Take a standard university survey course of Canadian history, which is no longer a required course even for history students, and the first lessons will likely be about the moral superiority of the “First Nations” of Canada, the diseases Europeans brought, the capitalist greed that drove Europeans to “discover” Canada (in quotation marks to deny they ever discovered anything), the intolerance of Christians towards Natives beliefs — all contrasted to “the matriarchal egalitarian Iroquoian society.”
Standard survey textbooks of history are supposed to be evenhanded, avoid strong interpretative angles, offer the consensus view or fairly present different viewpoints. The survey texts I have been evaluating in the series Canadian settlement history, A History of the Canadian Peoples, by J. M. Bumsted, and the two volume text by R. Douglas Francis, et al., Origins, Canadian History to Confederation, and Destinies: Canadian History Since Confederation, are not books with an overtly Marxist, feminist, environmentalist, or postmodernist approach. They have all the scholarly trappings of consensus books, based on the “advised and suggestions of many Canadian historians,” incorporating research across the spectrum of ideas (except, needless to say, alt right ideas).
Nevertheless, we have seen they have a strong pro-immigration and diversity agenda to the point of distorting the obvious objective fact, not interpretative claim, that Canada was created by native born Quebecois/Acadians and English-speakers, internal migrants from British North America, pioneers/settlers from the British world and Europe, and hardworking White immigrants who came between 1945 and 1967.
From their opening pages, White students are made to feel their ancestors stole this country from the “First Nations” and that there is nothing whatsoever for them to feel any pride in their past. The opening sentence of Bumsted’s text reads:
At one time, a history of Canada typically would begin with the arrival of the European ‘discovery’ at the end of the fifteenth century (p. 4).
The text Origins also places quotation marks on the word “discovered.” Current texts start with chapters on the history and culture of Aboriginals, whereas, as this quote says, texts before the 1950s started with the European discovery of Canada, without quotation marks.
George Bryce’s A Short History of the Canadian People (1914) opens with a few pages on European exploration generally and with a section “Jacques Cartier Discovers Canada” (p. 4). Arthur Lower’s A History of Canada, Colony to Nation (1946, 1964), opens with the paragraph:
The history of Canada must begin, as it were, pre-natally. The country of today was not born until generations of Europeans had tramped across the surface of the New World, had fought each other in its fastnesses, had given themselves toil against the wilderness and had debated in their new homes the great questions that lie at the base of society. These men from overseas and that northern region into which they came, thrown together through four centuries of effort, brought to birth Canada, child of European civilization and the American wilderness (p. 1).
Donald Creighton’s Dominion of the North, first published in 1944, revised in 1957, opens with the “Norsemen who first discovered the giant stepping-stones which link Europe with northern North America” (p. 1). Then it mentions the “discoveries” (without quotation marks) of the other Europeans who followed, repeating this word often in the opening pages. J.M.S Careless’s Canada: A Story of Challenge (1953, 1965), opens with the geography of Canada, followed by a short section on “The Indians and the Land,” and thereafter the “discovery” of Canada without quotation marks.
But it is not as if these books ignored the interactions of Europeans and Indians. Creighton, for example, gives the Huron and Iroquois a prominent role in the creation of the St. Lawrence fur empire. He refers to the canoe, the toboggan, the sledge, the snowshoe, the mocassin as “all examples of the useful tools and devices which the French borrowed from the Indians” (p. 82). The difference is that, unlike the authors of Origins, he does not say that Indian tools “were superior to what the Europeans could offer” (p. 42). While Origins refers rather curtly to the “metal tools and weapons” of the Europeans, Careless explains in a realistic way how the Indians in fact “became dependent upon” the goods of the Europeans, and “were eager” to trade for European guns, iron traps, kettles, steel knives, blankets, all of which had become essential in the perennial power struggles of Indian tribes (pp. 21-28).
Francis Parkman’s Savages
|Proud Iroquois Warriors|
European historians, from the very beginning of their historical accounts of Canada, have always exhibited a keen curiosity and appreciation for the Indians of Canada. Francis Parkman’s multi-volume history of the European colonization of North America, written between 1865 and 1892, and released in 1983 as a two-volume unabridged version by the Library of America with the title France and England in North America, provides a full chapter on the “Native Tribes,” in addition to many other pages and paragraphs spread over the two volumes, exhibiting, in my view, a far deeper ethnographic grasp of the natives, based on a wide array of primary accounts by Europeans who had intimate relations with Indians, real curiosity about their customs and beliefs in North America the moment they established contact with them in the 1600s.
Yes, Parkman, including the normal historians mentioned above, call them “savages” in the way that all scholars in the past did even when they idealized them as “noble.” They did so because they were unwilling to deny that Indians were not living in civilizations in which a centralized authority kept order among large segments of the population, suppressed certain natural sexual impulses and imposed rules of behaviour between otherwise feuding tribes. Yet, while believing that the Iroquois, the tribe that Parkman holds in higher esteem, would never “have developed a civilization of their own” (p. 368), Parkman still admires how “spirits so fierce, and in many ways so ungoverned, lived in peace, without law and without enforced authority.”
There were towns where savages lived together in thousands with a harmony which civilization might envy. This was in good measure due to the peculiarities of Indian character and habits. This intractable race were, in certain external respects, the most pliant and complaisant of mankind. The early missionaries were charmed by the docile acquiescence with which their dogmas were received; but they soon discovered that their facile auditors neither believed nor understood that to which they had promptly assented. They assented from a kind of courtesy, which,, wile it vexed the priests, tended greatly to keep the Indians in mutual accord. That well known self control, which, originating in a form of pride, covered the savage nature of the man with a veil, opaque, though thin, contributed not a little to the same end. Though vain, arrogant, boastful, and vindictive, the Indian bore abuse and sarcasm with an astonishing patience. Though greedy and grasping, he was lavish without sting, and would give way his all to soothe the manes of a departed relative, gain influence and applause, or ingratiate himself with his neighbours. In his dread of public opinion, he rivalled some of his civilized successors (p. 369).
This passage is filled with insights treating Indians with respect as real men, rather than as victims in need of fake praises by male academics who have no sense of what it means to struggle for one’s survival with their 10 hour work-week and inflated salaries.
All we hear today is how the “Aboriginal peoples lived in a reciprocal relationship with nature” and how “virtually everything written about the indigenous population of Canada was produced from a European perspective” (Bumsted, pp. 5, 22) until recent decades. In my estimation it is the other way around: Parkman was European with his own standards, to be sure, but he at least wrote without treating the Indians as ideological pawns to serve contemporaneous political agendas.
Bumsted and the authors of Origins are all White males, and the presumption that they have escaped the biases of their time by treating Indians with effeminate hands is nonsense. It is quite comical hearing these authors telling their students that historians are finally treating Aboriginals without prejudices by bringing out their “voices ” and histories, assigning them a lot of space in the textbooks, and yet noticing at the same time that every single book and article they rely upon to tell us about the amazing culture of the Aboriginals (and Origins has a long list of sources) was authored by an European! More accurately, by an European leftist academic pretending to speak for Natives when in fact s/he is just projecting Eurocentric leftist notions onto them.
Cosmopolitan Academics Without Any Ethnographic Grasp
Bumsted thinks he is edgy and young writing dismissively of “whatever technological glitter Europeans had, it would prove relatively useless in the wilderness of the New World” (p. 22). Not only is this statement obviously wrong — for how did Europeans manage to take over the entire non-European world? — but should we not ask, if we are really trying to overcome our ethnocentrism, why is it that only Europeans today put down their ancestors while celebrating the cultures of others? This attitude is unique to Europeans in our times, it is not a generic state of being of the “human race.”
Ethnography, like every other discipline taught in our universities, is an invention of Europeans. But only recently have they turned this field against their own culture. Europeans have always shown a Faustian ambition to learn about the unknown including why different societies have different morals and styles of life. What we must ponder over is why this age-old curiosity, this uniquely spacious mind, which led Europeans to invent the disciplines of archaeology and anthropology, and to write the entire history of Asians and Africans and Aboriginals, for Europeans are the only people with a sense of historical time, came to be maliciously misused against European culture itself by cultural Marxists starting some decades ago.
Bumsted says that Europeans “found it impossible to grasp that inanimate objects in nature could be considered to be alive” (p. 27). Well, Europeans used to grasp objects this way until they came to discover the mind and realized the mind was a faculty separate from the body and emotions which could be objectively employed to explain observable patterns in the universe through inductive generalizations and deductive inferences from axiomatic definitions.
There is something contrived and infantile in the way Bumsted goes on and on trying to persuade White students that Natives were superior in all respects, writing that “Europeans were thoroughly disoriented” by the fact that “First Nations religion had no buildings, no clerical hierarchy.” Actually, history shows that Aboriginals had no sense of the geographical contours of the world’s land masses, where they were located, whereas it was Europeans who went about classifying and explaining the geographical features of Canada and mapping the entire world.
Bumsted writes: “Tolerance for alternative spiritual values and belief systems was hardly one of Europe’s strong suits.” If Europeans had shown the tolerance students today are expected to show for millions of immigrants while putting down their own beliefs and barely learning anything about their history, they would have been eaten in no time by the Iroquoians. As it is, the historical record shows, as Perez Zagorin has explained in How the Idea of Toleration Came to the West (2003), that:
Between the sixteenth and twentieth centuries a huge and enormously significant shift of attitudes and values regarding differences in religion gradually occurred in Western societies. Instead of the age-old assumption that it is right and justifiable to maintain religious unity by force and to kill heretics and dissenters if necessary, the opposite assumption came to prevail that it is wrong and unjustifiable to use force and to kill in the cause of religion, and, moreover, that religious toleration and freedom are morally and politically desirable and should be given effect in laws and institutions (p. 3).
Students would be better educated with a lesson about how the Jesuits in New France employed a far more tolerant method of conversion than the Spaniards had earlier in South America. The Jesuits, members of a male religious order who first arrived in New France in 1611, settled in Huron villages and learned the Huron languages as a way of carrying their message, and rather than rejecting outright all Huron beliefs, recognized certain beliefs that were comparable to Christian beliefs. They also tried to impress the Hurons with their technological superiority and greater knowledge of nature as a way of convincing them of the superiority of Christianity.
All this talk about how “First Nations exhibited none of the negative features of capitalistic society” and how “Aboriginals had a strong sense of love and community” (Bumsted, p. 28) is nothing more than virtue signalling by academics who would not last a week living in a real community of tough Indians.
Europeans Discovered Canada
The name “Canada” originated from the Iroquoian word “kanata” or “canada,” meaning “village” or “settlement.” But it was the Europeans who then applied this name way beyond a singular settlement to the totality of the lands they were settling through the 1600s along the St. Lawrence river and beyond.
Despite varying definitions as to what constitutes a nation, there is agreement that a tribe is not a nation. The natives of Canada were organized in tribes, and a tribe consists of people with a distinct set of cultural and linguistic traits occupying territories that are not yet integrated into a nation with clear boundaries and a powerful centralized authority. You need a hierarchical order, a cohesive territorial army, and a unified state corresponding to a people with a shared ethnicity, to speak of a national people, though there may be other ethnic groups living under the rule of a territory controlled by a people with a shared ethnicity.
There is a lot of debate whether the ancient Athenians, the Romans, the English in the medieval era, the ancient Egyptians and other peoples, were nations, but one thing is certain, no one claims that there were nations before certain characteristics we identify with a civilized state of living were in place, such as a written language, a legal code, a network of communications, a reasonably centralized army, a bureaucracy capable of enforcing state authority over an extended territory with some boundaries. This is what the French and the English did in Canada, create a nation state, and this is why it is correct to say they discovered Canada, a land inhabited by Indian tribes.