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.
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.
In a recent column in Canada’s Globe and Mail titled, “What Dick Pound said was really dumb – and also true”, Margaret Wente submits a high profile critisism of Aboriginal socio-cultural systems, first nations politics and aboriginal knowledge systems. With this article, Wente dives 1000 leagues below the “savage” comments made by Dick Pound. Her conclusions are poorly founded, contradictory, and backward-ic. Yet, if you read the online discussion at the Globe and Mail that has followed her column, you’ll see (not surprisingly) there are many people who agree with her views. The column is an example of poorly researched provocateur journalism; yet, as has occurred with similar publications in the past, we can expect it to have a long shelf life and misinform scores of people.
See the full article and subsequent online discussion.