Wente & Canada’s “Savages”

Any time you’re aching for a dose of ignorance and (deliberate?) stupidity, head over to Margaret Wente’s column at The Globe and Mail.  I stopped reading Wente a long time ago because I felt I was in danger of stroking out.  Sometimes I miss important things though.

Last week, I posted about Dick Pound’s offensive comment to La Presse during the Beijing Olympics referring to Canada’s Indigenous people as “savages”.  In her Saturday column at The Globe, Wente “argues” that Pound’s comment was unfortunate, but correct.  I have to put the word “argues” in quotes because Wente wouldn’t know an argument if she ran into one.

Nevertheless, the woman writes for Canada’s national newspaper so I assume she does have some readers and that some of them may be affected by what she writes – they might think she knows something.  It makes me very happy to direct you to an article in today’s Globe in which Hayden King shreds Wente and points readers in a rational direction in his article “Indigenous cultures rivalled those of civilizations around the world”.  Here’s a bit:

Thomas Jefferson once remarked that those who don’t read newspapers are better informed than those who do, even as the former may know nothing, the latter only know falsehood and error. This brings to mind Margaret Wente’s recent column about Olympic official Dick Pound, who said, “400 years ago, Canada was a land of savages.” Ms. Wente’s Saturday column has likely set back the first nations’ campaign for an accurate representation of native peoples in the mainstream media by 10 years.

In fact, a brief survey of the original peoples of this continent illustrates an array of accomplishments that rival civilizations around the globe, including those in Western Europe. Yet today, in North America, the ancestors of those from both continents live side by side, separated by a canyon of misunderstanding. To gain insight, we need only turn to indigenous oral traditions, wampum belts, birchbark scrolls and Tsalagi and Aztec texts. In addition, scholars of all stripes from all corners of the globe have contributed to a greater knowledge of indigenous cultures.


Please read the rest here.

Many years ago, Wente wrote an article about fetal alcohol syndrome in which she stated that, unbeknownst to average Canadians, the majority of children born to aboriginal people in this country are born with FAS.

That would have been news to me, so I wrote to Wente and asked her to direct me to the research she used to support her conclusion.  She wrote back to me to say she had done no research but had a friend who was an aboriginal person and a social worker and she’d relied on him for her information.  ‘Nuf said.

Note:  In fact, judging by the number of articles she’s written on the subject, Wente is obsessed with the FAS issue.  I can’t direct you to the article I read way back because you’d have to purchase it to read it, but there are plenty more here.  Don’t pay to read any of them.

Meantime, here’s another Globe article, this time by Joe Friesen, in which we learn about one of the long-term consequences of European colonization:

The gap in high-school graduation rates for aboriginals and non-aboriginals has grown in recent years, while the percentage of aboriginal people with a university degree has increased only slightly compared with a massive boom among the general population, new research shows.

Both are troubling figures that indicate much more needs to be done in one of the great social-policy challenges Canada faces, according to a study published yesterday by the C. D. Howe Institute.

“Clearly, we’re not doing well enough, and clearly, we should be highly concerned about it,” said the study’s author, John Richards, who teaches public policy at Simon Fraser University.

“A marginalized community, such as aboriginals, living in a modern economy can only escape poverty through an educational transformation.”


Read the rest here

EDIT:  I had to come back to fix the link to Hayden King’s article – thanks Vesper!

Germaine Greer on “Rage”

Germaine Greer, with more than a little help from the MSM and their inability to render complexity, has set off a bit of a firestorm in Australia with her essay on rage in aboriginal communities.  Here’s part of an interview:

LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: And with me in the studio now is Professor Germaine Greer. Thank you for coming in. What I would like to do is take you through points raised in that story so we could hear your responses. But if I could start more generally, for people who have not read your book, what is your central objection to the Federal intervention?

PROFESSOR GERMAINE GREER, ACADEMIC AND AUTHOR: It is not about the Federal intervention. It is about rage, it’s an essay on rage itself. It begins with a white example of somebody who feels his people have been unfairly discriminated against by government policy. I am talking about Bob Katter trying to deal with what’s happened to his people in the Northern Territory and in Queensland in particular who have been disenfranchised and driven to the wall in fact by government policy. The farmers who are killing themselves. What it tries to do is look at the spectrum of hunter gatherer violence, not just Aboriginal violence but hunter gatherer violence which has a particular shape. It involves self-destruction, high levels of suicide but also high levels of extraordinary violence against the people closest to the perpetrator, the perpetrator’s own children and the women folk in his own family.

LEIGH SALES: And this is what you think is happening in indigenous Australian communities?

PROFESSOR GERMAINE GREER: I don’t think there is any doubt about it. If you read the women’s task force report on violence, they talk about these extraordinary levels. This is not the same as free floating violence in a football crowd, for example. This is different and it’s, we’ve had, you know, clever essays about do we need a new sue Sinology [sic] to understand what is happening in black communities and I say no. If we begin to understand that suicide is caused not by grief, you can live with grief forever but you can’t live with rage because rage involves body chemicals that literally rip you to piece pieces. And everything you do will be made part of that self-destructive scenario. So you will abuse alcohol or petrol or your car or anything. So I am trying to talk about why these levels are there. I am not actually, most of what is extrapolated is wrong. I think the intervention will fail, unless the problem of rage is addressed. And then you have to ask how do you address it. I would say first of people all people have to find a way to express it because it’s never been said that it’s so particularly noxious and poisonous. So what we need is a political structure. What I’ve argued for is a treaty. What is so tough about that idea?

LEIGH SALES: Why would that allow people to express rage? Wouldn’t it just be something symbolic?

PROFESSOR GERMAINE GREER: Well, I don’t think Aboriginal people are uncomplicated and I do think that many things that appear symbolic to us do not appear at least in symbolic to them. That they’re real things. If you believe this is your country, if you believe it’s your bauxite they’re taking out or your uranium, then to have somebody to say we need to talk to you about what we’re doing to this country is not merely symbolic.

LEIGH SALES: OK, but surely isn’t the first step that the violence has to be controlled and some sort of intervention is the only way to do that in the short term so you can look at the bigger, long-term issue?

PROFESSOR GERMAINE GREER: Look, if what you’re talking about mainly self-destruction and we have to take into account para suicide, the extraordinarily high number of accidental deaths that afflict Aboriginal communities, we’re not even going to deal with them because there is no criminal profile there. You see, one of the things that bugs me is that a lot of the mischief is still being done by white men and we could fix it. We could stop them. For example, lorry drivers abusing under age girls in Nhulunbuy. We know about that. There is not an auto train in this country that we can find whenever we want to, 24/7. Why have we never arrested those people? Why have we let them go on and doing that? Why in dry communities for the last 10, 15 years, boot legers have brought in booze after dark? Dumped it in the bush and all that kind of thing. They’ve left a paper trail a mile wide. Why do we never pick them up?

LEIGH SALES: If I can look at some of the points raised in the package and have you respond to them. You write that Aboriginal women humiliated their men by seeking the white fellas help in the intervention.

PROFESSOR GERMAINE GREER: Hang on a minute. That is not how it’s put.

LEIGH SALES: Well, page 86, ‘once more the white man was being chosen over the black man as the protector of children, the defeat of the black man was absolute’. In those circumstances what option did the women have?

PROFESSOR GERMAINE GREER: Well, what I am saying there is that when we had all the sort of black meritocracy saying, yes, yes, we have to ride in now and rescue women and children from their own men folk who, by the way, are their children. Remember the book is dedicated to Mum Shell, and remember Mum Shell dealt with young men in prison in Sydney. What I am saying is that’s how it’s set up to appear. It’s set up to appear as if the black man is disenfranchised yet again. He is seen as the perpetrator of the violence.

LEIGH SALES: That might be true.

PROFESSOR GERMAINE GREER: And there are plenty of statements about that.

LEIGH SAKES: What other option did the women have? They couldn’t go to the men for help because those men were the perpetrators of the violence. What else could they have done other than ask for government and ask for outside assistance?

PROFESSOR GERMAINE GREER: It’s also view true that there are other men in the community who are managing and there are male elders in the community who are managing. Well, I do see that it was a recourse in emergency here. All I’m saying is that unless we deal with the pathology that underlies it we won’t get anywhere. We won’t actually stop the violence. we may even cause it to escalate. But it’s not a viable proceeding unless you look at the pathology. It’s, I don’t think it’s a simple situation at all. I also in my worse moments I think we might be way too late.

LEIGH SALES: And what does that mean?

PROFESSOR GERMAINE GREER: Well, it probably mean s annihilation of black communities. But there are some people who would say to you that they’re pretty well annihilated already, that everything that’s happened has gone wrong, that even allowing black communities to acquire land rights and to have their own territory and to have a system of self-government has been totally undermined. And is now, now it’s all to start again. What do we do now? We already had a problem that black land rights were not like anybody else’s. You could rescind them if you felt like it and there was a problem in international law which we never got to grips with about that. And, again, this very dubious title that people struggle so hard for that cost them more in resources than they had to spend is suddenly whipped away from them again because they’ve been set up for failure. And this has happened again and again and again. We have to think of something different. Now I quite understand that we cannot leave children in danger but those children and the young men are not a dis continuum. They’re the same people.

The rest is here

Sure wish I could ge holda that essay.

Hold Tory Feet to the Fire

On June 11th, Stephen Harper made an apology on behalf of all Canadians to Canada’s Indigenous people for the abuses they suffered as a result of our hideous policy of forcing their children into residential schools.  Many people were critisized for expressing scepticism about the apology in light of our government’s continuing abuse of our people.  It seems that they weren’t sufficiently grateful for words in place of action.

There is no better example of Canada’s ongoing abuse of Indigenous people than this:

Over the past months (here, here and here) I’ve been writing about the fight by the Cree community of Attawapiskat to get a new school to replace their long since condemned building. So far, that fight has fallen on deaf ears with the Conservative government, despite the amazing efforts of the parents and especially the children of this community and the thousands of children from other communities, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, from all across the country. If you want a good primer on the story, check out the piece written by the Toronto Star’s Carol Goar, because it really does the situation justice.

northwestern lad has issued a challenge to Canadian bloggers to help the kids of Attawapiskat get their school for gawd sakes.  Here’s the website the Cree community has set up to spread the word about their cause. 

And at Peterborough Politics, you’ll find more information about the community’s efforts, as well as these suggestions for things you can do to help:

Write a letter to Chuck Strahl , Minister of Indian Affairs

  • Sign the petition online
  • If you’re a student, teacher or parent, join the many schools that have started their own campaigns of support for the kids (read here about the campaign of St. Edmund Campion Secondary School in Brantford, Ontario)
  • Show the video created by the community to show the conditions in which these kids live.
  • And finally, and probably one of the best ideas that I have seen yet, write a letter of support to the children of Attawapiskat. Let the kids know directly that you are with them. Letters can be sent to the following address: J.R. Nakogee School
    Attawapiskat, Ontario
    POL 1A0

Apologies & Pain

Briarpatch follows up on the Canadian government’s apology to Indigenous people for residential schools policy:

On June 11, 2008, Stephen Harper, prime minister of Canada and leader of the Conservative Party, issued an “apology” for the residential school system that over 150,000 Indigenous children were forced through. The hype before and after the statement was enormous, with extensive coverage in all major media.

This event had a strong emotional and psychological impact on Indigenous survivors of residential schools all across Canada, who suffered attempted forced assimilation as well as countless acts of violence, rape, and abuse. Descendents of those subjected to this system were equally affected. People packed into community halls and similar venues on June 11 for what was bound to be an emotionally triggering day for survivors, regardless of their view towards the meaning of the “apology.” Some survivors reportedly felt that the statement was a step forward, while many were highly critical.

In trying to understand the responses of Indigenous people across Canada to this “apology,” it is first important to address what it did not do. It must be judged in terms of the ability of Indigenous people to move forward in the process of true healing, not just from the effects of the residential school system, but from the entire process of Canadian colonialism. In this framework, the deficiencies of the “apology” are much greater than any positive impact it could have.

Read more here

Apology Aftermath

At the Calgary Herald, Lorne Gunter argues that the Canadian Government and various religious institutions were only trying to do the right thing by Aboriginal children when they forced them out of their communities and into residential schools.  Sure, some of them died without ever seeing their parents again but, Gunter says, they woulda died anyway.  Huh?  After establishing his government’s beneficent intentions, Gunter goes on to say that the schools might not have been really such a great idea:

Every year, Ottawa spends more than half a billion dollars on native skills training. Many of the residential schools offered an early form of such training. If it is such a magnanimous program now, how could it have been evil 40, 50, 70 years ago?

Yes, many children who attended the schools died never seeing their parents again. But for every one who contracted a disease at the schools, there were a dozen cured of the diseases they arrived with.

But at each, to one degree or another, one of the principal goals was to eradicate “Indianness’ — to “kill the Indian in the child,” as one government policy paper put it more than 80 years ago — to erase aboriginal languages and cultures within a generation or two and assimilate natives into mainstream Canadian society.

It does matter that these efforts were well-intentioned. The people perpetrating them were not Nazis bent on exterminating aboriginals. To the extent they talked about ending Canada’s “Indian problem,” they did not mean by lining them up for wholesale slaughter.

The people behind Ottawa’s residential school policy, both in the government and among the church workers at the schools, were the enlightened minds of their day, the social progressives out to do the right thing.

This was not, as it has been described, a Holocaust or genocide on a par with Hitler’s “final solution.”

But there can be no denying that one of the objectives from the start was to destroy native cultural identity, to encourage aboriginals to cease to see themselves as a people or peoples distinct from non-aboriginals. As well-intentioned as those efforts were, they were wrong. And Prime Minster Stephen Harper was right to apologize for them.

Had government agents come to round up your kids and mine, I doubt we would have kept quiet about it for 80 years or more. The schools, whether they were meant to be or not, are a stain on our history, and Harper’s apology is a first step to remove it.

I think the members of government could have imagined how having their kids forcibly rounded up and removed to schools outside their control would feel 80 years ago.  It appears to me that Gunter is justifying this action.  Doesn’t work for me.  Further, it is not simply the residential schools policy that people are talking about when they refer to genocide, but a web of policies and practices that cleansed valuable land of Indigenous presence and banished people to reserves where they were unable to survive through traditional hunting, fishing and agriculture and also unable to participate in the nation’s growing economy.  And where they were without medical, social and educational resources whilst at the same time being robbed of the hope and vitality provided by  several generations of children.  Possibly this doesn’t meet the legal definition of a genocide, but legal definitions aren’t persuasive sometimes.  Call it ethnic cleansing, call it mass murder, torture, cruelty and inhumanity.  It requires an apology and much, much more.

The Quebec Native Women’s Association has some ideas about how much more:

In order for this apology to be considered genuine, more efforts must be undertaken to correct current oppressive measures under the Indian Act that prevent Indigenous peoples from prospering socially, culturally, politically and economically.

The actions of the Canadian Government in opposing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples makes the apology feel hollow. Their opposition to the UNDRIP perpetuates the insidious, archaic Indian Act that continues to discriminate and deny Aboriginal nations their rights. The facts and arguments reflecting the manner in which the Canadian Government continues to undermine the rights of Indigenous peoples, can be found in Amnesty International’s 2008 Annual Report.

Gunter article via A Creative Revolution

A Nation’s Apology

Part of the text of P.M. Stephen Harper’s apology, on behalf of the nation, to Canada’s First Nations people:


The government of Canada built an educational system in which very young children were often forcibly removed from their homes, often taken far from their communities.

Many were inadequately fed, clothed and housed. all were deprived of the care and nurturing of their parents, grandparents and communities.

First Nations, Inuit and Metis languages and cultural practices were prohibited in these schools.

Tragically, some of these children died while attending residential schools and others never returned home.

The government now recognizes that the consequences of the Indian residential schools policy were profoundly negative and that this policy has had a lasting and damaging impact on aboriginal culture, heritage and language.

While some former students have spoken positively about their experiences at residential schools – these stories are far overshadowed by tragic accounts of the emotional, physical and sexual abuse and neglect of helpless children and their separation from powerless families and communities.

The legacy of Indian residential schools has contributed to social problems that continue to exist in many communities today.

It has taken extraordinary courage for the thousands of survivors that have come forward to speak publicly about the abuse they suffered.

It is a testament to their resilience as individuals and to the strength of their cultures. regrettably, many former students are not with us today and died never having received a full apology from the government of Canada.

The government recognizes that the absence of an apology has been an impediment to healing and reconciliation.

Therefore, on behalf of the government of Canada and all Canadians, I stand before you, in this chamber so central to our life as a country, to apologize to aboriginal peoples for Canada’s role in the Indian residential schools system.

To the approximately 80,000 living former students, and all family members and communities, the government of Canada now recognizes that it was wrong to forcibly remove children from their homes and we apologize for having done this.

We now recognize that it was wrong to separate children from rich and vibrant cultures and traditions, that it created a void in many lives and communities, and we apologize for having done this.

We now recognize that, in separating children from their families, we undermined the ability of many to adequately parent their own children and sowed the seeds for generations to follow and we apologize for having done this.

We now recognize that, far too often, these institutions gave rise to abuse or neglect and were inadequately controlled, and we apologize for failing to protect you.

Not only did you suffer these abuses as children, but as you became parents, you were powerless to protect your own children from suffering the same experience, and for this we are sorry.

The burden of this experience has been on your shoulders for far too long. the burden is properly ours as a government, and as a country.

There is no place in Canada for the attitudes that inspired the indian residential schools system to ever again prevail.

You have been working on recovering from this experience for a long time and in a very real sense, we are now joining you on this journey.

The government of Canada sincerely apologizes and asks the forgiveness of the aboriginal peoples of this country for failing them so profoundly. we are sorry.


Opposition leader Stéphanne Dion, NDP leader Jack Layton, Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe and Grand Chief Phil Fontaine respond:

Today’s apology is about a past that should have been completely different,” he [Dion] said. “But it must be also about the future. It must be about collective reconciliation and fundamental changes. 

“It must be about moving forward together, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, into a future based on respect. It is about trying to find in each of us some of the immense courage that we see in the eyes of those who have survived.”

NDP Leader Jack Layton denounced the residential schools program as “racist,” and called Wednesday’s event an important moment for Canada.

“It is the moment where we as a Parliament and as a country assume the responsibility for one of the most shameful eras of our history,” Layton said in an emotional address.

“It is the moment to finally say we are sorry and it is the moment where we start to begin a shared future on equal footing through mutual respect and truth.”

Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe offered his own apology, adding that the most meaningful expressions of regret are followed by concrete action.

“This is something that must be done concretely by the government …The federal government has not invested enough for young aboriginal people.”

Televisions set up in a room outside the House and on the lawn of Parliament Hill broadcast the statement to overflow crowds, while more than 30 events were staged across the country so the apology could be viewed live.

While aboriginal leaders were not expected to have an opportunity to respond on the record in the House of Commons chamber, House leaders agreed at the last minute to allow it.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine, himself a former residential school student, was one of several aboriginal leaders who took the floor, saying the occasion “testifies nothing less than the accomplishment of the impossible.”

“For the generation that will follow us, we bear witness today…Never again will this House consider us the Indian problem just for being who we are,” he said.

“We heard the government of Canada take full responsibility for this dreadful chapter in our shared history. We heard the prime minister declare that this will never happen again. Finally, we heard Canada say it is sorry,” Fontaine added.


The Assembly of First Nations said survivors watching the apology who need support can call a 24-hour toll-free crisis line at 1-866-925-4419. Other support information is also available on the AFN website.

Indigenous People Protect Their Land

From Judy Rebick and Judy Finlay:

Today, Indigenous people will gather from across Ontario, including the remote North, on the lawns of Queen’s Park to insist that governments and industry recognize their right to say no to mining and forestry on their lands. Travelling by bus and even by foot, they are coming to participate in four days of sacred ceremonies, teach-ins, drumming, music, readings and a mass rally that they are calling a Gathering of Mother Earth Protectors.

In a sign of what is to come, Indigenous people are not only standing up for their rights, they are defending the environment against unbridled industrial development. Across the Americas, from Brazil to Bolivia to the Boreal Forest in Northwestern Ontario, Indigenous people are leading the way to a more sustainable future and a more democratic political system that roots out the vestiges of colonialism.

more at rabble