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Were not so different

Were not so different

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Published by mohawk1680
by Robert McGhee for Ottawa Citizen, Jan 28, 2013
by Robert McGhee for Ottawa Citizen, Jan 28, 2013

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Published by: mohawk1680 on Feb 03, 2013
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We’re not so different
By Robert McGhee, The Ottawa Citizen January 28, 2013Where did all the hatred suddenly come from?Over the past weeks, the comments sections of media articles have seen increasingly virulent rantsagainst the aboriginals who are asking for a new deal with the federal government. A few of thesecommentaries are by outright racists, others by writers who are merely repeating and embellishing thetalking-points of the current government. But most seem to be taking the simplest route to explain asituation that is far too complex for easy understanding.In a recent interview with the CBC, ex-prime minister Paul Martin noted that misconceptions andhostile reactions to the Idle No More movement are aggravated by the fact that “Canadians don’tknow and have never been taught aboriginal history adequately.”A common flashpoint for this anger surfaces when aboriginal leaders talk of “nation-to-nation”discussions, and of “treaties between sovereign nations.” To most commentators this is annoyinglyartificial rhetoric ungrounded in the actuality of small, poverty-stricken communities facing a modernnation-state. A small dose of history might help in comprehending what is going on here: When thelegal and constitutional basis for relations between aboriginals and settlers was established, nation-to-nation agreement was a reality.Behind the dismissal of the “sovereign nation” terminology lies an assumption that the difference inscale and power that exists today between aboriginal and federal governments has always existed. Andunderlying this view is a strange quirk of perspective. Euro-Canadians seem to naturally think of our own ancestors as modern people dressed in old-time costumes; we understand their motives and perspectives and intellectual abilities as very similar to our own. In contrast, contemporary aboriginalsare viewed as ancient and unchanging people who happen to use iPhones. We tend to forget that,when Europeans first encountered American aboriginals, all of our ancestors were much lesssophisticated than we are today.Almost 500 years ago, when Jacques Cartier visited the town of Hochelaga on Montreal Island, heencountered the eastern outliers of an agricultural civilization that stretched westward to the GreatPlains, and from there southwards to the Amazonian forests and the deserts of Chile. When Champlaintravelled through southern Ontario four centuries ago, the population of the area was estimated at between 50,000 and 75,000, living in farming towns with up to 1,000 or more inhabitants. Similar levels of social complexity existed among non-agricultural peoples living in productive environmentssuch as those along the coasts and salmon rivers of British Columbia.Before the devastating effects of Old World diseases, offshoots of the great civilizations of Mexicoextended up the Mississippi Valley as far as the neighbourhood of St. Louis, where between 1,000 and1,200 AD the city of Cahokia had a population estimated at 20,000 people — about the same as that of London during the same period. Economic links, and probably political and religious influences,stretched northward to reach the farmers of Ontario and the buffalo-hunting peoples of the westernPlains.There were certainly technological and social differences between the peoples on either side of theAtlantic when they first came into contact, but these were nowhere as great as we generally assume.When Cartier visited Hochelaga, my own Scots ancestors were illiterate farmers living in tinycommunities of huts built from turf and boulders, barely surviving on what they could grow in rocky

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