Margaret Wente is judging first nations, and all societies, by the wrong yardstick. Almost six decades ago, anthropologists stopped measuring races on a crude evolutionary scale, recognizing that culture rather than race was the basis of society. What distinguished societies was not their place on an evolutionary scale but their adaptation to their local circumstances. Those that lived in arable areas developed horticulture, as the Iroquois did. Those who lived in subarctic regions depended on hunting and fishing, as the Innu of Quebec did. And, by the way, environmental historians have found that Iroquois farmers were more productive than settlers during the first period of colonization.
Moreover, first nations had developed political, diplomatic and social systems that suited their various circumstances. The Iroquois political system internally and diplomatic practices externally were marvels, as newcomers recognized when they adopted Iroquois diplomatic practices. First nations' social systems were based on kinship and were successful in achieving their purpose: deterring intragroup violence.
First nations were neither inferior nor superior to French and English newcomers. They had cultures that were adapted to their environments. The smart newcomers borrowed many of their features.
J. R. Miller, Canada Research Chair and professor of history, University of Saskatchewan
Margaret Wente's article can only help perpetuate the ignorance and mistruths that exist today about first nations people. Ask yourself who wrote the history that teachers such as Frances Widdowson rely on to call first nations people savages. It was not first nations people who know our governance, culture and knowledge who wrote about ourselves. It was non-first nations people who thought they knew about us who wrote these books.
In B.C., the Minister of Education is working to correct these so-called histories to properly reflect the true role of first nations in shaping this country. There are documented cases where explorers arriving in Canada would never have survived if they hadn't traded with first nations people, and artifacts that show the technology that existed in communities dating back more than 9,000 years. The need to be superior by certain races over others is still prevalent in this country, so it's no wonder discrimination still exists.
Judith Sayers, Chief, Hupacasath First Nation
Port Alberni, B.C.
If European culture was superior to indigenous cultures, as Dick Pound, Frances Widdowson and Margaret Wente espouse, how come the moment Europeans set foot in the Americas, they went about murdering, raping and pillaging in the name of God and gold?
Armand Garnet Ruffo, Ottawa
These three sum up all the angles.