Elaborating in bullet points, Olsen outlined the ways that First Nations were supposedly hopelessly antiquated, dismissing their 12,000-year history with assertions that were patently untrue. For one thing, he alleged, they “never ‘discovered’ the wheel.” In addition they “never had a written language,” “never discovered astronomy,” “made almost no inventions” and “made no medical discoveries.”
In a 15-item bulleted list, Olsen stated that aboriginals have spent the past 200 years “getting caught up to most of the rest of the world” and suggested they are not “responsible enough to look after themselves” and manage their money.
Olsen’s solution: “Turn off the taps. Do away with this ‘traditional use’ and ‘cultural’ nonsense. Education their children to become modern citizens,” he wrote. “Instead of finding their identity and source of pride in some folks who occupied the land 15,000 years ago. Let them stand or fall on their own account. Just like the rest of us have to do.”
First Nations immediately called out the newspaper. The day after the letter’s March 27 publication, Idle No More was out in force, with at least 100 people picketing the offices of the Nanaimo Daily News. They were joined by Nanaimo Mayor John Ruttan. Chiefs from the local to the national level voiced objections, one even vowing to suspend all dealings with the newspaper.
The letter was soon taken off the newspaper’s website, but the damage had already been done. The Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council cut ties with the Nanaimo Daily News for publishing what it called “racist drivel.”
“We are under attack. And it is unacceptable,” said Tribal Council President Clifford Atleo in a statement on March 28. “The public needs to know that racism is alive and well at the Nanaimo Daily News, and nothing says this louder than the publication’s decision to give this letter writer a forum to spew his hate. It demonstrates a complete lack of leadership by this publisher, and it is well out of step with fair-minded people everywhere.”
Racist responses to Idle No More tied to misinformation about Canada's past
By Alexis Van Bemmel
Canada prides itself on having created a tolerant and inclusive society, one where we accommodate diversity. We are internationally recognized for reconciling subnational identities; we have legislated and even constitutionalized our practices of accommodation. We like to believe that this is an important part of our history and a defining feature of our country, but is it really? Responses to the Idle No More movement suggest otherwise.
These comments are based on negative stereotypes and misinformation that deprecate First Nations. The acceptance of them by the public only fosters conditions that allow the uninformed to discriminate further against First Nations. No other group in Canada is subject to these sorts of comments.
With constructed superficial multiculturalism, we allow our selective memory to ignore our colonial legacy and current racial issues, imagining ourselves to be an accepting, tolerant nation, binding together all different peoples. We then question the position of First Nations, and spout that they should “join the rest of Canada” to be afforded the same rights and privileges as every other Canadian.
Within our “multiculturalism”, many ethnicities have retained their culture under Canadian governance. We wonder why this isn’t working for First Nations, and that the answer must lay with equality. The problem is, this notion of equality blankets the real issues, letting us forget the history and injustices committed. It is important to remember that Canada was not an empty land discovered by Europeans; it had already been settled for millennia. The early colonialists knew this, and that is precisely why the Royal Proclamation of 1763 identified respect for the lands of the “Indian nations” that inhabited them.
Some specific responses to Olsen's claims:
Racist Nanaimo Newspaper Letter Rebuttal: Educate Canadians To Be Knowledgeable Citizens
By Danica Denomme
It was at least 16,500 years ago (according to ethnographers mapping genetic lineage) when the first peoples began moving from the Beringia into what we now know as Canada, and indigenous people know from our oral history that we have been here since the time period we call time immemorial.
This should be considered, and in all the years since then, First Nations people in Canada have done and continue to do the following:
* Did not domesticate animals and use items such as chariots and machinery, instead intimately understood the various local living species and their interconnectedness, and took animals and other living creatures for nourishment and sacred purposes, letting the natural ecosystems thrive for millennia.
* Have between 52 and 65 distinct language groups across Canada, with 32 different indigenous languages in British Columbia alone, and many more local dialects of these languages. Languages revitalization is taking place despite previous efforts to eradicate our language by doing things like physically abusing children who spoke their mother tongue in schools.
* Used astronomy as a part of Traditional Ecological Knowledge, which is documented in oral history and many scholarly articles.
* Have a complex and integrated way of learning, understanding, and teaching what is known as "science," including studies of geography, physics, botany, biology, mineralogy, geology, entomology (the study of insects), and ichthyology (the study of fish).
* Used various forms of mathematics including geometry, visual-spatial relationships (more than simple arithmetic) in complex tasks such as estimating resources needed and designing and building longhouses.
* Used ethno-botany for survival, medicine, and nutrition, and used this knowledge to help the early settlers survive. We indigenous peoples kept ourselves in good health and thriving for generations until contact and colonization introduced foreign diseases, such as smallpox, which killed entire communities. Even then, traditional medicine has still survived and is practiced today.
Educate white people to be modern citizens
By White People HQ
* Claimed to discover places where people already were.
* Industrialized using a combination of dangerous engineering and child labour.
* Relied on slavery for manual labour.
* Invented apartheid and racism.
* Became morally 200 years behind the rest of the world.
* Have a history that is notable only for genocide.
Are these people in trouble? Yes.
Do they need help? Yes.
Are they responsible enough to look after themselves and efficiently spend the billions they are given? Certainly not.
The only way to fix this situation is to bring them into society as equals. They should be getting jobs and paying their share like the rest of us because in reality, they are no more special than any of the other hundred or more non-made up cultures that call Canada home.
Denomme's and White People HQ's responses remind me of the essay I wrote in 1996 titled This Ain't No Party, This Ain't No Disco: A Columbus Day Rant. Check it out.
One quibble with Denomme. Some Native cultures did invent the wheel, but it was useless without beasts of burden, which basically didn't exist in the Americas. That's the main reason for the lack of wagons and chariots, not some romantic oneness with nature.
For more on the subject, see The Myth of Western Superiority.
Below: An Inca toy wagon proves Natives understood the concept of the wheel.