As Nick Reo mentioned, Margaret Wente’s column in the Toronto Globe and Mail last weekend cannot go unanswered by the North American Native community. In this column, Ms. Wente offers a theory/proposal that Canadian First Nations be segregated, usuing the American/Jim Crow-style “separate-but-equal” rhetoric.
I offer a few preliminary comments based on some truly amazing things she asserted. I leave the “Disrobing” book by Widdowson and Howard for a later date.
Let’s start with this quote:
- Instead, our policies are based on the belief that aboriginal culture is equal but separate, and that the answer to aboriginal social problems is to revive and preserve indigenous culture on a “separate but equal” parallel track.
Ok, first, “separate-but-equal” was discredited in Brown v. Board of Education, decided by the United States Supreme Court 54 years ago. “Separate-but-equal” is code for racism, for Jim Crow, and for racial segregation. And a person with an American education like Ms. Wente knows that full well. This use of racist code words is intolerable.
Segregation is not what American Indian law is about, and it isn’t what Canadian First Nations law is about. Charles Wilkinson called it “measured separatism” in 1987. American Indian tribes and Canadian First Nations signed treaties to preserve their individual rights, their property and property rights, their culture, and other protections, all in exchange for land cessions that would now be considered unconscionable by under modern law.
The American and Canadian governments once imposed segregation on Indian people in the form of boarding schools for Indian children, where Indian children were beaten and murdered, raped and tortured, all in the name of American and Canadian “civilization.”
Speaking of civilization versus savagery, here’s another quote:
- The truth is different. North American native peoples had a neolithic culture based on subsistence living and small kinship groups. They had not developed broader laws or institutions, a written language, evidence-based science, mathematics or advanced technologies. The kinship groups in which they lived were very small, simply organized and not very productive. Other kinship groups were regarded as enemies, and the homicide rate was probably rather high. Until about 30 years ago, the anthropological term for this developmental stage was “savagery.”
First off, broad generalizations about the hundreds and thousands of North American cultures prior to, say, 1492, are utterly worthless, except for persons trying to make a political point. None of the above statements, taken together, is true for any specific group anywhere in the world. I’m from Michigan, as is my family’s communities, and they weren’t so savage. They had enormous agricultural output, even north of the so-called freeze line in mid-Michigan. In fact, these “unproductive” Indians fed the British (later American) fort at Michilimackinac in the 18th and 19th centuries with surplus corn, sqaush, beans, and other veggies.
Second, the property and commercial laws of the Michigan Anishinaabek were sophisticated enough so that the French simply followed them. The British and Americans were more into conquest, so they didn’t. But the Michigan Ottawa and Chippewa communities pretty much dominated the western Great Lakes region from the late 17th to the early 19th centuries. And they didn’t do it with “savagery,” but with commercial and political control of the trading posts.
Third, unlike those “civilized” Europeans who all but invented incredible disease, warfare and violence, and sexual and racial political inequality, the Michigan Anishinaabek considered their neighbors relatives. They treated women with respect and protected female autonomy to chose their own partners. Think about this — Anishinaabe women could own property!
Ms. Wente’s column has no value in modern intellectual life, and serves only to incite hatred and violence toward Indian people.