Native Vs, Euros
Throughout history, the clash of contrasting cultures has never resulted in a positive conclusion, but rather racial segregation and the arrogant use of stereotypes in all aspects of life.
Long before the white man set foot on Canadian and Saskatchewan soil, the Indians, or rather the Native Canadians had been living in North America. When the Europeans came here, there were more than 10 million Indians populating North America and they had been living here for quite some time. It is believed that the first Native Americans arrived during the last ice age, approximately 20,000 – 30,000 years ago through a land bridge across the Bering Sound, from northeastern Siberia into Alaska.
So, when the Europeans started to arrive in the 16th- and 17th-century they were met by Native Americans, and enthusiastically so. The Natives regarded their white-complexioned visitors as something of a marvel. They enjoyed the white man’s clever technology and outlandish dress, such as steel knives and swords, guns and cannons, mirrors, hawksbills and earrings, copper and brass kettles, and so on.
However, conflicts eventually arose. As a starter, the arriving Europeans seemed attuned to another world. They appeared to be oblivious to the rhythms and spirit of nature. Nature to the Europeans, and the Indians detected this, was something of an obstacle, even an enemy. It was also an opportunity. A forest was so many board feet of timber, a beaver colony so many pelts, and a herd of buffalo so many robes and tongues. Even the Indians themselves were a resource, being souls ripe for the Christian plucking.
It was the Europeans’ cultural arrogance, combined with their materialistic view of the land and its animal and plant beings that the Indians found repellent. Europeans were regarded as mechanical, soulless creatures that wielded evil tools and weapons to accomplish mad ends. They believed that the Indian’s rightful land belonged to the Queen, and ignored the fact that the Natives had initially lived in North America for thousands of years before settlers even knew the continent existed.
The Europeans brought with them a desire and will to conquer the new continent for all its richness, and also diseases that hit the Indians hard. Conflicts developed between the Natives and the Invaders, with the Europeans arriving in overwhelming numbers. The Europeans were accustomed to own land and laid claim to it while they considered the Indians to be nomads with no interest to claim land ownership. The conflicts led to many battles and wars. In these wars the Indian tribes were at a great disadvantage because of their modest numbers, nomadic life, lack of advanced weapons, and unwillingness to cooperate, even in their own defense. The Indian’s were then herded into reserves and coerced into signing their land over through the use of unfair treaties.
The Europeans exploited this cultural helplessness. In exchange for items such as firs and beaver pelts to dress the upper-class of settling Europeans, the white people gave the Indian nomads small amounts of land to settle on, called reserves, and useless amounts of paper money that the Indians had no use for. A planned assimilation had already started, causing a growing strife between the white man and the natives. The outburst of society driven stereotyping and racism appeared in no time, and is still prominent in Canada and Saskatchewan.
As children, most of us were given a playground definition of racism. Racism meant assuming bad things about someone just because of the color of his/her skin, and it is the main ingredient in cultural disunity. Think about this: Its definition actually contains three separate components. First, a racist has “bad intent.” Second, a racist makes prejudiced assumptions. And third, a racist targets an unchangeable characteristic about a culture or race.
Let’s begin with the notion of race as an unchangeable characteristic. Race is in our genetic makeup. We did not choose our ancestors, and the Native’s did not choose theirs. The luck of the draw, the miracle of creation, determines a cultures racial heritage. The main part of any liberal culture is respect for these characteristics. We do not deserve to use either praise or slander towards them. No one earns their race, nor can they be blamed for it.
Unchangeable characteristics are only one part of human nature. An individual also has ethnicity, culture, religion, morals, political opinions, beliefs, feelings and traditions, for example. None of these parts of individual identity are directly tied to race. Not even ethnicity and culture are predetermined by race, much less other parts of our identity. For example, a Caucasian may be born in China, and grow up in Chinese culture. In fact, every individual, however influenced by ancestors, family traditions and expectations, is at least capable of creating an independent personal identity. Multiracial individuals are a perfect illustration of this. They do not have a multiracial ethnicity or culture, but rather a personal, individualistic approach to how race affects their identity. The settling Europeans certainly did not understand this; they saw their way of life as superior, and looked down upon the more “primitive” nomadic Indian tribes. Eventually, once established, the European’s developed a fear of the red-skinned Indian culture.
All of these other aspects of identity are changeable, not immutable. Of course, it may be far easier to change our political opinion than our religion, but certain aspects of our identity can be changed easily. Unlike race, they are not genetically determined.
Race is special because we do not choose it. It is the one value you can claim as your own. We can be held responsible, however, for what we do and believe, for how we dress and what we eat, for whom we love and how we love, and for how we worship God or Nature and how we deal out government. Race may be a sacred characteristic of individual identity, but what individuals do and believe is not protected from criticism. When the white man came to Canada for the first time, the natives looked at them with reverence, instead if arrogance and opportunity. On the other hand, the European’s saw the Indians as nothing but savages, ready to be steam-rolled culturally and religiously.
Since the Europeans landed, they (and we) have found it easy to criticize and insult how individuals from other cultures dance, sing, eat, dress and so on. We have the free will to decide what our own conception of ‘the good-life’ is. However, our culture is in no way free from cultural criticism. All cultural norms, from infanticide, spousal abuse and genital mutilation to arranged marriages, pow-wow’s, and eating with utensils, are not free from discussion. If we were to constantly question all of our cultural aspects, it would question our society’s stability.
Let’s look at another part of our definition of racism and why it creates problems between cultures: prima facie assumptions, or prejudice. Prejudice is necessary, but does not fit the full meaning of racism. Everyone is prejudiced, but not everyone is racist. The real racist is irrational, because he comes to conclusions about racial identity due to false assumptions or none at all. For example, someone may say: “All the Indian’s I know are drunks. Here is an Indian I do not know. He must be a drunk.” While this individual is using evidence, personal experience and reason to come to his conclusion, his logic is faulty.
“Bad intent” will show how prejudice is not necessarily racism. In point, the settling European’s were not necessarily racist people when they arrived here, but their intent was immoral from the start. They won the culture clash, and forced the Native culture to lose most of their own racial identity.
But what about those assumptions regarding racial identity that is made with “good intent?” For example, many individuals desire to protect their ethnicity and culture, which comes from their racial identity. To protect their culture, these individuals may decide to protect the purity of their race, as well. So, they push for individuals to marry and reproduce within their own racial kind. Of course, the Indians never even had a chance to do this; they were overwhelmed by the White Culture, and the true roots of their own were nearly lost altogether. Still today the natives struggle for independence, and still today roadblocks are thrown in front of them at every turn by Canada’s white dominated society.
In other words, the Europeans came to this continent with good intentions of their own, but because of the extreme difference between the Native Canadian’s culture and the European’s, the good intent turned to bad intent and led to the destruction of the less-powerful Indian culture, and inevitable racial segregation. These hasty conclusions about “bad” and “good” intent led to more misunderstandings between the two cultures.
How many parents of children do you know that are racially intolerant of the prominent Native population in Regina? Of those, look at how many of the children of those families grow up with the same bitterness and ignorance on the tip of their tongues. Heightened awareness of our diversity breeds heightened awareness of our sharpest oppositions. If improperly handled, diversity can destroy even our most basic sense of unity, and that is why the Europeans could not honour the Native Canadian culture. We no longer even despise their culture, or even try to assimilate them into ours. In order to survive among us, they have adopted our culture. Still, we sweep them under the rug and spit on them in the gutter at every chance; parallel to how the early European’s treated the Natives of early North America and Canada.
The two cultures should be united with one purpose. We should want more than emotional outbursts and intensely hurt feelings. We want an unprejudiced education available to both cultures. If we are to continue seeking an understanding of racism, stereotypes, and prejudices, and abolish the cultural divide, the meaning of these must be accessible to all, regardless of the color of one’s skin. If our early ancestral European settlers had adopted this view, then perhaps we would be living in a unified, unbiased society where both races co-exist as one human.