There are some million and a half people in Canada – about 5% of the population – who, in my own lifetime, have been named, renamed, and renamed again, first as Indians, then natives, then First Nations, and now indigenous. Plato would ask, “What is it these people have in common such that they fall under the same rubric?” To which Aristotle would answer, “They’re the people named Indians, then natives, then First Nations, and now indigenous.” 

By this is meant that sometimes the only thing a collection of objects – or in this case people – have in common is that they’re all subsumed under the same name. Admittedly this makes it difficult to say anything about these people, since to say is to predicate, to predicate is to generalise, and to generalise is to stereotype, which apparently we’re not supposed to do. I’ve never understood this, since without stereotyping six year olds how am I to opine that they’re too young to be having sex?

That might sound like a me problem, but actually it’s an our problem, because we’re trying to figure out how to ameliorate the disadvantage of these people, and we can’t do that without identifying them and then stereotyping them as disadvantaged. 

Having lived in some of the most racist cities in Canada for most of my life, there’s no doubt in my mind that these people are disadvantaged, and in saying “these people” I cannot but be stereotyping them. So if we’re to have a conversation with and/or about these people, but every time I refer to them as “these people”, you tell me I’m stereotyping them and that stereotyping is racist, then all I can say to you is, “Fuck off!” And so if and only if you haven’t adopted this nonsense about stereotyping can we now have a conversation with and/or about these people.

One thing we can say to these people is “Sucks to be you!” But most of us – I won’t say all of us, but most of us – would like to see this disadvantage ameliorated. Some people think only these people themselves should be consulted as to how this is to be done. I reject this view, for two reasons. First, among the disadvantages that make them disadvantaged is a widespread lack of command of the social sciences, and hence of the social engineering parasitic on those sciences. And second, as is perfectly understandable among all disadvantaged peoples, corruption runs rampant through their leadership. 

On the other hand, paternalistic intervention with their own political autonomy has only exacerbated these problems. So if neither autonomy nor paternalism are the answer, what is? 

No, it’s not the internet. The internet is designed for sociality, which merely reinforces either identity or assimilation, neither of which makes for a complete human being. My suggestion, instead, is that a bundle of books – ranging from primers all the way to quantum mechanics and Shakespeare – be dropped onto the front steps of every indigenous abode, be it on the reserve or in the inner city. 

Some of those bundles will be used as firewood. Some will be left on the steps, out of an abundance of caution about “Greeks bearing gifts.” But some will make it onto the living room floor, from the living room to the bedside, from the bedside to the kitchen table, and from the kitchen to a desk bought for just that purpose. 

It takes very little curiosity to get the better of a child. A child’s ability – and her eagerness – to teach herself to read is exceeded only by her ability and eagerness to learn language. Language detonates the mind. Books take it nuclear. Books produce mental hunger. Mental hunger transcends poverty. It transcends culture. It scoffs at disadvantage.

I’m probably wrong about this. Anything that costs so little couldn’t possibly work. So let’s instead continue to throw good money after bad. After all, what we’re doing provides plenty of settler jobs. And isn’t that the whole point of (what Frances Widdowson has called out as) the ‘aboriginal industry’? 

Categories: Social and Political Philosophy

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1 reply

  1. Joshua Ostroff, “Tomson Highway Has A Surprisingly Positive Take On Residential Schools”, Huffpost, 12/15/2015

    “We can get all kinds of help from the non-native community, and we are. The white people like us, they really do. I sleep with one of them every night with my arms and legs wrapped completely around him,” he says with a smile, adding that he’s been with his partner, Raymond Lalonde, for 31 years.

    “[But] only we can solve the problem and the only way we can do it is to go to school, get a fantastic education, and just do successful things. We need young native people to grow up believing that they can be brilliant and successful. That’s the only way we can fix things: elevate the level of education, elevate the level of literacy, and it will elevate the frequency of success.”


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