Margaret Wente’s 10-24-08 column in the Globe and Mail espouses that aboriginal American contributions to contemporary society are generally overstated and that there was a vast developmental chasm separating Indian and European cultures at the time of first contact. She seems enamoured with Frances Widdowson and Albert Howard’s forthcoming text that apparently “knocks the stuffing out of the prevailing mythology that surrounds the history of first peoples.”
That line has stuck with me for the last several days. As an Ojibwe raised in the U.S., I’ve always felt that the Anishinaabek and other first peoples were ignored or at least de-emphasized by the vast majority of North American history texts, especially those most influential in K-12 education. I suppose, for me, the concept of a North American historical mythology congers up a totally different set of ideas that it does for Margaret. I do like the idea of knocking the stuffing out of an historical mythology. I think that is what William Cronon attempted to do with the publication of “Changes in the Land” and Ojibwe historian George Cornell has worked at throughout his career, as with his contribution to “People of the Three Fires”; like Lakota-Ojibwe scholar Patrick Labeau attempts with “Rethinking Michigan Indian History”; and Richard White with “The Middle Ground”.
I haven’t yet read Widdowson and Howard’s book that Wente is so impressed with, but I have a feeling my people are in their piñata. I hope when the piñata busts, there is an outpouring of Aboriginal and non-aboriginal response that sounds nothing like the prose of Margaret Wente. However, I am way ahead of myself; I’ll reserve judgement of the new book until it is published and I can give it a careful read.
I have read Hayden King’s response article to the Wente column. King provides an important counter to the misinformation strewn throughout the original column.