Wente's column here, my post about it, with reader comments, is here. Today's letters:
While there is much that is objectionable in Margaret Wente's crudely provocative and blandly Eurocentric piece, as an indigenous Canadian I must commend her candour in going public with some sensitive, and indeed sensational, family lore: "We robbed and mistreated aboriginal people for a very long time..." Kudos to Ms. Wente for shining a brave light on the dark underbelly of a troubling family history.
Greg Pruden, Winnipeg
I would suggest that Margaret Wente avail herself of the views of several experts in addition to Frances Widdowson before declaring "the truth is different" about aboriginal culture. She might want to expand her horizons by reading Charles Mann's 1491, which says aboriginal civilization in the New World was more advanced than previously thought.
One only has to look at the civilizations of the Mayan, Aztec and Inca to appreciate that one cannot make simplistic opinions such as the one put forth by Dick Pound regarding aboriginal peoples.
Nor should journalists make simplistic declarations of what is the truth while citing the views of one so-called expert.
Joel Weinstein, Toronto
Margaret Wente claims that what Dick Pound said about native peoples was accurate. Mr. Pound has since apologized, making the point that his understanding of the term "sauvage" was deficient. Perhaps he recalled that 400 years ago, judicial torture, burning at the stake and inhumane warfare were widespread in "civilized" Europe. His apology was heartfelt and should be accepted.
However, Ms. Wente says his remarks were accurate and quotes at length from a book by Frances Widdowson in a general anti-native rant. Imagine the impact such views have on the self-esteem of native youth trying to make a go of it today.
James Bartleman, Perth, ON
In arguing that European culture was more sophisticated and developed than North American indigenous cultures, Margaret Wente reveals just how unsophisticated and undeveloped her own ideas are. Alongside advances in technical capacities, European culture has introduced the world to nuclear arms, the Holocaust, countless wars of conquest, environmental destruction and an ever greater unequal distribution of wealth.
Perhaps Ms. Wente could gain some insight by engaging the "savages" that are only too knowledgeable of the "sophistication" of European culture.
Doug Nesbitt, Ottawa
As a physician who has worked in first nation communities in Saskatchewan and Ontario, I have seen the inhumane conditions that persist, including a lack of clean water, exposure to pollutants and crushing poverty. These predictable outcomes were the result of such enlightened European ideas as forced conversion, the sale of alcohol, residential schools and the reserve system.
Andrew Pinto, MD, Ancaster, ON
Margaret Wente believes that Canada's indigenous cultures were less evolved than our industrialized Western society - you know, the one that has produced global warming, nuclear bombs, mass extinctions and MTV's The Hills. More complex, perhaps. But superior?
Dave Patterson, Parksville, BC
In dismissing the claim that first nation people were more ecologically minded than Europeans, Frances Widdowson says, "It's hard to damage the environment with a stone axe." Exactly. That is the point.
Devin McCarthy, Halifax
Margaret Wente's use of Frances Widdowson's work to defend Dick Pound's description of natives 400 years ago as "savages" heaps insult upon injury. Throughout Canadian history, aboriginal peoples have been at pains to remind governments and citizens that they were self-sufficient and self-governing societies before the Europeans arrived, whose status as autonomous peoples, and as military and commercial powers, was recognized, and with whom treaties were entered into by the British.
Ms. Widdowson's work has been roundly criticized by other scholars in relying on a long-discredited theory of evolutionary stages of development through which every society must pass in the long march of "progress." This kind of thinking underpinned Canadian Indian policy from the mid-19th century and led to such disastrous policies as residential schools in attempts to "civilize" and assimilate Mr. Pound's savages.
Such Eurocentric theories, cloaked in the language of science and rationalism, have been rightly rejected by indigenous peoples in Canada and around the world in their struggles for life and land - indeed for their very survival - in the face of modern forms of colonialism.
Janet Conway, Canada Research Chair in Social Justice, Brock University
St. Catharines, ON
Margaret Wente argues that North American natives were in fact savages because "they had not developed broader laws or institutions, a written language, evidence-based science, mathematics or advanced technologies." Yes, but the problem is these are all measures derived from our own cultural practices. The "savage" argument essentially rests on measuring a different culture according to our own image, whilst claiming, without foundation, this measure to be universally valid.
This is exactly the same argument that for centuries has justified the use of power against native peoples.
Bjorn Ekeberg, Ottawa
By coincidence, the book mentioned above, 1491, by Charles Mann, is on my shelf waiting to be read. I've been planning on reading it if I finish this prison-journalism book. (It's very good, I just don't set aside enough time to read.)