Filed under: Media | Tags: Colonialism, First Nations, Margaret Wente, Racism, The Globe & Mail
I have made it a habit in recent years to avoid reading Margaret Wente. But over the past few days, too many people have been doing it for me. In case you missed her latest gem: What Dick Pound said was really dumb—and also true.
North American native peoples had a neolithic culture based on subsistence living and small kinship groups. They had not developed broader laws or institutions, a written language, evidence-based science, mathematics or advanced technologies. The kinship groups in which they lived were very small, simply organized and not very productive. Other kinship groups were regarded as enemies, and the homicide rate was probably rather high. Until about 30 years ago, the anthropological term for this developmental stage was “savagery.”
Wow. It’s impossible to dissect fully the Eurocentric assumptions and outright lies Wente packs into this tiny paragraph (there’s more at the link) without writing a monograph—not to mention that calmly explaining to a bigot that the First Nations were people too is an exercise in absurdity. The economical system of trade, tolls and tariffs employed by the Iroquois, Algonkian and Huron (there were, in fact, Ms. Wente, hundreds of native peoples across Canada, not some monolithic morass acting with singular purpose) was tailored to specific geographical and political needs. While surely their religious rituals might not have had the same verve as the witch-burning festival that was occurring across the ocean, these ‘savages’ enjoyed diverse and complex social and mystical systems. Unfortunately, we don’t really know much about the vast medical knowledge of the First Nations (the Aztecs, for example, kept large medicinal gardens) because Jesuit missionaries heaped scorn upon the heathens’ expertise (except when it saved them from scurvy). The Europeans were certainly superior in one medical area: their usage of biological warfare was unrivalled by the First Nations.
I could go on. The requisite facebook group has popped up, calling for the columnist’s dismissal. I can’t agree with firing a journalist for writing a single article. Such censure amounts to censorship and creates an environment where journalists will self-censor in fear of offending the higher ups. Margaret Wente is, however, a habitually poor writer and plays fast and loose with things like ‘facts’ and ‘research’. She is wilfully reactionary, divisive and hateful and has no place in a newspaper that fancies itself ‘Canada’s’. Margaret should not be fired because of one editorial. She should be fired because she is an incompetent journalist.
But if the Globe hasn’t figured that out by now, they won’t. This is a newspaper that endorsed Stephen Harper in the last election. They endorsed an administration whose hostility to journalists and journalism is unsurpassed in Canadian history. They endorsed a government who made it their mission to dismantle and undermine every independent government body and check to executive power that exists in this country. So why should we be surprised that this editorial board supports, and indeed, encourages, a columnist like Margaret Wente?
Until we let the Globe know that in their current form they are emphatically not ‘Canada’s Newspaper’, until we show them in broad strokes that their vision, and Harper’s is not ours, they will continue to steer this country away from us, away from social justice, and away from democracy. Write to Canada’s newspaper and ask for it back.
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