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Friday, November 12, 2010

The Founders of the Nation

Three solitudes:

Ask Canadians whether it was the French, British or aboriginal nations who played the leading role in founding the country, and the answer will depend largely on the respondents' own ethnic roots - and age - a new national survey suggests.

A poll of 1,500 Canadians commissioned by the Montreal-based Association for Canadian Studies shows French- and English-speaking citizens - centuries after the rise of New France and the formation of British North America - still have starkly different views about who is chiefly responsible for creating the country.

Given the quality of historical pedagogy in this country, one can only imagine. The article notes that younger Canadians tend to give more credit to the aboriginal tribes in founding Canada, a testament to their impeccably multicultural schooling. While these tribes were very useful, not always to their immediate self-interest, to the European powers in settling Canada, their actual impact on Canadian development was slim. 

The image of the aboriginal as being something distinctively Canadian, or at least North American, is very powerful. When the first European explorers reported back on their discoveries, one of the first things they made mention was of the inhabitants: Their clothing (or lack of), manners and social organization was immensely fascinating to European scholars and artists. These early observations helped spur the development of anthropology, as well as reams of racist pseudo-science. 

For the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the aboriginal was the noble savage, as yet uncorrupted by the influences of advanced civilizations. Man in his natural state was good and heroic, just look at the North American tribes. The image of innocent child-men of the New World persists down to modern era, with a patina of environmentalist Gaia worshiping thrown in.

The truth was rather less pleasant. Human nature is universal. It is noble, or savage, as men make it or as circumstances allow. Some of the aboriginal tribes practiced slavery. Others treated their women as little better than pack animals. Still others held customs more humane than their soon to be European overlords. They could be just as violent and cruel as the Europeans. They were stone age societies living hard, simple and dangerous lives in a forbidding climate. That they survived as well as they did, for so long was a testament to their skill and perseverance. 

A few historical details aside, the modern day to day Canada, however, owes little to them. Our laws and main languages are either British or French in origin. Our economic system can be described as Anglo-Scottish. The essence of our philosophies owes far more to Aristotle and Paul, than aboriginal paganism. Canada is a Western nation, populated and run mostly by westerners, with a distinctively western world view. We allow in comers from all lands but, multiculturalist chattering aside, expect immigrants to adopt a basically western mind set.

Where the aboriginal looms large is in our self-conception. Not actual aboriginals living in modern Canada, certainly not the ones living in the Third World hells that are many reservations. Not even their ancestors, who for a time played king-makers between the European colonizers, before being swept aside as nuisances. No, what lives in the Canadian mind's eye is a romantic image of the aboriginal. Not a particular tribe or individual, but Rousseau's noble primitive - the term savage being used only ironically now.

We like to imagine that such nobility had some influence in making us. That beneath the cant and hypocrisy of modern life, something better still exists. That the superior nobility of the aboriginal is largely a projection, the day dreams of long-dead Europeans and their descendants, does not lessen the power of that image. The belief that the aboriginals tribes "founded" Canada, rather than Champlain, Simcoe and Macdonald, says more about the colonizers than the conquered. 


Posted by Richard Anderson on November 12, 2010 | Permalink


There's a commentary you won't see published anywhere in the MSM. Well done!

Posted by: John Chittick | 2010-11-12 10:15:12 AM

I concur with John Chittick. The bottom line as you state is that human behaviour is universal and applies to all regardless of location, culture or time.

Posted by: Alain | 2010-11-12 11:04:41 AM

Well thought and insightful commentary. As John said, it is rare that anyone is brave enough to give a true accounting of human history and institutions.

Posted by: Mike Vine | 2010-11-12 4:10:35 PM

Beautifully put.
Well played.

Posted by: john | 2010-11-12 9:15:48 PM

Revisionist history and political correctness keep getting mixed in with the facts. The natives were just as ruthless and savage as the whites. The only omission in todays history is simply....they lost the war. They now want every amenity the white man has to offer, but want to live like their noble forefathers and want their country back. At 10 billion dollars a year to placate their demands I would say they are creeping back into the winners circle.

Posted by: peterj | 2010-11-12 10:34:25 PM

The question, itself, is flawed. "Nations" didn't "found" the "country".

To found is to create. The "country" called the Dominion of Canada was founded in 1867 via passage of a statute in the Imperial Parliament. A little thing called the British North America Act. Arguably, that "country" remained a state within the jurisdiction of Great Britain until 1982, when the Imperial Parliament passed the Canada Act, 1982, which gave the Canadian government the means to amend Canada's constitution, and simultaneously denied the Imperial Parliament the remainder of its power to govern Canada.

Each of the Acts that founded Canada were, ultimately, Acts of the Crown, carried out on the advice of British Subjects. So: the Crown founded Canada.

If one, wants to talk about who made Canada what it is today, that's a different question altogether...and the best answer points to philosophers, not to "nations".

Posted by: Paul McKeever | 2010-11-13 7:29:42 AM

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