Being invited to inaugurate a new Saturday feature headed Impolite Company leaves one wondering whom it says more about, the asker or the asked. Pity the header couldn't have been more menacing - something like Redneck Company or Extreme Company. I take it the liberal instinct now is to trivialize dissent not as dangerous, but merely "impolite", in vain hopes it will go away embarrassed. It won't.
Take our Indian problem, for example, which certainly isn't going away. But there I go. It is insensitive to say "Indian" nowadays; the approved term is first nations; and it is impolite to say "our", as though we owned them; and it is impolite to say they are a problem. So let me rephrase. Take for example the challenge posed by first nationals, which is especially acute in the West. In fact, western reserves this summer are in increasing uproar, and it will get worse before it gets better.
Correct liberal opinion for the past couple of centuries has patronized Indians as noble savages. It still does, except that today it would, very gingerly, substitute "primitive" for "savage", and only in its Rousseauian meaning of "unspoiled", "natural", "intuitive", "environmentally attuned", "non-Eurocentric," etc. As every liberal knows, we deplorable Europeans showed up here on the prairies, built railways, brought in farmers, shot off all the buffalo, forced the Indians to live on reserves, and then ordered them to send their children to boarding schools where they were sodomized and forcibly assimilated. Bad us - not that there's anything wrong with sodomy, mind you.
The only difficulty is that this is all fiction. It was the natives who killed almost all the buffalo, for there were hardly any whites in the Canadian West prior to the animal's disappearance in 1879. Seeing their main food source vanishing due to intertribal competition, Indians pleaded with Ottawa to strike treaties and reserve them land, teach them to farm and send their children to school.
Eventually Ottawa did, with all the familiar competence and grace we in the West have so long admired. The much-maligned missionaries were the Indians' only reliable white friends at this critical juncture, and the schools they built and ran on shoestring budgets were very popular with Indian parents, who knew they offered the only escape from poverty. There is little if any evidence of sexual abuse at the schools until much later, after moral permissiveness infected the churches, along with everything else.
The next crucial moment in Indian history came with a federal white paper in 1969. It proposed to abolish special status and treat Indians like everyone else. For with the recent arrival of welfare, most reserves were rapidly becoming not just poor (they had always been that) but downright hideous. With residents robbed of any necessity to work, reserve culture had immediately fallen into alcoholism, incest, unemployment, assault, divorce, illiteracy and despair.
Sadly, the white paper was abandoned when the Indians protested, backed by fashionable urban sentiment. Instead, having escaped the dread tragedy of "assimilation," and as the suicide rate soared, and cheered on by every smug liberal in the country, Indians set out to get "self-government." But apart from unsuccessful attempts early on, Ottawa's Indian policy had never been assimilationist; quite the opposite. Life on the reserves had been protected and regulated by federal bureaucrats down to the most tidy and trivial detail. The new political class of Indians did not want freedom, they wanted only to replace the bureaucrats and get their hands on the swelling tide of federal cash. So to all the ills enumerated above, we added political corruption - corruption on a scale that is frankly astonishing.
Except that it isn't astonishing to anyone who understands the lingering tribal mindset at work, and the fact that Indians have been preserved in a state of learned helplessness for five generations. As an exasperated Alberta judge, John Reilly, remarked in June about the Stony Reserve west of Calgary, the place has become "a prison without bars," "a welfare ghetto" and a "banana republic." This was scandalously impolite. Significantly, however, Judge Reilly's opinion was endorsed by the unelected elder statesmen of the Blood, Stony, Blackfoot, Sarcee and Cree, who are plainly appalled at the moral squalor to which their communities have been reduced.
So perhaps it is time for us to concern ourselves a little less with manners and a little more with reality, and realize that special status means lower status. Maybe it is time we rediscovered the principle of treating our neighbours as ourselves.
Link Byfield is the editor publisher of Alberta Report. We welcome unconventional wisdom and straight talk in this space. Send submissions to Impolite Company, The Globe and Mail, 444 Front St. W., Toronto, Ont. M5V 2S9
Letters to the Globe and Mail: letters@GlobeAndMail.ca
William Thorsell, editor of the Globe and Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Link Byfield, c/o Alberta Report: email@example.com
15 September 1997
Letter to the Editor, Globe and Mail
What the hell is the Globe and Mail doing? Under the guise of "unconventional wisdom and straight talk" is Canada's National Newspaper succumbing to the Howard Stern rating race and opening a forum for bigots? Unfortunately, the anti-Native and ahistorical opinions of Link Byfield are no longer politically incorrect in this era of the common sense revolution where the solution to the "Indian problem" is to make a criminal of whomever refuses to submit to the arbitrary measures of the revolutionaries.
What is politically incorrect these days is that hated liberal thinking that bids us learn from history (rather than re-writing it), and (as the Supreme Court of Canada instructs us) give liberal interpretation to the treaties and Native rights. If the editors of the Globe and Mail are really interested in straight talk, then let them print this: Euro-Canadians have broken the international treaties they signed with the first nations of this land; we destroyed their economies, stole their language and culture by raping their children; we are, even today, frustrating the full and proper recognition of their rights as guaranteed by our own constitution ... that is, when we're not shooting them.
September 15, 1997
Letter to the Editor, Globe and Mail
That Byfield could write, and the glob publish, such a disgusting piece of revisionism is beyond impolite, it is downright racist.
In one short sentence, he dismisses a hundred years of genocide by opining that it "is all fiction."
Never mind the stolen land, they wanted the treaties and the bureacratic security of reservations. It seems they also wanted the residential schools because how else could they rise from their self-inflicted poverty.
And with a few tiny keystrokes, he assigns the blame for rape, torture and murder in those schools by ascribing this horror to a time "after moral permissiveness infected the churches, along with everything else."
And what are we to do with this? "For with the recent arrival of welfare, most reserves were rapidly becoming not just poor (they had always been that) but downright hideous." Is he truly this ignorant or is he dissimulating?
What is particularly disturbing of course is that many of your readers may even believe Byfield's disinformation. Thus the assault continues.