“Roney’s work is a challenge to the politically correct historiography of our time. Thoroughly documented, it contains references to information that is too often ignored.”–Tom Flanagan, distinguished Canadian academic and author of First Nations. Second Thoughts
“Shocking and eye-opening, a book that’s about 100 years overdue. Hope it sparks some real debate in Canada.”-Jean Lesperance
Annotated Table of Contents
The recent controversy about prime ministerial statues in Kitchener-Waterloo introduces the current state of play: our home is on Indian land, and Canada itself is an imperialist project. Were Sir John A. Macdonald’s relations with the native peoples really cause for shame? A defense of his record, and Canada’s.
The idea of any one ethnic group being “native” or “aboriginal” to Canada is a social construct with no objective consistency. When we say “aboriginal” or “indigenous,” what we really mean, awkwardly enough, is “materially backward culture.” Using a euphemism instead has badly skewed our perceptions.
Who, exactly, is an Indian? Get started on this, and there is only one consistent, satisfactory answer: we all are, at least if we think we are. It is not a racial category, and nobody wants to see it as a racial category. So what makes one person Indian, and the next not? Why do we have two kinds of Canadians?
There is nothing pejorative or even very inaccurate about the term “Indians.” By contrast, there are larger problems with any of the common suggested alternative terms. “First Nations,” “natives,” “aboriginal,” “indigenous,” and most of the names of individual tribes (they are tribes, not nations) embed false and often racist assumptions.
To point out the obvious, Indian culture before Europeans arrived was technologically backward. It was in the Stone Age. Contact with Europeans was therefore a huge net benefit in material terms. The European “invasion” was a good thing, not a bad thing, for Indians.
It is often claimed that, even if poor, Indian life was a matter of easy abundance; everyone had what they needed, and with less work. This overlooks the reality of periodic starvation.
We are tricked here by our euphemistic description of Indians as “aboriginal,” and by the ancient myth of the noble savage. Indians held no special respect for Mother Nature. They had no concept of “Nature.” Nor were their practices ecologically sound. Respect for nature comes with the Europeans.
Chapter Eight: Plato among the Indians
The real Indian conception of the world was similar to that of Plato: the physical world was only a reflection of the world of the imagination. “Nature” was not real.
Chapter Nine: The War of All Against All
The myth is that Europeans brought war; that before them, Indians lived in harmony and general peace. This is the noble savage myth; this is from the Biblical story of the Garden of Eden. War was nearly constant and total, with a far higher casualty rate than among moderns. Peace and security came with the Europeans.
Chapter Ten: Want Slaves?
Most Canadian Indian cultures practiced slavery. Sure, so did nearly everyone at the time, but it is still true that life for many was not the imagined idyll of freedom and equality we suppose; and the end of slavery came with the Christian Europeans.
Chapter Eleven: A Fate Worse than Death
Capture in war commonly meant being tortured to death. This seemed to serve no religious nor military purpose. It was gratuitous cruelty. The advent of Christian Europeans seems to have meant moral as well as material progress, to the benefit of Indians.
Chapter Twelve: Of Anthropophagy and Anthropologists; Of Cannibals and Kings
While we are at it, cannibalism was also widespread among Canadian Indians. Not really a moral issue, but it has been obscured and denied.
Chapter Thirteen: Mother Right and Father Left
Feminists and Marxists have both, for political purposes, promoted an imaginary Indian society of sexual equality and classless social concord in which everything was shared. This is nowhere to be found in the real history. It was never pleasant to be an aboriginal woman.
Chapter Fourteen: A Pox on Both Your Longhouses
There is little historical evidence of the use of blankets infected with smallpox against the Indians. There was certainly no general intent by Europeans to introduce illness to the Indians. The real culprit in the tragic epidemics that ravaged native populations may have been aspects of native society itself.
Chapter Fifteen: The Last of the Beothuks
The Beothuks of Newfoundland are extinct. But there was no European genocide against the Beothuks. The Newfoundland authorities were not even sure the Beothuks existed, but they went to some lengths to try to preserve and protect them.
Chapter Sixteen: What Cultural Genocide Doesn’t Look Like
There was never a government attempt to wipe out Indian culture. Everybody loves what they think is Indian culture. There were coherent reasons for the banning of such Indian traditions as the potlatch and the sun (thirst) dance. Indians were never forced to become Christians: they converted eagerly.
Chapter Seventeen: Yoda: Not a Real Indian. Although He May be a Lutheran
The common popular view is that Indians were deeply spiritual. But what is generally presented as Indian spirituality is a modern invention, based on European rather than Indian sources. European culture was seen by real Indians as spiritually superior.
Chapter Eighteen: Free Private Schools!
Residential schools were well-intentioned. They seem to have been on the whole benevolent. They were not imposed on the Indians.
Chapter Nineteen: No Land Was Stolen from the Indians
The existence and nature of aboriginal title is highly debatable. Nevertheless, since the Royal Proclamation of 1763, the British and Canadian government have been scrupulous in taking full possession of land only by formal treaty, with compensation for the local Indians. This was done to secure their willing consent to the social contract, avoiding conflict.
Chapter Twenty: The Indian of the Imagination
There has been no general discrimination against Indians. To the contrary, North American popular and literary culture has always held them in unrealistically high regard, thanks to the myth of the noble savage. This has led to some awful policy choices.
Chapter Twenty-One: Truth and Reconciliation: The Parody
The current government policy towards Canada’s Indians is supposed to be guided by the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Unfortunately, the report has no commitment to truth and is against reconciliation. We are accelerating as we speed down the wrong road.
Chapter Twenty-Two: Attawapiskatand the Healing Powers of U-Haul
The real problems on the reserves are due to a culture of dependency which is close to the opposite of traditional Indian culture. This, and an unacceptable apartheid, are nurtured by the reserves.
About the Author
Stephen K. Roney is a Canadian writer, editor, and college instructor, now semi-retired. He is a past president of the Editors᾿ Association of Canada (“Editors Canada”). You may have seen his commentary in Report Newsmagazine, the Toronto Star, Catholic Insight, or several dozen other publications in Canada and abroad.
By family tradition, he is part Mohawk. This puts him, awkwardly, in about the same position as Elizabeth Warren. Many Canadians have such family traditions; “Everyone has a Cree grandmother to refer to when the occasion warrants,” as a colleague once observed. On the other hand, it is wrong to respond, as so many so often do, that Indian ancestry does not count “if you have not maintained ties with your traditional band.” This is rewarding people for dependency and for adhering to a culture that is the opposite of traditional Indian culture.
For what it is worth, some of his, which is to say my, cousins and in-laws do have their Indian cards.
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First Nations–Second Thoughts? — Tom Flanagan
Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry — Frances Widdowson
Our Home or Native Land? – Mel Smith
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