Over the weekend, we witnessed the equivalent of a national drive-by against Indigenous peoples in Canada in two of the country’s major daily newspapers, the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star. It was organized and conducted by the Donner Foundation on behalf of, perhaps even some urging by, two people up for a Donner prize for “best public policy thinking, writing and research in Canada.”
The G&M printed an entire chapter from a book by Frances Widdowson and Albert Howard, entitled: “Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry: The Deception Behind Indigenous Cultural Preservation.” The Star published what appears a slightly re-hashed essay by this pair who claim “Marxist” pedigree.
The timing is beyond cute: a week before the conservative Donner Foundation announces the winner of its prize in Toronto. Tell me the other candidates will get similar treatment, and I have a bridge in NYC you might like to buy.
I’ve criticized the underlying assumptions that drive this book and the thinking behind it, regardless what part of the political quadrant the authors hail. So have some very respected Canadian academics, experts in Canadian Indian policy, and now Boyce Richardson on his blog.
Their overarching argument is that Aboriginal people are mere fodders whose poverty is used to create the wealth of their so-called leaders, and that people who make a decision to help them in their struggle for justice and equality — an army of lawyers, consultants, priests, anthropologists —- are dishonest manipulators who have no other purpose than to create a soft life for themselves.
Though I have some sympathy with much of what they say, they push their argument so far as to make it almost ludicrous.
Take out the word “almost” and you got it.
I’ve written extensively on Indian affairs in Canada for most of my career as a journalist. I am anything BUT a fan of Indian organizations. I am much less a fan of government ministers who have routinely ignored what judges, academics, public policy experts and too many royal commissions and judicial inquiries have recommended during that same period.
I am absolutely gobsmacked that in the face of the sheer weight of that mountain of informed and expert opinion, that people would grab at Widdowson and Howard’s book as the final solution to the Indian problem.
Give me a break! I find their book insulting to me as an Indigenous person, and an insult to intelligence as a bit of rigorous academic research (it ain’t).
What I find most amazing though is how difficult it is to dispense with the particular false assumptions that they base an entire book upon – particularly the well-worn set of racial assumptions. Tell me again how none of the 9/11 terrorists came through Canada, and you might begin to understand my frustration. Prejudices are the toughest to dispel even when – perhaps especially when – they are laughable and ludicrous.