Thursday, November 27, 2008

Life Underneath the Concrete

I just finished watching a round-table discussion centering around the book, "Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry: The Deception Behind Indigenous Cultural Preservation," co-authored by Frances Widdowson and Albert Howard.

Let me applaud the wonderful job the panel of aboriginal academics did of shooting this work to pieces. Next to David Newhouse, Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux and Patrick Brazeau, this pair of authors looked like a couple of stunned turkeys. Said Professor Wesley-Esquimaux, "Nobody should read this book," and it's safe to say I won't be wasting my money on it.

I am all for promoting discussion of aboriginal issues in this country, but not when material is being put forward by ignorant non-aboriginals (which, strangely enough, sounds a lot like their thesis statement) who believe, as they write in the book, that indigenous people are incapable of abstract thought or governance. It's almost like the co-authors looked at each other, asked "What's the one topic in the world we're most misinformed about?" and decided to write a book about it.

Further to this, Frances Widdowson states that these claims are not racist. Excuse me? How the hell can you make a derogatory remark about an entire race and them say your allegation is not racist? Perhaps she does not know the meaning of the term.

(rā'sĭz'əm) n.
  1. The belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others.
  2. Discrimination or prejudice based on race.


The discussion swayed, at one point, to the growing number of indigenous individuals living in urban centres. It was at this point that professor Newhouse produced the beautiful utterance that formed the title for today's entry. He spoke to the fact that aboriginal spirituality teaches a connection of the individual with the earth that is carried along even if we move from rural communities to cities. "There is life underneath the concrete."

The response from co-author Widdowson was, "Are we suggesting that the aboriginal people have a spiritual relationship to the land?" Umm...let's review...aboriginal spirituality teaches a connection of the individual with the earth. Yes, I do believe that's what we're suggesting. "How is this substantiated?" she asks, going on to tear apart the beliefs of Canada's indigenous people citing that she has no spiritual beliefs herself. Really, Ms Widdowson? It's not your believe and it is therefore false? Wow. I applaud your academic vigour.

It became very obvious very quickly that this work came from a place of fear. Fear of the other, like homophobia or transphobia, does not make for excellence in academics, and the co-authors of Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry have supplied us with a perfect example of this phenomenon.

Why is it that so many individuals cannot accept that others might hold a set of beliefs that are different from one's own? How does aboriginal spiritual belief and cultural diversity pose a threat to the authors of this book? Just because they do not understand the importance of living off the land or of feeling a connection--both spiritual and physical--to the land that is our mother doesn't make this outlook obsolete, as they claim.

I'll leave professor Wesley-Esquimaux with the last words:
"People should have the option to live the way they choose."