Tag Archives: indigenous people

Superiority and Race


People of European descent have long had a grossly exaggerated sense of their own superiority to indigenous people around the world. After all weren’t they politically and technologically dominant around the world? They must be superior. What other explanation could there be? This is part of what I have called the Original Sin.

From that robust sense of superiority sprang the notion that they must have sprung from a superior race.  Even though that notion has been intellectually discredited, this feeling of superiority runs deep. It is easily sublimated when under siege, but invariably bobs up somewhere else.

At one time such notions were convenient. For example, they were used to justify first the destruction of native societies and then slavery and later more subtle forms of dominance over other races. That allowed Europeans to prosper unimaginably from an economic perspective.  It also allowed them to sleep at night, or perhaps, put their conscience to sleep.

It is difficult for us to comprehend objections to what is to our advantage. That is why slavery and  racial bias were so difficult to defeat.  These were convenient biases. Bias has in fact not been defeated in centuries of trying.

Yet this entire feeling of being a superior race is a feeling built on sand. There is no secure foundation for it at all.  Partly because the entire notion of race itself has been discredited. As Canadian anthropologist Wade Davis said in his book The Wayfinders, “science in fact suggests an end to race, when it reveals beyond any reasonable doubt that race is a fiction.” Of course racism is not a fiction!

Science has clearly demonstrated:

“The genetic endowment of humanity is a single continuum.From Ireland to Japan, from the Amazon to Siberia, there are sharp genetic differences among populations. There are only geographical gradients. The most remote society on earth contains within its people fully 85 percent of our total genetic diversity. Were the rest of society to be swept away by plague or war, the Waroni or the Barasana, the Rendille or the Tuareg would have within their blood the genetic endowment of all of humanity. Like a sacred repository of spirit and mind, any of these cultures, any one of these 7,000 would provide the sees from which humanity in all its diversity might be reborn.

What all of this means is that biologists and population geneticists have at last proved to be true something that philosophers have always dreamed: We are all literally brothers and sisters. We are all cut from the same genetic cloth.”

This of course is a recurring theme in my blog. I come back to it over and over again. We are connected. None of this should come as surprise to anyone. After all, we are all descendants of a small group of humans, perhaps as small as 150 people, that migrated out of Africa about 60,000 years ago and proceeded to colonize the world. And guess what, those people were likely dark skinned! I remember when we were in Africa a few years ago in what was called “the Cradle of Humanity,” when I mentioned this fact to an evangelical Christian in our group, he was obviously disturbed by that possibility. Why should that be?

The consequence of this is, as Davis said,  “all cultures share essentially the same mental acuity, the same raw genius. Whether this intellectual capacity and potential is exercised in stunning works of technological innovation, as has been the great achievement of the West, or through the untangling of the complex threads of memory inherent in a myth—a primary concern, for example, of the Aborigines of Australia—is simply a matter of choice and orientation, adaptive insights and cultural priorities.”

After all how can one say the people of the west who created a great technological society are superior to the indigenous people of North America who learned to flourish and not just live in North America where the Europeans who arrived on contact would have starved or frozen to death? Who can say Europeans are superior to the people of the Amazon rainforest who have learned to live with robust knowledge and experience amidst the natural splendors of their homeland? In particular, when modern industrial society, of which the West is inordinately so proud, has led to the destruction of about half of life on the planet, does it even resemble sense to hold the western ways superior?

Davis got it profoundly right when he said,

“There is no hierarchy of progress in the history of culture, no Social Darwinian ladder to success. The Victorian notion of the savage and the civilized, with European industrial society sitting proudly at the apex of a pyramid of advancement that widens at the base to the so-called primitives of the world, has been thoroughly discredited—indeed, scientifically ridiculed for the racial and colonial conceit that it was.  The brilliance of scientific research and the revelation of modern genetics have affirmed in an astonishing way the essential connectedness of humanity. We share a sacred endowment, a common history written in our bones. It follows, … that the myriad of cultures of the world are not failed attempts at modernity, let alone failed attempts to be us.  They are unique expressions of the human imagination and heart, unique answers to a fundamental question: What does it mean to be human and alive?  When asked this question, the cultures of the world respond in 7,000 different voices, and these collectively comprise our human repertoire for dealing with all the challenges that will confront us as a species over the next 2,5000 generations, even as we continue this never-ending journey.” And we need that entire repertoire.

The ignorance of western cultures mired in the excrement of  feelings of superiority is magisterial in its colossal stupidity. There really is no ignorance like it–anywhere any time.


Children that Don’t Come Back        


The stories of Canada’s colonial history keep popping up and invariably it seems, they reveal horrendous treatment of Indigenous People in Canada by the dominant society. The latest that I heard about was the story of the Atikamekw First Nation in remote northern Quebec near Wemotaci. The story was shown on CBC National News.

In the 1970s children who needed medical attention in that First Nations Community had to be taken off reserve to southern hospitals a 100 km. away or more. Unfortunately a number of these children were taken away “never to return again.”

Alice Petugauy was a mother of 15 children. She said she was able to take care of all of her children except one—a daughter Diane. Diane had pneumonia and had to get health care that was not available in their community. She was taken away to the hospital but did not return. When her mother inquired of the authorities what happened to her daughter she was told, “Don’t worry about it. You have other children.”

Alice Petugauy was not satisfied with this response and made further inquiries. It took her a long time to get more information. Eventually, years later, she learned that according to provincial records Diane  had been “abandoned.” Of course this was not true. Alice learned that she had signed a document that gave up custody of her child. At the time she signed, the document had been translated into her language by a local priest, because she could not read French. She thought she was consenting to health treatment for her daughter. She was actually saying good-bye to her daughter.

A local social worker, Diane Beliveau, said that it was common in the Atikamekw community for children to be apprehended by Child Protection Services without good reason. Little or not evidence was needed to justify the apprehension. Authorities were predisposed to apprehend.

Many of these children never returned but surprisingly Diane did. She returned as an adult many years later and was reunited with her family including her twin brother. However, by then she could not speak the Atikamekw language and had lost the culture completely. As she said, “Something is missing in me. Something I have lost and will never be able to get back.”

I know that some Canadians are getting tired of hearing apologies from their Prime Minister. They want the Prime Minister to be more like George W. Bush who said, “I am not an apologizing kind of guy.” However, the actions of provincial authorities and all who acquiesced in such actions are despicable. The cultural leaders of the colonizing people—us white guys—have a lot to answer for. Will one more apology be needed? What is much more likely is that many more apologies will be needed.

I know that many white guys feel no personal responsibility. They did not do it. yet us ‘white guys’ are the people who have benefited from this system of white suppression of indigenous people.  We are privileged because of that system. At the very least we should make it clear that we object to that system and we are sorry that others who were not so fortunate as we were suffered as a result of that system.