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Column: Native people less evolved than others
Monday, October 27, 2008
Filed Under: First Nations | Opinion

"Was Canada once a land of savages? And is saying so tantamount to racism? Many people would answer no, and yes. That's why Dick Pound, the high-profile Olympics figure, is in a heap of trouble for describing the Canada of four centuries ago as “ un pays de sauvages.” He was talking to a reporter from La Presse about the Beijing Olympics and the issue of human rights. “We must not forget that 400 years ago, Canada was a land of savages, with scarcely 10,000 inhabitants of European descent, while in China, we're talking about a 5,000-year-old civilization,” he said.

Mr. Pound's choice of words was inflammatory, to say the least. But what about the underlying thought? Is it fair to say that the Canada of 1600 was not as “civilized” as China?

Yes, says Frances Widdowson, who, along with Albert Howard, is the author of an impressive new book on aboriginal policy and culture. Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry (to be published next month) knocks the stuffing out of the prevailing mythology that surrounds the history of first peoples. That mythology holds that aboriginal culture was equal or superior to European culture. At the time of contact, North America was occupied by a race of gentle pastoralists with their own science, their own medicine and their own oral history that was every bit as rich as Europe's.

The truth is different. North American native peoples had a neolithic culture based on subsistence living and small kinship groups. They had not developed broader laws or institutions, a written language, evidence-based science, mathematics or advanced technologies. The kinship groups in which they lived were very small, simply organized and not very productive. Other kinship groups were regarded as enemies, and the homicide rate was probably rather high. Until about 30 years ago, the anthropological term for this developmental stage was “savagery.”"

Get the Story:
Margaret Wente: What Dick Pound said was really dumb – and also true (The Globe and Mail 10/25)

Related Stories:
IOC rules out inquiry into Pound's remarks (The Globe and Mail 10/24)
Olympic official apologizes for 'savage' remark (CP 10/23)
First Nations leader calls for resignation of Olympic board member (CP 10/22)



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