Address by Dan Francis to the SSI Historical Society on the ‘Imaginary Indian’.
|Accession Number||Interviewer||SSI Historical Society Address|
|Date||April 11, 2000||Location||Central Hall|
|Media||tape||Audio CD||mp3 √|
Unknown Speaker 0:00
Well, as Charles said, we met each other in the mid 70s. I think it was in Toronto, I used to think of him as one of the most efficient, well organized people I knew. But judging by the day experience,
Unknown Speaker 0:14
see, actually, that's not true. It's really nice to be on salt spray again, I, growing up in Vancouver, I
Unknown Speaker 0:23
used to come in the late 60s. Living in Vancouver, I had a friend who rented a waterfront cottage over here for $25 a month. And I guess those rents aren't available anymore, but I used to come over and visit him a lot. And we used to eat oysters off the beach and drink too much beer and talk about being writers when we grew up, stuff. And I really have hardly been back since. So I'm very grateful for the opportunity to get back over here and especially on such a beautiful day. As Charles mentioned, I'm going to be talking today about what I've called the imaginary Indian. But I thought I'd begin by saying a few words about the kind of writing that I do in general, or at least the kind of writing that I've taken to doing in the last 10 years or so. I call myself a popular historian. And that's popular in the sense that I'm interested in reaching a general non specialist audience, an audience of people much like yourselves, rather than a more academic audience. And when I began writing, about 25 years ago, the model for someone like I was aspiring to be wanting to reach a larger audience was, of course peer burden. The success of his early books seemed to show that there that there was an audience in Canada with a thirst to know more about their own past. And he certainly still represents one very successful approach to writing popular history. The burden technique, if I could call it that, is to present history as story as a series of dramatic events involving colorful characters. Peter Newman, who's another successful practitioner of his style, says that His aim is to recreate the interplay of feisty characters in remarkable circumstances. This approach invariably takes a romantic view of the past. In the sense that burden and others usually describe a struggle to overcome tremendous obstacles, be they natural or man made a struggle which ultimately results in the triumph of human ingenuity. When things have declined aid, for instance, or his books on the CPR. He also usually supports his narratives, with a patriotic subtext that has great appeal with readers. He describes and celebrates caravans. His work is heroic. In his hands, the CPR is a fabulous achievement, a symbol of Canadian unity, readers come away from one of Britain's books feeling that Canada and Canadians are capable of doing great things. So the three main elements of this approach to popular history are that there be a strong story, that there's a romantic approach to the story. And there is a patriotic subtext, which usually contributes to some unifying myths about the country. And as we all know, this has proven to be very successful recipe for attracting a huge readership, and a great deal of interest in Canadian history. But it is not the only way to write popular history being a generation younger than Burton. Perhaps, because I'm a child of the 60s, I found myself temperamentally unsuited to the heroic, romantic approach to history. I don't mind telling stories, but I thought that the story should be told to mildly subversive, subversive purposes. History writing should not celebrate heroes and great national achievements, I thought instills, that, to me is a kind of truly history writing should undermine conventional wisdom, it should show how we were being duped by the conventional versions of the past. Initially, I suppose I meant by this, as so many revisions do mean by it, that I simply wanted to replace someone else's version of the past with my own, because my own was, of course more correct. However, what I eventually came to see was that it was the different versions themselves. That interests me the most. I mean by that, that I got became less interested in figuring out what actually happened in the past and more interested in what people thought happens in the past to not often being the same thing. I began to see history, not as a collection of stories waiting to be told which is the way The burden approach would have, but rather as a set of myths, waiting to be examined. What people have said and thought about an event becomes the subject of inquiry instead of the event itself. It sounds a bit esoteric perhaps for something that is supposed to be popular history. So, let me be a bit more concrete. by talking a bit about my book, The imaginary Indian people are often interested in how people get ideas for their books. The idea for this book, which has a history of the image of the Indian and in Canadian culture, came from an item in the newspaper about a Vancouver restaurant. It was about a dispute involving trademark which is not usually a subject that interests me very much. But in this interest in this instance, it seemed to raise some interesting questions. In about 1990 There was a restaurant on Broadway West Broadway in Vancouver called Chevy's diner. It was a 50 style hamburger joint, presumably adopted the name of the car because it evokes that era in American pop culture, American Graffiti that kind of thing. The restaurant was doing well when suddenly General Motors the company that manufactures the Chevrolet automobile, informed the owner, that the word Chevy belonged to the corporation, it would no not allow another business no matter how small, no matter how unrelated the car to appropriated unless the restaurant wanted to take on the giant corporation in court, it was going to have to change his name. And so it did. All of this happened at a time when appropriation was a much discussed subject in cultural circles, Aboriginal people, people of color, were complaining about the way that non natives were appropriating or borrowing their history and their culture and using it for their own purposes without having a clear understanding of what they were borrowing. For some reason I connected these two issues. And I asked myself, if Chevy's diner was not allowed to use the name of, of a General Motors car. Why was it the General Motors was allowed to appropriate the name of a native leader and apply it to another of its best selling models? And I of course, refer here to the Pontiac. Furthermore, why would GM want to use Pontiac? On the face of it the choice seems an odd one Pontiac, after all, was the leader of an organized rebellion against the English some 200 years ago, he wanted the Aboriginal people of the Great Lakes area to rise up and drive the English from their lands by force. Actually, he used the phrase to wipe them from the face of the earth. He apparently hated white civilization, and yet what is the greater symbol of white civilization than the automobile? But here was General Motors memorializing the great chieftain by naming a car after him. I was curious to see how General Motors could explain this decision. So I wrote to them to inquire how it was made. In reply, the company sent me a thick envelope of information about Pontiac, and how he was the greatest Indian warrior who had ever lived and I came to recognize something, which of course should have been obvious to me from the beginning. Because the General Motors is not in the business of historical truth. It is in the business of selling cars. And in order to sell cars, it wants to project a positive image of its product. When GM began manufacturing the Pontiac in 1925, it wanted to associate it with power, and speed and strength and nobility. All attributes which the public apparently associated with Pontiac, the man, at least as he was presented in the advertising material. In other words, they created an image of Pontiac that suited their needs. And it was a little interest to GM whether or not the image had any basis in reality. Of course, General Motors is not alone. Over the years Commerce has borrowed the image of the Indian to promote products as diverse as chewing gum, can vegetables, musical instruments, gasoline every baseball season, we are treated to the site of Atlanta baseball fans performing the tomahawk chop in support of their team The Braves back not so long ago, a World Series features the Braves against Cleveland's team, the Indians and sort of Aboriginal World Series. The incident with the restaurant got me thinking one thing I couldn't help thinking almost parenthetically was what if an Aboriginal person opened a restaurant and called it Pontiacs diner, to General Motors claiming to own that name as well? And on what grounds less whimsically. I began to consider the whole subject of Indian images and stereotypes and the way they are used by mainstream white society. The result? Was this book the imaginary Indian. The main argument of the book is that Indians only exist In the imaginations of white people, Indians are an idea they are not a reality. In a sense, there is no such thing as an Indian.
Unknown Speaker 10:10
This idea is not as absurd as it first sounds. It is, in fact, something we all learn in our history classes. When Christopher Columbus arrived in America 500 years ago, he made the mistake of believing he was in India. And so we called the people living here Indians. Actually, they were Aeromax, where he landed, and they had about as much in common with the Iroquois living to the north, as the Iroquois did with the Haida living to the west, the different Aboriginal groups themselves to be distinct. It was Columbus and other Europeans, who lumped them all together in one category called Indians. So from the very beginning, Indian was a white idea. This is what I mean when I say there's no such thing as an Indian. Obviously, there are many different groups of First Nations people with their own distinct cultures, that the Indian is the invention of the white Canadians and express their views about Native people in a variety of different images, bloodthirsty Savage, noble, Savage, cigar store, Indian, why shaman and so on. The thing about these images is that they have surprisingly little to say about the reality of Aboriginal people. The images are projections, they reveal far more about white attitudes and anxieties than they do about First Nations people. The imaginary Indian is not a book about Indians at all. It is a book which investigates what our ideas about Indians revealed about ourselves, and the civilization which we have been trying to build in North America. The kind of popular history exemplified in the imaginary Indian is an alternative to the peer burden approach, which I dispute described a few moments ago, not necessarily better, just different. The burden approach relies on a strong story. My approach likes a good story as well, but it cares less about the details than about why we tell ourselves the story to begin with. Burton and writers like him are romantics, they are optimistic and celebratory. My approach is more ironic. It always has its eyes open to the fantasies and the anxieties which motivate us not to patriotic causes. It doesn't think it's the job of the historian to weave patriotic myths. It thinks it's the historians job to analyze the Indian as a white fantasy, and it is natural that the contents of this fantasy will change over time, in different historical periods, different images of the Indian have predominantly at one time the Indian was a bloodthirsty Savage, and other times he was nature's nobleman. Sometimes the Indian is a victim. At other times, the Indian is an aggressor. Again, I want to emphasize that while my subject is the Indian, I'm not really talking about Native people at all. I'm talking about the images of native people that non natives have expressed in Canada, in paintings in books and movies, in advertising, in government policy in many different ways. In the time I have this afternoon, I'd like to describe three of the stereotypes or images that are evident in the history of our thinking about Indians. These are not the only stereotypes but they have been and remain important ones. The first is the wilderness man. The second is the vanishing Indian. And the third is the noble savage. We should say right away that well, many of the images of Indians, which we are used to hearing and seeing are negative, even racist images, certainly not all of them are. non native Canadians have always expressed very positive attitudes towards what they believed to be aspects of Indian culture. To go back to Pontiac, General Motors would not have chosen his name for one of its cars unless it believed there was a great deal of positive feeling about the historical character and the virtues he was supposed to embody. My interest today is not in evaluating the truth of the images. I don't intend to argue with the stereotypes, as much as wonder what they tell us about the people who believe in them, ourselves and many of our ancestors. So let me turn to the first stereotype or image, the wilderness man. Since the earliest days of European colonization in North America, there have always been people who were attracted by the lure of the wilderness and the way of life of the Indian. They were attracted by the apparent freedom, the naturalness, the lack of conventional social restraint in native societies. And they decided to go and live among the Indians. We have an expression for this phenomenon. We call it going native. I suppose one of the first instances in the historical record. Were the courier DuBois in New France, who Abandoned life in the colony beside the St. Lawrence in order to travel into Indian country and assume the ways of the Redman I think we find in our contemporary culture too, that going native is as popular as ever witnessed some elements of the men's movement which retire to the woods in groups to drum and dance and discover the wild man within. For more conventionally recall the hit movie Dances with Wolves in which Kevin Costner plays in American cavalry officer who goes native on the western frontier. There is another word, something very compelling about this notion of going native to the euro, Canadian mind, or at least to the euro, Canadian male mind. Women seem less attracted to the wilderness like for some reason, it's wrapped up in our notions of wilderness of course, but it's also wrapped up in our notions of the people who inhabit the wilderness, the Indian. In Canada, the best example of going native is offered by the wilderness man himself, grey owl. During the 30s Gray owl was probably the most famous Indian in Canada. The first Indian that really looked like an Indian one writer called him whatever that could possibly mean. He can came to public attention in 1931 with the publication of his first book, men of the last frontier, which sounded a warning about the rapid disappearance of our wilderness spaces. And very quickly, he became something of a celebrity. He was a very popular speaker on the lecture circuit both in North America and abroad, where he cut a striking figure at the podium, dressed in buckskin, and moccasins and wearing his hair and long braids, telling stories about his own life as a native Indian and his efforts to conserve the dwindling stocks of beaver. In the Canadian backwoods. He published several more books, which sold extremely well. His autobiography, pilgrims in the wild had to be reprinted eight times in the first year of publication alone, and he made a series of films for the federal government which were shown widely across the country. Eventually, he became an employee of the parks branch in Prince Albert National Park in Saskatchewan, which became his home. Of course, the story of Grail is well known. There's a Hollywood version of his life within the past couple of years that many, many of you may have seen starring Pierce Brosnan, although I haven't seen it. So most of you won't be surprised to learn that most of his biography was a total fiction. Grail was not an Indian at all. He was in fact an Englishman named Archie Bellamy, who had become fascinated with Indians as a boy and had come to Canada well still in his teens, to experience the wilderness. After some time, he married a native woman, and a Hario, who convinced him to give up trapping animals in order to conserve them. Wanting to publicize his conservationist ideas. He realized that his descriptions of life in the backwoods would be taken more seriously, if they seem to come from an Indian. So he became, began calling himself Braille and went native completely. The Canadian public at the time, never thought to question Grails authenticity. And why should they looked so much like they expected an Indian to look gray all knew this. He colored his skin to make it darker. And he dyed his braids to make them black, and even practiced in front of the mirror to get that cigar store Indian glower that whites find so authentic. When grey owl died in 1938, at the age of 59, and his true identity emerged, no one really cared. What mattered was what he stood for his eloquent defense of the wilderness, his hope, his hopes, seemed harmless enough. And this is certainly true of we mean that the worth of Grails message is unrelated to the details of his personal biography. The same time however, it's also true that the public would not have found his message nearly so compelling if it had not come from an Indian. In the popular imagination. Indians were wilderness men. They had inhabited the woods in the plains for 1000s of years. They possessed an innate knowledge of wild ways in a special relationship with the wilderness that waits did not enjoy. They were conservationists by instinct. When grey owl spoke and wrote about the wilderness, as far as his white audience was concerned, he did so out of his natural wisdom. And so he enjoyed a credibility that a non Indian would not have had. Rael took advantage of his image of the Indian as wilderness man, but he also made an important contribution to it. Because of their special knowledge, he proposed that native people should be appointed caretakers of the wilderness by the government, and in doing so impressed on the public line, the image of the Indian as the original environmentalist, the greening of the Indian that it does not begin with Braille certainly was reinforced by
Unknown Speaker 20:04
Braille. It was an individual, of course with his own psychology and motivations. But the reason why the story of Braille is I think particularly interesting is because his career describes the archetypal North American experience. With the possible exception of the First Nations people, our ancestors all came to America from somewhere else. And we have all of us felt the need to make ourselves at home, in what for us was the New World. Often we have done so by attempting to forge a special relationship with the land, and the model for this relationship has invariably been the Indian. His image of the Indian as wilderness man is partly based on the fact that many First Nations people have lived in existence, which has been much closer to nature than modern industrial society. But the image is also based on the anxiety Euro Canadiens and film about their place in the new world. And the people like the courier, Dubois and grey owl and Kevin Costner who act out the fantasy of going native are, I think, acting out an anxiety, which we as a culture have felt since we arrived in America. What is our place here? How do we make ourselves how do we make ourselves at home? Now I mentioned I was going to talk about three stereotypes. So let me move on to the second one, the vanishing Indians. It was an article of faith among almost all Euro Canadians, in the past century, and in the first decades of the 20th century, that the Indian was a doomed race, faded to disappear from the face of the earth. And soon, if anyone believes dominated thinking about Aboriginal people, during this period, it was that they would not be around much longer. Individual Indians were dying out. Because of their exposure to new diseases, starvation and alcohol. There was census data to show that this was actually happening, but as well, the cultures were dying, so the argument went, because they were incapable of adapting to the remorseless spread of industrial civilization. It is important to note that this was not necessarily a value judgment. Some people believe that Indian culture was inferior and that it was a good thing that it was disappearing. But many others regretted the fact what no one denied was that it was happening. The belief that Indians were disappearing, made them particularly attracted to artists. The pathos inherent in such a subject the disappearance of an entire people appeal to white audiences. It also gave a special urgency to the word painters such as Paul Kane and Emily Carr. painters who adopted Indians as their subjects were driven by a desire to record a vanishing world before it disappeared forever. They saw themselves as preserving on Canvas, the record of a dying culture. This was also one of the impulses behind the creation of the ethnological Museum in the mid 19th century, a kind of museum mania took over the western world at this time and major institutions open their doors in Europe, and the United States, including the Smithsonian in New York, or sorry, in Washington, the American Museum of Natural History in New York, The Field Museum in Chicago, and so on. These museums dispatched collectors to many distant parts of the world, including Canada, to buy barter, and in some cases, steal artifacts belonging to the native people living there. In BC, for example, coastal villages were virtually pillaged of their material culture until nothing was left. I'm sure some of you are familiar with Douglas Cole's capturing heritage, which is about this phenomenon. On the Pacific coast, very excellent. Canada was not immune to museum mania. And in the early years of the century, we began creating our own museums. Again, these institutions were created in a climate of urgency. Not only were foreign museums looting the country of their finest or of its finest artifacts, but the culture in which these artifacts represented the fast disappearing. The museum was created to preserve the remains, so that future generations would be able to see evidence of extinct aboriginal cultures. But back to the artists I mentioned, Paul Kane and Emily Carr, as two painters who saw themselves as performing a kind of salvage work on Indian culture. Carwin said, referring to the totem poles, and village scene she painted only a few more years and they will be gone forever in the silent nothingness. And I would gather my collections together before they are gone forever. And it was not just the painters, the famous photographer, Edward Curtis based his whole career on capturing the photograph, and capturing the image of the Indian notorious disappeared. Between 1907 and 1930, he published his photographs in a monumental series of books the North American Indian, which cost several $1,000. The very first photograph in the volume was titled The Vanishing race and showed a group of Navajo on horseback disappearing into a desert haze. The Indians as a race he wrote about this photograph are passing into the darkness of an unknown future. It's interesting that while almost everyone believed that Indians were disappearing, almost no one suggested doing anything about it. There were no plans presented for halting the seemingly inexorable decline of the Indian population. For the most part, this was because such a plan was unthinkable. Canadians believed in progress. And part of progress was the backward civilizations gateway to progressive ones. Progress had its price, the Indian was expected to pay it. We cannot ignore as well the expediency of the vanishing Indian idea. It was convenient that Indians were disappearing, they seem to serve no useful purpose in the modern industrial world, they occupied valuable land. At times, they seem to represent a threat to peaceful expansion and settlement. And they presented difficult social problems, it was convenient that they would disappear. And when an idea is convenient, it will be held fiercely and in contradiction to a lot of evidence that it is wrong. Or however, if Indians really were vanishing, they seem to be taking a long time doing so. From Paul Kane in the 1850s to Emily Carr. In the 1930s, people were predicting the demise of Indian civilization, yet there were still native people around. Indeed, by the 1920s census data was showing that far from disappearing, native populations had begun to increase in Canada. However, at least until World War Two, the image of the vanishing Indian persistent, probably because to admit that they were not disappearing, was to pose the question our own generation has been grappling with for some decades now, how to make an accommodation between the Aboriginal population and the majority white Canadian population? In other words, what is the best way for the two groups to live together? This question has bedeviled us for many years and as I say, the image of the vanishing Indian was a convenient way of not dealing with it, or feeling that it would answer itself. It's interesting that most white people believe that the best way for Indians to preserve themselves was to cease to be Indians, to to assimilate to become whites. This is the meaning of Duncan Campbell Scott's famous declaration of official government policy in 1920. As well as being a major poet Scott was the senior administrator in the department of Indian Affairs, and he told the parliamentary committee in 1920. Quote, our object is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada, that has not been absorbed into the body politic. And there is no Indian question, and no Indian department.
Unknown Speaker 28:10
This oft quoted statement has been held up as Scott's
Unknown Speaker 28:13
draconian final solution to the Indian problem, that he was merely stating the conventional wisdom of his day, Indians were doomed. The way to save them was to change them into whites. A modern Indian was a contradicting contradiction in terms whites could not imagine such a thing. The definition of an Indian was someone who lived a traditional outmoded lifestyle, the image could not be modernized to the degree that they changed, Indians became less the Indian white society was allowed to change to evolve into modernity, without losing its defining characteristics, but Indian society was not Indians could not change without becoming something else, something not Indian. The image of the Indian could never be modernized. However, eventually when the Indian did not disappear, the vanishing Indian head to and certainly we don't believe today, that first nations people are dying out in fact, the population is increasing at a faster rate than the national average. Still echoes of the vanishing Indian persist. Non natives have a great attraction to the image of the traditional or historical Indian dressed in buckskin mounted on a horse wearing a feather headdress. We grew up on these images, and it is very hard for us not to be convinced that they represent the real Indians. The third stereotype on my list is a familiar one. The noble savage the concept of the noble savage is an old one I believe the phrase was first used by the English dramatise John Dryden in 1670. Usage then savage man, innocent, virtuous peace loving Contact was first made with America many Europeans believe that the Aboriginal people were nature's noblemen, living as they did in close contact with the wilderness, free of the vanities and guile that characterize their own European societies. Europeans imagined America has a great garden of Eden, and the people living there has blessed innocence. In other words, the concept of the noble savage in the beginning was a concept, Europeans used to criticize their own society. Not everyone shared this notion of course, the ignoble Savage was also a widely shared shared stereotype, especially when the settlement process began and the requirements of European colonists for land clashed with the interests of First Nations people. However, the image of the noble savage has been a durable one. white society has a long history of romanticizing Indians, discovering in their character and culture, many fine qualities we believe are lacking in our own. One of the most influential image makers in this century in this regard was Ernest Thompson seeking, seeking who grew up in Ontario was an extremely well known naturalist in the first three decades of this century, he was an accomplished wildlife artist, and as a writer, he established the realistic animal story as a literary forum. He was also an acclaimed public lecture, probably the leading popularizer of Natural History in North America, less well known as the fact that Seaton was one of the founders of the Boy Scouts, and that this movement originally was modeled on his concept of the noble savage. Seaton was a moral reformer who advocated a total transformation of modern industrial society. In this he was typical of many progressives of his day, to believe that American society has become inquisitive, materialistic and selfish. What sets Eaton apart was his belief that the tribal life of the Indians provided a model for white society to emulate. He sincerely believed that Indian civilization was superior. And that this was because Indians lived closer to nature, because they cared more for the well being of the group, because they shared one with the other and because their worldview was fundamentally spiritual, seeking called Indians true socialist, because they lived together communally sharing what they had without recognizing private property for amassing great wealth. The result, he said, was a society totally free advice. He wrote, The Indians were the most heroic race the world has ever seen, the most physically perfect race the world has ever seen, the most spiritual civilization the world has ever seen. Seeding began to put his ideas into practice with youngsters in 1901 when he launched his outdoor education movement for boys, the League of the Woodcraft Indians. The league was based on his understanding of Indian traditions, boys were organized into tribes to Indian sounding names and wore headbands with feathers, activities included canoeing and archery, and nature studies and wilderness survival skills. All of this was codified in the Bible of the movement, the birch bark role of the Woodcraft Indians, and also in his best selling novel for boys to little savages. By 1910, the League of the Woodcraft Indians, and it's parallel organization for girls, the campfire girls were the largest youth organization in North America. In 1906, Seaton had met Robert Baden Powell, during a visit to England, and historians are still arguing about who influenced whom Seaton always claimed that Baden Powell scouting movement was merely plagiarism, that the Englishman had stolen all seedlings ideas from the birch bark rule. Baden Powell always denied this charge. Whatever the truth of the matter. It is true that when the scouts crossed the Atlantic to North America in 1910, Seaton agreed to be the first chairman, apparently hoping that he would absorb the scouts into his Woodcraft League. In the end, Seaton was drummed out of the scope. This was because his fellow organizers did not share his enthusiasm for Indians. They didn't think that Indians were an appropriate role model for young boys. They much prefer the military model. With army like uniforms and strict discipline. These things were anathema to see. When World War One began. The other side was a bit of a crank, a socialist, a pacifist, so they got rid of them. And so the Boy Scouts became a kind of Cadet Corps, rather than the tribe of little Indians that Seaton had originally envisaged. Putin's own Woodcraft league eventually died out. But I've always been puzzled by the fact that during the pre World War One era, when official public policy in Canada was aimed at eradicating Native people, and most Aboriginals were forced to the margins of society. At the same time so many Canadian parents trusted their children to a youth movement founded by a man who believed that Indian society was superior to white society. It does, I suppose, indicate the powerful hold that the image of the noble savage has on the white imagination, and the usefulness of the image for criticizing aspects of the modern age which we do not like. As I mentioned, this is how Europeans use the image for centuries ago, and there is plenty of evidence that this is still how many non natives use the image today. When thinks for example of the wise elders stereotype, usually played in the movies by VCs own Chief Dan George, the wise elder embodies the natural wisdom, intuitive understanding of the undercurrents of existence which many non natives feel is the prerogative of Aboriginal people. As well as the spiritual guru, there's another stereotype the environmental group. Here again, this is a positive image of the Indian deriving from our disillusionment with the values of industrial consumer society. And since the modern life is cut off from the natural world, and lacks a sense of the sacred, which is found in aboriginal cultures, these are all aspects of what has been called Neo noble savages. The use of the Indian as a representative symbol of a world we're afraid, is being lost to us forever. I've touched today on just a few aspects of the imaginary Indian. For the most part, I've chosen to describe positive images such as the wilderness man and the noble savage. Of course, there have been negative images as well, which portray the Indian as demonic and depraved. These are familiar to all of us, they would constitute a whole other talk, I wanted to emphasize the positive images, because I recognize that this is not the way the subject is usually approached. Non natives usually raise the subject of Indian stereotypes, so that they can berate themselves for their long history of neglect and repression of Canada's first peoples. And I have no quarrel with that there is much to regress and condemn how else However, I also feel that that is less well recognized that there exists a body of very positive images of Indians, that these images say very little about the people they purport to describe. But they say an awful lot about ourselves, the image makers, and hope I've been able to convey a little that side of the subject to today. Before I close, I can't pass up this opportunity to do a little publicity for a totally unrelated project that Charles mentioned earlier. Okay. Sure.
Unknown Speaker 38:01
material coming from Native people themselves. We all try to create reality
Unknown Speaker 38:14
exists, like this one.
Unknown Speaker 38:30
Well, I don't know whether you have any particular in mind. But it is true that one interesting aspect of this subject is that, to some degree, native people are being put in the position of Yes, of turning themselves into stereotypes of themselves. You see what I mean of playing on those images that they didn't create, but that are so prevalent in the culture, not not only here, but in Europe and so on. I think you're particularly the tourism industry, and Aboriginal tourism. And the way that so many Europeans come to Canada expecting to see certain things, one of them being Indians living in a very traditional way. And if they don't see them, they're disappointed. So that the you're put in the position of the only way of appealing to this market as a word is to turn yourself into stereotypes. I wouldn't try wouldn't want to comment on whether that's good or bad, but I see one sees it happening all the time.
Unknown Speaker 39:43
I don't know because so much of it is mixed up with quite understandable desires to preserve in a situation like that, to preserve artifacts like totem poles that were disappearing. Sam is wrapped up with it. and Aboriginal art college and so on. So there's that whole other element. I'm not sure that's the best example. Although it is interesting that it was a railway that started the preservation movement of those totem poles back in, back in the 30s, mainly to attract. I wouldn't want to impugn anybody's motives, I'm sure many people wanted to save these artifacts. But there was a big push from the company itself, to save these totem poles in order to give the tourists something to look at, when he wrote the CM down to Prince Rupert.
Unknown Speaker 40:41
Feedback from the book has been very well received by Native people, the only times I've ever asked, you know, what's a white guy doing writing about Native people is from other white guys who don't quite get it. I'm not writing about me. Judging by personal responses in audiences, but more by the degree to which the book is, is being taught in colleges and used in courses. For Aboriginal students. I've been very gratified. They, of course, are not surprised by most of this, but interested in the history of it, they wouldn't have been, most of us aren't aware of how deeply ingrained these stereotypes are and where they originate. But of course, Aboriginal people have grown up with some of them, so they're amused by it?
Unknown Speaker 41:47
Yes, not not really specifically. I try and think a bit about how they have affected government policy generally, but largely in an earlier era when when the vanishing Indian was still considered to be a fact. So that I talk about Native policy government policy at that time.
Unknown Speaker 42:30
Unknown Speaker 42:33
I'm sure many of you are aware that that's a reference to the the original decision, I guess, in the Delgamuukw case, where the Chief Justice of the province referred to Aboriginal people before contact as living lives that were nasty, brutish, and short, quite surprising statement at the time, and since really, I think, safe to say discredited by subsequent court decisions, but it does show how ingrained many of the stereotypes are people hold I don't I can't off the top of my head. I don't really know how to answer your question how stereotypes may be affecting decisions about yesterday it's quoted in the introduction.
Unknown Speaker 44:01
I believe it is the there's a recent book that I haven't read, but just been reading about a fella who takes on the subject and historian and looks at some of the evidence and suggests that as a people, perhaps no more environmentally, conservationists, whatever the word would be, than any other culture. At the same time, we can't deny that they're that that living a traditional liberalism prior to contact, that there would be a different relationship with the environment that industrial society has no one could deny that.
Unknown Speaker 44:49
For some of the European parts of Europe, in general, the Irish
Unknown Speaker 44:56
brutish and short lived ones
Unknown Speaker 45:12
Oh no, not at all. No this I discovered more since I've written the book which was published in 92. That it's, it falls into a real category of more academic history that's been written lately and that is to examine stereotypes that we do have with each other and other groups. And the Irish is a good example. Here in Canada even there's a great book to be written about the attitudes in Ontario in particular, that the English category an Irish there's a there's a, quite an academic and difficult to read, but I think brilliant book about Nova Scotia, and the way Nova Scotia created a Scottish heritage for itself. This historian has shown that it's really only since the 30s, that sort of Nova Scotia has been greatly a Scottish place and it was really an intentional push by government and the tourism works. So much of this has to do with tourism. In fact, this creation of images in order to present yourself to somebody else to another country to a visitor tourists the tourism world is really a world where so many of these stereotypes are presented. There's also this strange phenomenon that I associated with Germany that perhaps is wider in Europe of people dressing up as Indians and taking on Indian identities and going away for the weekend and living in teepees and stuff like that which I'm told is very strong in Germany and has a very peculiar established
Unknown Speaker 47:03
real students of the subject and he hasn't seen clothing and stuff like this for ages
Unknown Speaker 47:11
Unknown Speaker 47:18
one thing that's changed since I was young seems to me now that there's a kind of a modern man image which is worldwide when I was young, and we went from shoes on French to German German guys and they were different. But now it's anywhere in the world you have to dig a little bit to find the old culture because the modern culture
Unknown Speaker 48:00
don't think I paid too much attention so I wouldn't want to say that the
Unknown Speaker 48:06
skeleton was dug up
Unknown Speaker 48:09
set up before the courts
Unknown Speaker 48:21
Unknown Speaker 48:58
Yeah, well, certainly the whole debate about where human beings originated, where they're needed actually needed to North America, the whole burden geo theory and stuff is a landmine, especially for someone like Charles and I read textbooks and what you're allowed to say, and so on, because it seems that Aboriginal people do have a lot invested in their identity as having sprung from native soil as it were, and many do not like the theory that they came across the land bridge and will leap at any opportunity to set that date back and so on, which periodically seems to happen. So it really is part of the their identity is very strong. When one finds you generally always have to put in the
Unknown Speaker 49:55
Unknown Speaker 50:07
you been told this is not the way they saw yourself
Unknown Speaker 50:23
Yes that's right
Unknown Speaker 51:00
Unknown Speaker 51:07
I don't really know
Unknown Speaker 51:20
Was there a question back there quite a while
Unknown Speaker 51:52
perhaps I seem to me the argument was that we can't have this conversation as long as we're free to down so much with with misconceptions about each other and instead of thinking that Indians were what we've said they were all alone because dominant groups usually get to define everything we should get rid of some of this baggage and pay more attention to what Native people were saying they were and that's when you can have this genuine conversation you're referring to
Unknown Speaker 52:35
Unknown Speaker 52:56
right yes, I would imagine Aboriginal communities are as divided as any other
Unknown Speaker 53:11
Unknown Speaker 53:29
Unknown Speaker 53:39
is that where the phrase is a real Do you think? Is that where that phrase you know, or he's a real straight arrow came from? Yeah, right. But do you think we're now gendered the language is this phrase you describe? An honest person is a straight arrow a just because that's where that came from.
Unknown Speaker 55:00
Unknown Speaker 55:35
well, it's certainly true where I grew up in I grew up in West side of Vancouver. There was no Aboriginal presence at all but I've seen evidence of what you are referring to visits to smaller communities around Can I talk about my encyclopedia
Unknown Speaker 56:01
question of cultural appropriation I noticed
Unknown Speaker 56:18
Unknown Speaker 56:26
Unknown Speaker 56:28
I find it very hard. Don't do that with any other
Unknown Speaker 56:42
two things, because this was very much the context in which I began writing this book. So, at the time, I was attending a lot of talks and panels like this one to try and get some idea of what the argument was. And I always found actually, that it was usually an argument, who was selling them an argument made by Aboriginal people themselves, who seemed much more open to sharing what they were asking for was respect, rather than cutting people off from their thing, so I would occasionally hear people give quite a hard line about not sharing, but usually it was whites who were saying that I found generally speaking, that what Aboriginal people wanted was that you understood something about what you were because they had a long history of people ripping off their stories and so on, without this respect, and without understanding what they were doing. But secondly, I think it is a case of two cultures with completely different ideas about these things coming nose to nose and I don't really know what to make of it because like you I am uncomfortable with the notion that that I can do whatever I want. Right whatever I please about anything and the whole notion that songs and stories are owned by somebody and they have the right to share them I'm not saying that's bad but it's completely foreign to our concept but if it's true it has to be respected seems to me
Unknown Speaker 58:34
a five year waiting period
Unknown Speaker 58:44
yeah that could be but I you know,
Unknown Speaker 58:49
it just seems to me we are a culture that doesn't have this concept is a very hard one to get your mind around the story
Unknown Speaker 59:15
purchase story there is that proprietary symbol
Unknown Speaker 59:32
Yes, I don't think it extends to a whole thing. Like you can't make a totem pole because totem poles belong to Indians. But I don't think apparently there are ideas about you can't tell a certain story on that pole or something. Tell your own story on the board and you can't use mine because it's something like a possession that's been handed down to me over the years. The to me the debate was The strange when I was disappointed this is going back a few years, I was really disappointed at the defensive way the Canadian cultural community at least reacted to that debate they all jumped up on their high horse and said you can't tell me what to write your letters to the editor and stuff and then it seemed to die away without really been much intelligent discussion about it. So it's still out there
Unknown Speaker 1:00:27
using the phrase two cultures, it's much more you look around and you realize I don't know how many cultures no one has to wonder if another 100 years down the road
Unknown Speaker 1:00:46
See, I'm of two minds about generally I know the process you're describing, but at the same time, you can look at the world and see that in fact in response to that, the desire to differentiate is stronger than ever.
Unknown Speaker 1:01:53
Yeah I haven't but you want to elaborate a bit?
Unknown Speaker 1:02:59
Yeah, I should give myself a little plug here, what, what I did do after the imaginary Indian was tried to think about the same concept. Use the sort of the imaginary Canadian, and to wonder what a Canadian actually was, in this way, not not a white and that's a nationality and how we constructed a nationality. I wrote this book, national dreams, myth, memory and Canadian history a couple of years ago, which attempts to look at and think about some of the dominant historical myths or stories that we tell about the Canada building of the CPR, the RCMP, and so on, and why these stories have such a hold on our imaginations and what is about them that we think define us as distinctly Canadian, but I'm not familiar with that book that you mentioned or that idea, but it's it's clearly a valid way to think about that.
Unknown Speaker 1:04:05
Unknown Speaker 1:04:17
I was wondering
Unknown Speaker 1:04:23
No, I don't know.
Unknown Speaker 1:04:29
Oh, yeah, sure. No, but I see a degree I see what I have done anyways, as a mediator between the academic world and the popular one, so I don't engage in this debate that often gets so excited. How boring the academics or something because I just don't think it's true. They they write for a certain audience and I mine academics for All I try and translate. I think it's a stereo debate that luckily, I think seems to be over in Canada that most mature cultures don't engage in this debate between popularizers and academics and one is superior to the other.
Unknown Speaker 1:05:25
Okay, but actually, I didn't have much more to say than what Charles already told you. The Encyclopedia of British Columbia is this project that I've been working on for over 10 years. It's going to be published in September, along with a CD ROM, and probably an online version for those of you so inclined. But the book is about is one big fat volume, 500 pages or so 4000 entries on alphabetically arranged like a conventional encyclopedia about all things British Columbian, prominent people, all communities, industries, First Nations, people, artists, lots of biographies of people from various walks of life. As I say, we've been working on it for about 10 years, Harper publishing will be publishing it in in the fall, so I hope that you'll look for it, and buy lots of them for friends and families, make a perfect Christmas gift. Anyway, thanks very much for allowing me to speak to you today. If I heard rightly, your next talk is going to be on the erotics of exploration. So probably much more interesting.
Unknown Speaker 1:06:47
Thanks very much.
Unknown Speaker 1:06:53
speaks for itself
Unknown Speaker 1:06:55
certainly evoked a lot of discussion in your creation of images for the sake of tourism. And also just did in your comment about the Chevy diner. GM taking exception to that and wondering if they complain about your Chevy Chase. Maybe it was conceived in the back of a Chevrolet or something. So thank you very much then and appreciate you taking the time to come over