved for non-Natives, Jones promoted education and introduced modern public health measures on his reserve. But there was little he could do to stem the ravages of tuberculosis that cemetery records show claimed upwards of 40 per cent of the band.
The Jones family included Native and non-Native members who treated each other equally. Jones’s Mississauga grandmother is now honoured for helping survey the province of Ontario. His mother published books and his wife was an early feminist. The appendix describes how Aboriginal grandmothers used herbal medicines and crafted surgical appliances from birchbark.
Allan Sherwin is a professor emeritus of neurology at McGill University, where he taught and practised clinical neurology. His research laboratory helped develop techniques to measure anticonvulsant drugs that greatly improved the therapy of epilepsy. Allan Sherwin’s clinical practice included work at a clinic responsible for the health of a First Nations community, which led to an appreciation of Indigenous traditions.
“Over the past few decades, developments in biographical writing have demonstrated that the boundaries separating biography from history have been somewhat artifical and, often, unhelpful demarcations. Particularly when the biographer’s subject is an individual from a less powerful group, biography can provide an important window through which we can glimpse their engagement with larger social, political, and cultural structures: the negotiations, accommodations, compromises, and confrontations that arise as individuals make their way in various worlds. In many ways, Allan Sherwin’s study of Peter Edmund Jones does just that.... Sherwin has crafted a clearly written, well-researched narrative of Jones’ life, a complex mix of opportunities and achievements and, especially in his later years, disappointments and failures. The biography also sheds light on the dynamics of Indigenous-settler relations in nineteenth-century Ontario, a presently somewhat under-explored area.”
— Cecilia Morgan, University of Toronto, Histoire sociale / Social History
“The author succeeds in illuminating the life of this ambitious, earnest, sympathetic and ultimately tragic figure, and in many ways this work is an important addition to First Nations history and a welcome companion to Scared Feathers, Dr. Donald Smith’s biography of Peter Edmund’s father.”
— Laurie Leclair, Ontario History
“Allan Sherwin brings a personal perspective to this very readable biography of Canada’s first-known Indigenous physician, Chief Peter Jones.... Sherwin’s study is soundly based in the personal records of early Indigenous physicians, chiefs, and women healers, including the family papers carefully preserved by his English grandmother. The informative appendix describes how Aboriginal women used herbal medicines and crafted surgical instruments from birchbark. There is a comprehensive bibliography and an index.”
— Ontario Historical Society Bulletin
“This richly detailed, sensitive and generally well-research biography is based on personal letters and diaries, historical manuscripts and official government documents. Author, Dr. Allan Sherwin, professor emeritus of neurology at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, describes the many professional roles and contributions of Jones, illustrating how Jones sought to fulfill his life goal of bridging the two cultures he inhabited.... As an Indian agent ... ‘Jones found himself caught between his loyalty to the members of his own band and his loyalty to his oath to follow the orders of his employer, the government of Canada.’ Even more frustrating for Jones was the reverse racial slur flung at him in 1885 by the Toronto Globe, referring to him as ‘an almost full-blooded white.’ Bridging two peoples, then, was a precarious balancing act.... As a historian, I believe this book to be a most worthwhile contribution to the historiography of Canadian medicine; it also joins the growing literature on indigenous studies.... Recalling that Jones was the first status Native Canadian to graduate from a Canadian medical school almost 150 years ago, I was compelled, as a historian at a medical school, to reflect on current trends respecting indigenous students and medical education. A 2008 report by the Indigenous Physicians Association of Canada and the Association of Facultires of Medicine of Canada indicates that most of Canada’s 17 faculties of medicine have policies in place that encourage Aboriginal applicants. Many also have designated seats, but it appears that only two schools (the University of British Columbia and the Northern Ontario Medical School) deal specifically with Aboriginal Health issues. Thus, the Peter Joneses of today may have greater opportunity to be admitted to medical school, but the crucial matter identified by Sherwin in his study still exists: how to bridge two peoples, especially within the medical context.”
— J.T.H. Connor, Memorial University, Canadian Medical Association Journal
“Peter Edmund Jones, the first status Indian in Canada to obtain a medical degree, inhabited a fractious borderland both metaphorical and physical. Allan Sherwin’s Bridging Two Peoples: Chief Peter E. Jones, 1843–1909 describes a man of relative privilege with enormous motivation, energy and intelligence, one who engaged in prodigious struggles on behalf of aboriginal people in Upper Canada, although he was ultimately worn down by the very forces that shaped him.... [A] person who today might receive an Order of Canada for a lifetime of substantial achievements in so many areas simply faded from view until Sherwin undertook his project. We are given a substantial outline ... of a heroic, accomplished and yet tragic individual whom the author has managed to exhume from layers of historical silt. And our sense of Canada, then and now, is enriched thereby.”
— John Baglow, Literary Review of Canada
“Dr. Peter Edmond Jones is the most interesting Canadian you never heard of. His accomplishments were many, yet he died in poverty. He left a mark in science, and public affairs, yet stumbled in drunkenness and despair. The son of a Mississauga chief and English mother, Jones was the first Status Indian to graduate from a Canadian medical school, at Queen’s University in 1866; his thesis was ‘The Indian Medicine Man.’ Jones was the first to publish an aboriginal newspaper in Canada, The Indian, in 1886. He was a chess master; an archeological advisor to the Smithsonian Institute; a political organizer for John A. Macdonald; a federal Indian agent. ‘Jones appears to have been a romantic who felt his early success would carry him onwards,’ writes biographer Allan Sherwin. Of course, this could only end badly. To read Bridging Two Peoples is to sense the creep of petty humiliations and raw bigotry that crushed this Victorian romantic in the end.”
— Holly Doan, Blacklock’s Reporter
“Peter E. Jones (1843–1909) was simultaneously Kahkewaquonaby of the Mississaugas. He played an important role in both identities, which placed him on the frontlines of First Nations’ struggles for identity, survival, and just treatment from Canadian colonialists. As an individual, he was a rebuttal to the rampant racism that dominated Canadian views of Indians: first statue Indian to hold an MD; head chief of New Credit Reserve; secretary-treasurer of the Grand General Indian Council of Ontario and Quebec; publisher of The Indian, the first Native-owned newspaper; first Native Indian agent; archaeologist and folklorist working with the Smithsonian Institute; champion of Native medical knowledge; and conductor of successful land claims for his tribe. In an understated biography and narrative, Sherwin (emer., neurology, McGill Univ., Canada) reveals just how oppressive Canadian Indian policy was and, partially, how Natives managed to retain aboriginal cultures. Extensive descriptions of medical knowledge and practices and of other themes are a bonus. Chief and Dr. Jones was a hero, and this book shows why. It is a gem.... Highly recommended. All levels/libraries.”
— G. Gagnon, Loyola University of New Orleans, Choice