29 Nov 2008

Culture, Not Race

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In the newly published Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry: The Deception Behind Indigenous Cultural Preservation, the authors argue that identifying cultural inferiority is not racism. Race and culture are not the same thing.

Joseph Quesnel, Winnipeg Sun:

Frances Widdowson, a political scientist, and Albert Howard, a former government and aboriginal group consultant, suggest that indigenous peoples did not exist at the same level of social and cultural development as Europeans when they first encountered each other. Even more controversially, they suggest many pre-modern characteristics of indigenous societies still exist in First Nation communities today and prevent them from integrating into modern society and succeeding.

This, they argue, is the problem confronting First Nations today: they need to catch up culturally.

Before one assumes this is a “racist” argument, one must understand there is a big difference between race and culture. All societies, including European ones, passed through periods of cultural evolution, which is determined by environmental factors, not biology. At one point, European societies were small, kinship-based societies just like indigenous peoples. Because they lacked surplus food production, First Nation societies did not enjoy the division of labour that European civilizations had at the time and did not have the sophisticated, literate society that grew out of that.

The failure to see obvious differences in civilizations, they argue, is part of the “post-modern” thinking dominating academia.

The problem as they see it is that well-intentioned academics, seeing the disadvantages First Nations face, feel guilty and as a result, never criticize First Nations, no matter how problematic some aspects of their cultures are for modern life.

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