Thursday, November 25, 2004

Paul Wells would be proud

There's someone else out there who's unimpressed with the National Post editorial board. I got this email today from a smart friend, and will pass it on verbatim. Is there a third way for aboriginal policy?
Perhaps out of your interest sphere, but this editorial from the National Post confirms my belief that everyone should be required to complete at least one Anthropology course. The comments perfectly illustrate the two most common fallacies regarding Native peoples.

This section, in particular, would be laughable if the consequences weren't so serious

"The belief that, historically, natives had a justice system, much less a lenient, communal one, is a myth. Being pre-legal, most tribes dispensed ad hoc justice. Among many pre-Columbian native peoples, the most common punishment for offences ranging from stealing to murder was banishment, which in hunter-gatherer societies meant almost certain death. Few could survive the rigours of subsisting in the wilderness alone. The first European explorers and missionaries recorded, too, that mutilation was frequently ordered for adulterers.

Somehow we doubt this was the type of native justice Mr. Cotler was waxing on about."

Pre-legal? Ad-hoc justice? And their justification for this interpretation is anecdotal accounts of the type of punishment? Sadly, the perspective that Natives were (and continue to be) socially and morally underdeveloped and lacking the basic institutions of "civilization" (e.g., a legal system) are all too common - and totally false as any introductory Anthropology student can tell you.

Next, the conclusion that a parallel "Aboriginal" justice tradition would be obliged to recapitulate "pre-Columbian" penalties is absurd. When was the last time you saw someone keel-hauled or burned in a British Court? This, of course, is the second most common fallacy - that Native Culture somehow "fossilized" as soon as Europeans arrived on the scene. As a result, when Native peoples use guns instead of bows-and-arrows, it is untraditional or inauthentic. Somehow, unlike our own culture, when Native culture changes it becomes less Native. Thus, a new Aboriginal legal system could not be conceived as reflecting the needs of contemporary Native groups - because then it isn't really, Aboriginal.

Finally, they note that Natives are proportinately over-involved in crime. No doubt. Alas, they make no attempt to consider potential causes or potential solutions except to allow Natives to be more responsible for themselves . . . except apparently in terms of legal justice, in which they want Natives to be less responsible for themselves.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not sold on the notion of a parallel Aboriginal Justice tradition (although I'm not sold against it either), but the logic used in this editorial is not only atrocious, it also perpetuates damaging stereotypes.



At 1:19 p.m., Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

You and Jaeger at Trudeaupia both posted on this topic, from seemingly different points of view today. I don't know about the topic to contribute much, but I'd be interested to read a back-and-forth between the two of you. I might actually learn something!


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