False Premises Lead to False Conclusions

As I have been saying the false European sense of superiority Europeans had over the indigenous people they found in the Americas provided a poor basis for their continuing relationship. Racism is never a sound basis for a good society. It really is that simple.

First, that attitude led to the Indigenous people and their cultures being crushed. The consequence was a stubborn sense of superiority and deep vicious racism. As historian Alvin Josephy Jr. said,

“Patronization, condescension, policies of forced assimilation–the determined attempt to stamp out Indianness–continued on through the first part of the twentieth century. And all were manifestations of the white American’s deep-rooted prejudice, sense of superiority, and belief that little in the Indian’s world was worth saving, or even knowing about…if they thought about Indians at all, their thoughts were dominated and colored by inherited feelings of superiority and new stereotypical images of contemptible “drunken Indians,” “lazy Indians,” and “Indians who don’t pay taxes like the rest of us.”

This is exactly what I have called the Original Sin. Sadly, in both Canada and the United States such longstanding biases continue to plague their societies. Such racism has had a strongly detrimental effect on both indigenous and non-indigenous people. That is actually the inevitable consequence of racism, though often it is unacknowledged.

For example as I write this in Canada there is another confrontation between indigenous and non-indigenous people, this time over a pipeline in British Columbia, which confrontation, is benefiting no one and harming many. A better understanding between them would help everyone in the dispute.

As Josephy Jr. said,

“It has long been clear to many persons that the whites’ false and stereotypical thinking has done great harm, not only to the Indians, but also to those who  conquered and dispossessed them. From the Indians’ point of view, the harm lies, not only in the irretrievable loss of so many of their people, but also in the continued ignorance and misunderstanding of non-Indian Americans that too often deny Indians support in opposing injustice and achieving their rightful place in American society. The whites, meanwhile, by denying the value of Indian histories and cultures, have turned their backs on thousands of years of Indian learning , and experience with American land., and on the enormous richness and diversity of Indian spiritual and creative life.

From the vast lore of Indian mythology and story that inspires present-day Indian painters, authors, musicians, poets, dramatists, dancers, jewelers, film-makers, sculptors and other creative artists, to the practicality of centuries-old Indian knowledge in managing fisheries, and forests and even deserts, the Indian world is full of lessons for the modern-day world. Not to recognize this enormous resource is both foolish and terribly wasteful. Indeed, not to understand the reality of Indian history is not to understand ourselves as Americans. Nor can anyone claim to know American history without a full and undistorted appreciation of Indian history.”

And as I have said over and over again, this is of course equally applicable to Canada and its indigenous people. It is difficult now to imagine how much better our countries would be, had the relationships between Europeans and indigenous people been based on respect, rather than false superiority.

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