I have been keenly interested in First Nations (FN) for a few years. Some key events that pushed me in this direction include:
– watching APTN (Aboriginal Peoples TV Network)
– having a friend named FN friend when I worked in Northern Canada for a couple summers, and another one in the south here during high school
– meeting many FN people, mainly in urban contexts but sometimes on reserves
– some newspaper articles, however biased they may have been, explaining various aspects of FN people in both the cities and countryside
– reading up on the history of Turtle Island. This has shocked the hell out of me, especially realising how whitewashed our high school textbooks were. Go to the library and bookstore, and many of the books still scarcely give FN a paragraph of history before launching into chapter upon chapter of the stories of European pioneers, settlers, gold panners, fur traders, entrepreneurs, industrialists, politicians, missionaries, brothel owners, soldiers, etc. We fail to understand that there were at least a few millenia of FN presence here on Turtle Island. If we knew that history, the potential books written about it could fill libraries to overflowing! North American history is not just a chronicle about the exploits of the Smiths, Lefevres, Polowskis and Duecks of Europe, nor is it only about the later Wongs, Bhatias, Mendosas and Mumbayas. Our history is about all the past and present generations of First Nations who have had and are continuing to have a significant presence here on Turtle Island, no matter how invisible this presence may seem.
– meeting some folks who were FN advocates
Among the many books I have viewed, reading Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry: The Deception Behind Indigenous Cultural Preservation by Frances Widdowson and Albert Howard is both an eye-opening and shocking experience. On the one hand, I´ll have to agree that there is a huge host of primarily Euro-Canadians who are servicing First Nations´ communities and making a killing off it. They work as civil servants, lawyers, engineers, teachers, medical professionals, advocates, social workers, art collectors, etc. The sad thing is that many are benefitting from the difficult circumstances many FN people are in: poverty, lack of education, addictions, family violence, health problems, jail time, being targetted by the police, loss of culture, etc. Despite all the rhetoric to the contrary, real solutions are not being sought as they should be, and the plight of aboriginal peoples is worsening. Overall, with all this money and effort to supposedly bring freedom and independence, FN people are not receiving the same advantages as other Canadians. A lot of what we are seeing is a smoke screen. Lots of talk, and the little action that is taking place is actually killing people.
At times this Disrobing seems to be racist and condescending. The authors subscribe to the theory of cultural progress wherein the planet´s various ethnic groups advance in cultural development at different stages. They claim that FN people were and perhaps still are stuck in a Neolithic stage, not a lot further off from the cave men days. Thus, their emphasis on oral tradition, indigenous herbal remedies, traditional knowledge, recovering lost languages and cultures is hindering them from learning to compete in white society.
Yes, I am thankful for the issues raised here in Disrobing. The authors have boldy stated many things that no one else dares to mention. The idea that non-natives and a few natives (esp. leadership in cahoots with European-Canadians) are profiting from perpetuating the suffering of FN people seems to ring true. And perhaps many solutions of the ¨Aboriginal Industry¨ are actually pipe dreams and dead ends.
However, I believe that Widdowson and Howard in their zeal and Marxist camera lenses are throwing out the baby with the bathwater, so to speak. There are many positive developments happening in efforts to restore culture and language, to educate people in the traditional ways, to promote economic independence, etc. It even appears that the authors are saying that the assimiliationist practices of the government and society in past and present are justified.
I ask you, can you step on peoples´ heads for a few hundred years and expect them to be healthy, happy and prosperous like you? Can you commit ethnic cleansing, cultural genocide and religious persecution against multiple generations and think that the mess you have created can be fixed in a decade? And do you think the misguided souls who did all this are actually the best ones to come up with solutions?
I marvel every time I see a program for First Nations run by the federal or provincial governments. How can your enemy, who has taken your land, kidnapped your kids to residential schools and foster homes, stripped you of your culture and language, pushed alcohol and drugs on you, made billions in profits from minerals and oil extracted from beneath your feet, and generally screwed you over any way he could for centuries, ever be trusted to provide any service that will actually benefit you?
Sounds like a little Rage Against The Machine is needed here…
Enough said for now, more to come….