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Taiaiake Alfred’s Review of Widdowson and Howard’s Disrobing

University of Victoria Aboriginal Governance Professor Taiaiake Alfred reviews Widdowson and Howard’s Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry. Much of the review takes on Widdowson and Howard’s Marxist inclinations. He writes:

Evidently, Widdowson and Howard get up in the morning and eat a dog’s breakfast of outmoded communist ideology and rotten anthropological theories washed down with strong racial prejudices inherited from their own unexamined colonial upbringings, all of which would turn anyone else’s stomach. Their ideas are, amazingly and unapologetically, the sort of “socialism from above” characteristic of 1930s vintage Stalinism listing upon a ragtag collection of theoretical frames which taken together form a methodological approach remarkable mostly for its inability, like the authors who employ it, to comprehend indigeneity outside of being the object of colonization and empire. To wit: elements of Darwinian evolutionary stages theory, bits of Hegelian historical determinism, and a reliably unsophisticated view of capitalism is a necessary destructive-progressive force leading to the realization of a communist utopia wherein exists a scientifically planned and state organized global society made up of human beings who are worthwhile only to the extent they are “productive”

If Widdowson and Howard were serious Marxists concerned with the oppression of Indigenous peoples, even as a class of society, they would no doubt have focused on the economic and political relations that are at the root of the problems besetting Indigenous peoples and Canadian society as a whole.

The review continues with a detailed, example-laden critique of Widdowson and Howard.

(Widdowson and Howard were much in the news after the publication of their book. Some of the attention came from Widdowson’s support for Dick Pound’s comments that native people were simply savages.)

(Hat Tip to Dirk)

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16 Comments

  1. Albert Howard wrote:

    A Proposal for Taiaiake Alfred: Stop Believing and Start Thinking

    Albert Howard and Frances Widdowson

    Taiaiake Alfred has a right to his opinion about our book, and we would have expected his predictable response to be taken according to the readers’ view of an irrational, undisciplined, condescended-to indigenous academic. However, the many incorrect claims and accusations he makes as to the content of our book, combined with references we’ve read elsewhere, indicates that he had some help in reading it – and perhaps some assistance with his review: We perceive the presence of a certain postmodern traditional knowledge consultant, and neo-left critic of our work. It appears that neither he nor his puppeteer actually read the book but cherry-picked through it for cheap-shot opportunities. It is the clear, factual misrepresentations that we wish to correct, allowing readers to assess the general rigour of Alfred’s “criticism”.

    Alfred starts by snidely accusing us of distortion, omissions and exaggerations without offering any examples. This is followed by that reliable device of the idea-impoverished – accusations of racial prejudice. Secure in his belief that he has conditioned his readers to assume these charges without noticing that what follows is a hysterical, subjective rant using the very elements of which he accuses us, “distortions, omissions and exaggerations”, Alfred supplements his “review” with misquotes and examples taken out of context. It is to this disingenuousness that we respond.

    Since so many other readers and editors have understood that the Aboriginal Industry in our book is a non-indigenous, parasitic force with a common objective of profiting from land claims and other transfers, and thus benefitting from keeping native people in a state of dependency, Alfred’s apparent inability to understand this is hard to take seriously.

    His trashing of Calvin Helin and Ron Bourgeault, because he disagrees with their progressive attitudes, is tasteless and unconscionable. We hope his comments lead to more attention to their work in comparison to Alfred’s incomprehensible output.

    Our assessment of Alfred’s program, at University of Victoria, stands. His stating “None of this is true, of course” is the full content of his refutation.

    The assertion that “it is common knowledge among people who work in the field academically and professionally, that Widdowson and her husband worked diligently for a number of years to integrate into and gain access to the profits of the ‘Aboriginal industry’ for themselves” is a lie. Once again Alfred reveals that he had no idea of what he is talking about and that he relied upon a prejudiced source for his “review”. Howard’s work as a consultant to government and native organizations, in fact, led to the conclusion that funding for aboriginal projects was largely farcical and thus was the initial motivation for our book. Widdowson once responded to an advertised position with a Dene aboriginal organization before she formed her opinions about the Aboriginal Industry, but she wasn’t interviewed.

    In support of his charge that we are “haters” Alfred offers a list of our “views on Indigenous people, taken directly from the book:” The first, refers to quotes on pages 9 and 13 describing characteristics of current aboriginal society, which we wholeheartedly confirm. Our points about tribal forms of political identification, animistic beliefs, and [subsequent] difficulties in developing abstract reasoning, are easily substantiated by examining Alfred’s own writing. In any case, how does this indicate “hate”?

    The “lazy” accusation that Alfred claims supposedly exists on page 97 is obviously not our “view” to anyone actually reading the book, but a criticism. It describes a prejudice against the unemployed. Here is the quote: “People denied jobs because of their race are then thought lazy because they aren’t working.”

    The anthropological terms savagery and barbarism describe scientifically determined stages of cultural development without value judgments. They apply to the development of all human societies, not just those in pre-contact North America. Postmodern relativism, by rejecting this sound expression of scientific reality, concludes that prior stages are “inferior” – a level of reasoning that would find children “inferior” to adults. Even if the terms for the stages were successfully censored, they would be replaced by others because of the need to define those periods of human culture that correspond to stages of technological development.

    Concerning the claim that page 25 of our book refers to residential schools as “positive” and “necessary”, Alfred’s intellectual dishonesty reaches glaring proportions. Once again we are referring critically to the prevailing attitudes of a certain time. Here is the full sentence revealing the shameless corruption that passes for scholarly criticism in Alfred’s mind: “While in the past it was accepted that missionary involvement was a necessary (albeit poorly executed) attempt to give aboriginal children the skills, values, and attitudes for participation in modern society, current examinations of the subject conclude that these initiatives were part of a conscious racist strategy to exterminate aboriginal peoples.” What we do believe to be positive elements of the residential school system are the teaching of English, the discouraging of animistic beliefs, and developing self-discipline.

    Alfred’s reference to page 22, where he maintains that we argue that “traditional land-based lifestyles do not require ‘forethought, discipline and cooperative labour’”, is a distortion. We assert that “they did not require the same degree of forethought…necessary in more complex and productive economic systems”. [Emphasis added.] This qualified statement is supported even by the observations of advocacy anthropologists like Hugh Brody. It is also noted that this was a problem that existed for Europeans making the transition to industrialization, as is documented by the British labour historian, E.P. Thompson.

    The statement referred to on page 190, where we supposedly talk about British explorers “encountering our ancestors, who were ignorant”, is the title of the chapter: “Education: Honouring the Ignorance of Our Ancestors”. The title intentionally uses the word “our”, because it is meant to refer to all human beings in the past, not just aboriginal peoples’ ancestors. It is a recognition that all societies were once hunters and gatherers, and the knowledge that existed at this time, because of the use of stone age technology and a lesser capacity to control nature, was relatively undeveloped. No hunting and gathering society had developed literacy or numeracy, and this meant that these cultures did not have the technological base from which to develop science, mathematics or logic. The assertion on page 23 of our book, that the explorers had never encountered people “at such an early stage of economic and social development” is not just our “view”; it is patently obvious: Europeans with 2000 years of civilization confronted people without iron, writing, the wheel, draft animals, etc.. What’s Alfred’s point?

    Well, Alfred tells us that our positions are easily refutable, but doing so would “dignify” our book. Just how exposing “derogatory and unsubstantiated attacks” would dignify any book is puzzling. But this simplistic avoidance of critical analysis, by those with no real argument, is familiar; in a recent panel discussion of our book on TVO’s The Agenda With Steve Paikin (November 27, 2008), Cynthia Wesley Esquimaux declared with certainty that she could supply devastating criticism of the book but that “it would take too long”. Paikin looked incredulous, and said “so you do take issue with it, but we haven’t got enough time to argue it out, is that right?”.

    Alfred’s comments on the Justice chapter further indicate that he doesn’t do his own reading. In the case of Howard’s (not “Widdowson and Howard”) observing a woman being punched in the face, there was no “opposition of supposed participants”; the man ran away, but was identified to the police officer by the victim. This is offered, not as “proof that the justice system is corrupt”, but to indicate how the prevalence of violence against women in native society is taken for granted. Alfred should come out of his spiritual haze and address the statistical reality that aboriginal women are seven times more likely to suffer violence than the national average.

    In his criticism of the language chapter, Alfred, again, obviously hasn’t read the material. He seems to think that the translation we use, to demonstrate that the early stage of development of indigenous languages limits their efficacy in modern communication, is from Hegel. But it is clearly stated (page 205) that it is from a territorial government document on aboriginal “traditional knowledge”. While it is clearly indicated that the native language translations were done by two professional firms recommended by the Government of the Northwest Territories, Alfred claims first that we translated them ourselves and then that the translators were “unspecified”. The discrepancies in meaning do not indicate, as he supposes, that “European languages are easier to translate into European languages than Indigenous [sic] languages.” How does he explain accurate translations of oriental languages?

    In his response to our claim that the Iroquois influenced the American Constitution, Alfred gives us a glimpse of the “evidence” that he relies on for his own “scholarship”. Although he is dismissive of the research of the reputable anthropologist Elisabeth Tooker, who painstakingly analyzes the actual historical documents pertaining to this matter, Alfred instead points to a political resolution of the US Senate that “acknowledges this vital Iroquois contribution to the very foundation upon which the United States is established”. Does Alfred not recognize the difference between a political statement and historical evidence?

    The sycophantic, uncritical condescension that he has become used to has made Alfred comfortable with the reckless and subjective attacks on all who don’t subscribe to his ravings. He sees no inappropriateness in blatant ad hominem attacks on writers, academics and educational institutions, clearly repeats the claptrap of his Aboriginal Industry handlers, and demonstrates the kind of offensive arrogance that we describe in our book on page 77.

    Alfred’s attacks on responsible “community colleges” and “vocational schools” (where we supposedly have been “hired on”) are flimsy when considered in light of where he might be teaching today were it not for the insidious presence of affirmative action in today’s postmodern university culture. Anything that Alfred writes or says should be seen in the context of a person who gives thanks to the earth, moon and a full range of natural phenomena, and, of course, “the Creator”. His reference to native people as a “class” also indicates his lack of understanding of Marxism – obtained, evidently, from the fashionable nonsense advocated by the New Socialist Group.

    In his writings, Alfred’s central theme is the return to the cultural values of the Neolithic period. The most harmful element of this reactionary scheme is the insistence that spirituality is essential to indigenous survival. If it is true that indigenous identity is dependent on collective irrationality, the case is made for a move to a more enlightened consciousness. Alfred’s horrendous view that native people be denied critical thought in order to maintain an autonomous primitiveness would commit young people to unscientific world views. In a period in which the international community is finding cooperation through common understanding, this further entrenches aboriginal people in a state of isolation and dependency. Alfred takes the undisputed maltreatment of indigenous people and uses it to rationalize his socially destructive arguments.

    He refuses to, or cannot, see that human experience cannot be reversed, but can be corrected. His romanticism of the Neolithic period has made Alfred the darling of the Aboriginal Industry. These unconscionable parasites will remain on hand to, help Alfred write his books, design programs, make grant applications and “consult” as long as aboriginal dependency remains and the money keeps flowing.

    The money will stop flowing when governments take responsibility for the condition of native peoples, and design policies and programs that address the specific needs of aboriginals in the areas of health, education, housing and poverty. Defunding the Aboriginal Industry, and the research that justifies its existence, would enable people to see Alfred for what he really is: a romantic reactionary who obtains his position in society by justifying the educational deficit of “his people”. By defeathering his counterproductive activism, we hope that all people, both aboriginal and non-aboriginal, will begin to question his irrational agenda. Maybe then Alfred could use the skills that he has obtained in the modern educational system to advance the actual interests of the native population.

    Saturday, February 7, 2009 at 7:32 pm | Permalink
  2. Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux wrote:

    Mr. Howard, just a quick response, you are engaging in the very thing you accuse others of, misrepresentation, the commentary on “it would take too long” stands because it was in relation to the limited time of the show we were on, not any unwillingness to critique the book. I feel the same about it now as then, an actual and factual discussion on the Aboriginal Industry is needed and would be welcomed, direct attacks on the Native people of Canada is unhelpful, breeds hate and divisions, and does not advance any kind of proactive or advanced discussion on moving forward the interests of the native population (as you note yourself).

    Monday, February 9, 2009 at 8:34 am | Permalink
  3. I am currently reading this book (about half way through) and must say wow. What a piece of work. There is a ‘kernel or truth’ to what the disrobers are saying, but like much common sense that only gets us part of the way tot he actual truth.

    Here’s what I am learning from the disrobers as I read:

    (1) F. Boas is a postmodernist. see page 60: “Over the last century Morgan’s theory has been gradually usurped by the postmodern theory of cultural relativism . . . It’s most significant proponent was Franz Boas. . .” Interesting. But Boas died before postmodernism reared its strange head (for a good read on postmodern theory take a look at Alex Callinicos’ Against Postmodernism or Bryan Palmer’s Descent into Discourse, both far better sources then the one’s the disrobers suggest. Oh, and it should be noted that the source that they quote to explicate Boas is John Bodly’s first year anthropology text book, not Boas’ actually writing (I’ve used the Bodly text, but wouldn’t want to base a unique interpretation of the history of anthropological theory on it.

    (2) Critical eye not bleeding heart. I would agree, a firmly rooted historical materialism is much needed. But, I would like one that draws upon empirical facts not assumptions and partial truths drawn from such esteemed sources as the National Post, the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, etc.

    (3) hunting requires no planning, discipline, or cooperative labour (page 22). But even fellow curmudgeon Rolf Knight (a long time marxist who writes from a clear class perspective) would disagree with the assertion that aboriginal people had no useable skills and were shunted aside as the industrial economy took off. Even the latter day historian Andrew Parnaby, also writing from a marxist perspective, describes the role of coast salish longshoremen int he trade union. Interesting to note that these are the same people that the disrobers consider to lack skill and foresight.

    (4) that one should be pleased that residential schools existed because “were it not for the education and socialization efforts [of] residential schools, aboriginal people would be even more marginal.” But there is no evidence to support this claim, not even a footnote to the National Post to support the assumption.

    (5) on page 57 we are treated to an intriguing reinterpretation of Trotsky’s theory of uneven and combined development (originally formulated to help explain/understand how revolution was occurring in so-called ‘backward’ countries but not in western Europe and which then became linked to Trotsky’s important idea of ‘permanent revolution.’ But the disrobers turn Trotsky’s theory into a justification for assimilation. There have been other purportedly marxist writers who take an intriguing and iconoclastic theoretical turn -Bil Warrens Imperialism: Pioneer of Capitalism was another earlier example (though far better placed within the discipline of marxist theory then the disrobing book.

    (6) and then some minor things like Lewis Henry Morgen described as the principle founder of anthropology. Really? That’s an intriguing and rather tendentious statement. What about Mallinowski? or maybe Cushing, or Mooney or R-B, or even F Boas? Go figure. Oh, and the teleological underpinnings of the disrober’s evolutionary model doesn’t reflect contemporary understanding of evolution. Evolution, simply put is cumulative change -it is not directional.

    At the core of this book are, I think two enmeshed ideas (1) a rather crude mechanical determinism that draws from the most limited lines of marxist thinking and draws its inspiration from some of the worst of Engel’s writing, and; (2) a sense of disgruntlement. It’s hard to place a finger on this second piece put it seems that underneath the entire arguments, beneath the clarity of the prose and the structure of of the book is a sense of personal grievance, as sense of bitter disappointment.

    Monday, February 9, 2009 at 1:00 pm | Permalink
  4. J. Fleming wrote:

    Dear sir,
    You are clearly so entrenched in your narrow positivism that you are unable to step back and critically reflect on the ultimate criticism of your ‘theory’ which is that your stages of cultural development are a scientifically established truth.

    Tuesday, February 10, 2009 at 2:51 pm | Permalink
  5. Jenny Smith wrote:

    Wow. For all the ranting and raving by Albert Howard regarding Dr. Taiaiake Alfred’s “failure” to read properly into his text, I am amused by his obvious failure to exercise the same due diligence he is critiquing Dr. Alfred for – “In his writings, Alfred’s central theme is the return to the cultural values of the Neolithic period.” I suppose playing the “culture is static and yours is dead” trump card works for most academics out of the loop of contemporary workings on decolonization. It allows them to retain their position of hierarchy by asserting that regardless of the will and words of the Indigenous peoples seeking empowerment for themselves, that “white is right” and Canada should continue its paternalistic approach to “legislating” Indigenous peoples through social and economic policy as opposed to actually listening to the intent of Indigenous peoples to assert their freedom.

    Even better is the prize-winning end point (if it can be called a point) that Dr. Alfred use his “modern education” to “actually help” Indigenous peoples. The deference to “modern” education is amusing, as well as the not-so-subtle implication that the modern system is to be credited for Dr. Alfred’s intellectualism. A bizarre binary is set up here that makes it okay for Howard to “dabble” in/with Indigenous thought, while “modern” thought can, and should, remain viewed as a “privilege” for the wayward and outdated Indigenous person.

    Yes, Albert, reinforcing your place in the hierarchy that oppresses the people is ALWAYS a great way to enter a dialogue on Indigenous peoples. Could we please, please, please have some more overblown (and over-published) white researchers who make reference fairly exclusively to only those other white theorists who support their nonsensical assertions? Ah, the shame of being a Canadian.

    Tuesday, February 10, 2009 at 2:59 pm | Permalink
  6. Jenny Smith wrote:

    Oh, and the brilliant strategy of advocating (if that’s what it is to be called) the “real” helping of Indigenous peoples while attacking in a derogatory manner the education of Dr. Alfred in a “modern” institution is as well fodder for a academic comedy troupe. I suppose “modern” education will be left out of the social policy afforded Indigenous peoples since pretty much any Indigenous student that’s been through the system is keenly aware of the need to counteract the nonsense of Howard and Widdowson.

    Tuesday, February 10, 2009 at 3:12 pm | Permalink
  7. Alicia Elliott wrote:

    “Widdowson once responded to an advertised position with a Dene aboriginal organization before she formed her opinions about the Aboriginal Industry, but she wasn’t interviewed.”

    “Alfred’s attacks on responsible “community colleges” and “vocational schools” (where we supposedly have been “hired on”) are flimsy when considered in light of where he might be teaching today were it not for the insidious presence of affirmative action in today’s postmodern university culture.”

    Should I state the obvious? It sounds like these are two people who are angry that their race is actually failing to get them what they want. In both of these quotes it’s fairly easy to see that Widdowson and Howard seem to subscribe to the idea that they, as white people, have some sort of “right” to something.

    So Widdowson didn’t get an interview for a job? It must be because she’s not Indigenous, right? It must be the fault of that awful affirmative action, which is only necessary because people in positions to hire hold unfair and unsubstantiated ideas of people of colour.

    The second comment and it’s evident disdain for affirmative action just links both writers to a tradition of white people who feel like they are somehow being disenfranchised despite the fact that their race still make up the vast majority of high-paying and high status positions in society. So you can’t cash in your unearned racial privilege because of government-passed legislation? Why don’t you try to break down the system of racial oppression that you yourselves unknowingly continue so the government doesn’t have to pass such legislation?

    The fact that these authors seem to be paradoxically fighting for the “freeing” of Aboriginals from an exploitive and discriminatory system, while simultaneously calling their culture, language and way of life “barbaric” simply because it does not pass the “White Western-Based Measure of Civilization and Thought” test is nothing short of bizarre.

    In addition, it’s sad (though not surprising) these two do not see their clear bias in favour of Western notions of civilization as problematic. Why do they see amistic beliefs and traditional language as bad, or something that White Christian society needs to fix? There is no way to tell what spiritual beliefs are correct or incorrect, so their entire argument about the faultiness of “amistic” beliefs seems rather unsubstantial to me.

    As for saying that it’s a good thing that Aboriginal people learned English, they clearly have not done very broad or inclusive research. While on the Trail of Tears in the nineteenth century, Cherokee women who spoke English were targeted by white soldiers for sexual violence instead of those who had not gone to mission schools and learned English (Andrea Smith, Conquest). It seems like the problem that these two have with Native people keeping their language (and thus not assimilating) is that as white English-speaking people, they would have no way to control it. This idea is only furthered by their assertion that Native language is somehow “less” because it is apparently not as easily translated to English.

    Could this supposed lack of translatability be the cause for Widdowson and Howard’s assertion that Indigenous people have “difficulties in developing abstract reasoning”? Assuming that the basis for this strange idea is in accounts of post-colonial interactions between Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal people, I must ask: how can you judge an entire culture and their ability to think abstractly unless you learn their language and speak to them before that culture started to change as a result of colonial contact?

    It also raises the question of who made these “conclusions” and how they made them. Did they learn the language of the people they were speaking to? Because it seems to me that if you can’t understand what someone is saying, you can’t really judge the merits of their abstract reasoning. Was the person/s who did this research white? Because if so, chances are they already had an idea of what they were going to find (and wanted to find) before they even set out. Or should we look at the “scientific” study of social darwinism to see how racism is institutionalized and attempts to be made into “scientific fact”?

    The entire premise of Widdowson and Howard’s comments on Aboriginal culture and its “barbarism” and “savagery” is problematic, in that they are basing the idea of civilization on technology. Even in the most technologically-advanced society there is murder, abuse, rape, suicide, theft, violence, deceit, racism, sexism, homophobia, classism… do I really need to go on? Is technology really what makes a society “civilized”? Or is that just a relative term that white supremacist systems use to reinforce their colonialist, racist and assimilationist policies? Strange how even to this day accounts of how “savage” the “Indians” were is symbolized in scalping. That has very little to do with technology.

    “Alfred should come out of his spiritual haze and address the statistical reality that aboriginal women are seven times more likely to suffer violence than the national average.”

    The way in which this is presented is very problematic, as well, because it seems to imply that these women are all abused by Aboriginal men. While there are definitely cases of abuse perpetrated against Aboriginal women by Aboriginal men, that is an issue of the colonial effects on Aboriginal people’s ideology and power structure (which it would take a lot more space to talk about. Maybe I’ll come back later to do it if Widdowson and/or Howard start ragging on me for not validly critiquing their theories).

    However, colonialism has marked Aboriginal female bodies as somehow “deserving” of violence, rape and even death. One look at Western Canada, where hundreds of Aboriginal women have gone missing, shows that an “Aboriginal race” makes women into targets of violence to this day. I doubt that I need to go into a history of the awful ways that Aboriginal women have been treated by white and non-white people alike.

    Honestly, there is way more that I could say. In fact, I could probably go through line by line and give critique of just Howard’s post. However, I’ve already spent quite a bit of time on this, probably more than I should have. I’ll be happy to come back, though, if it’s necessary.

    Thursday, February 12, 2009 at 6:54 pm | Permalink
  8. kevin hanson wrote:

    yes we cannot change the past the damage has already been done! It is true of our people’s conquering, but given that our people were at war the rules of engagement were compromised! Canada truly has foster children now! and p.o.w. camps still..? time will tell..who will answer..? who will listen..? who knows for sure..? modern society..?

    Saturday, February 14, 2009 at 10:35 pm | Permalink
  9. Pamela Tudge wrote:

    I would personally like the academic community to take responsibility for this book in particular the Anthropology community and some of the archaic theories represented. I am disgusted by the book as a graduate student in an academic setting and as a Canadian citizen that obviously read very different books and have had very different experiences. Reading the book is surreal, you can hardly believe that you are reading contemporary writers.

    Monday, February 16, 2009 at 9:59 pm | Permalink
  10. Chuck Lovatt wrote:

    I read the book and liked it. I can also applaud the courage it took Howard and Widdowson to write it.
    It is my view that the treatment of one race differently from others is wrong. It can only breed suspicion and distrust, as seems apparent after having read these critiques.

    Wednesday, February 18, 2009 at 1:12 pm | Permalink
  11. Rochelle Starr wrote:

    Aside from the personal vendetta that these white, racist, arrogant and ignorant authors have against Indigenous people of Canada, they don’t even attempt to address Tai’s critique of how their unscholarly research was conducted. Instead they attack Tai personally, as well as all of Indigenous people’s intellect and spirituality. It is incredibily pompous of how H&W mock Indigenous people’s spirituality, “Anything that Alfred writes or says should be seen in the context of a person who gives thanks to the earth, moon and a full range of natural phenomena, and, of course, “the Creator”. The fact that they chissel these thoughts into their rebuttle of Tai’s appropriate critique of their book speaks volume to who they are as people, and to also gives much credit to Tai’s critique!!! If these authors wrote about east indians or black people in this way, it would simply not be tolerated!

    Back to the main point. These authors do not give the scholarly evidence that Tai called them out for and therefore, in this modern world, and especially in the academic world, you must be able to back up what you say!!!

    Friday, February 27, 2009 at 11:04 am | Permalink
  12. Jenny Smith wrote:

    Yes, treating people differently on the basis of an archaic notion of racial difference does breed distrust and disjuncture among peoples.

    So does genocide, colonial oppression, and a failure to account for significant land appropriation which has extended over centuries. As much as the people who have profited from the oppression of Indigenous peoples would wish their accountability would just be washed away in a “kumbaya rhetoric,” it’s not going to happen, and the sooner that it is recognized, the sooner true accountability can be given, and perhaps then, and only then, we can begin to repair the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.

    Monday, March 2, 2009 at 6:50 pm | Permalink
  13. MLD wrote:

    I’ve been reading these posts with interest, particularly in light of Widdowson’s upcoming presentation next week. Widdowson will be presenting at the Aboriginal Policy and Research Conference in Ottawa, which is sponsored by the University of Western Ontario, the Friendship Centres, and INAC.

    While I support free speech, particularly within academia, I cannot help but wonder how Widdowson’s paper passed a review for inclusion in the conference. Thoughts?

    Wednesday, March 4, 2009 at 8:35 pm | Permalink
  14. Jenny Smith wrote:

    MLD….I avoided that presentation like the plague, although myself and many others were not left without wondering – how? why?

    Sunday, March 15, 2009 at 4:17 pm | Permalink
  15. Steven Martin wrote:

    I find it funny hearing racists try and talk their way out of looking like racists.

    Sunday, December 13, 2009 at 7:53 am | Permalink
  16. Peter Rasevych wrote:

    Albert Howard, in the final sentence of his 10th paragraph, wrote: “What we do believe to be positive elements of the residential school system are the teaching of English, the discouraging of animistic beliefs, and developing self-discipline.” I believe that this statement is a clear illustration of how damaging Widdowson and Howard’s work really is.

    1) This sentence makes the claim that Indigenous peoples did not possess or develop self-discipline among themselves until residential schools came along. This is simply preposterous when one considers the strict cultural customs, moral codes and ethical values that Indigenous peoples once lived by before these became eroded by the Christianity that was brutally imposed on them by the residential schools.

    2) For Howard to even consider that “the discouraging of animistic beliefs” is a “positive element” of residential schools is another indicator of how this writing is very dangerous and unconstitutional. To make the claim that to subject Indigenous peoples to brutal colonialism in order to erase their cultures, belief systems, community structures, spiritual life ways,and traditional values, is abhorrent and also in disagreement with the United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and also the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

    3) Howard states that the “teaching of English” is “positive element” of residential schools Despite the fact that many people (even Indigenous peoples themselves) may consider this to be a valid point, one must at the same time address the issue of why the settler Canadians have never taken the initiative to learn how to speak and teach Indigenous languages while including them fully as integral parts of the Canadian life and culture (as French and English are). To state that learning English was “positive” while simultaneously beating children so that they do not speak their own language does not make sense. Stripping peoples of their own languages while force-feeding them your own can never be a “positive” thing.

    Wednesday, March 3, 2010 at 8:49 am | Permalink

7 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] critique of Taiaiake Alfred’s review of their book Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry. The critique is embedded in the comments section of a previous post here on Fieldnotes. The first paragraph reads as [...]

  2. [...] The review of Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry by Widdowson and Howard is generating discussion. See the comments in this previous post. [...]

  3. [...] you’ve been wondering what the fuss around Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry is all about, the National Post has published an excerpt. [...]

  4. cmcgranahan on Thursday, May 14, 2009 at 8:32 pm

    RT @tbrrhd critiques of marxist/materialist rant vs anthros perpetuating native poverty via ‘indian industry’ in Canada http://is.gd/j5T4

  5. Carole McGranahan on Thursday, May 14, 2009 at 8:32 pm

    RT @tbrrhd critiques of marxist/materialist rant vs anthros perpetuating native poverty via ‘indian industry’ in Canada http://is.gd/j5T4

  6. Carole McGranahan on Friday, May 15, 2009 at 3:32 am

    RT @tbrrhd critiques of marxist/materialist rant vs anthros perpetuating native poverty via ‘indian industry’ in Canada http://is.gd/j5T4

  7. [...] FieldNotes: for the Anthropology of British Columbia Taiaiake Alfred’s Review of Widdowson and How… [...]