The Galloping Geezer
~ Jack Downey Comments on Canadian Issues
Photo by Julie Ann Biggs
First Canadians - From the Past to the Future
"If you forget your history, you are doomed to repeat it," is a truism in all cultures. Still worse is another truism; "If you forget your history, Hollywood will re-write it for you." Sadly, Hollywood has re-written the history of the North American Aboriginal to such a degree that both they, and we later arrivals, have little knowledge of the real facts of Early Man in North America. This limited overview attempts to begin to correct some of our misconceptions. The overview is not meant to be definitive or all encompassing, but, to the best of my knowledge, its content is generally correct.
There are no indigenous people living in Canada. We are all immigrants. Some of us came via the Eastern Ports of Entry, some through the Western Ports of Entry, some from the South, and some by Air. The first group of immigrants walked across the land bridge, now the Bering sea, and were followed soon after by another group, called Eskimos, who arrived by Umiak boat. Both of these Aboriginal groups are scientifically classified as "Mongolians". The word Mongol meant "warrior" in its original sense. Through the writings of James Fennamore Cooper and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (see Links below) "Mongol" was wrongly translated as "Brave." Hollywood did the rest.
The first contacts with the Canadian Aboriginals were in the East by the Irish, followed much later by the Vikings. The Irish drifted south and formed a band (most probably along the Mississippi/Missouri junction). They were known as the Mandans, now extinct as a result of diseases brought from Europe. The Newfoundland Aboriginals, now extinct for the same reason and because they were murdered by European fishermen, drove off the Vikings. The East was later rediscovered by Cabot etc. In the West the first contacts were made by the Chinese and very much later by Capt. Vancouver, Simon Fraser etc.
If you doubt the western contacts, then explain West Coast art and the Chinese graves on the coast of Peru, dated by Scientific means at 1100 BC. There also were early contacts in the Southeast as Phoenician coins have been found in Mexican cave burials dating from the time of Cheops Pyramid. Kon Tiki proved this was possible in a papyrus reed boat. And Brigham Young University archeologists found the ancient coins.
The Eskimos dwell along the northern coast of Canada and are culturally diverse from the other groups. Research has found that their development with the limited resources of the Arctic coast caused them to utilize their few resources to their absolute limit. No improvement could be made on their life style unless you brought in modern non-Arctic materials. Eskimos did not have a word for war, murder, euthanasia or "mine." At one time, the Dog Rib Cree band hunted them down mercilessly. The Eskimos did not retaliate, as all their effort was needed for basic survival.
Early inhabitants, south of the Tree Line and clear down to the Sannora Desert in Mexico were living in the Stone Age. They did not know of the wheel, the screw, or buffalo tallow candle making. They did not farm, nor make pottery. They did not know of metal, except for a few bits of raw copper found around the Great Lakes, but were expert stone nappers. Since they had no iron, they had great difficulty making fire. They had primitive art skills (examples can be seen at 'Writing on Stone' Park, in Southern Alberta), but no written language. They knew almost nothing about medicine, setting bones, dentistry or even diseases, which were evil spirits to them. They did not understand sanitation or water pollution and were subject to all the water born diseases. They had a basic religion, involving an 'After Life' and a 'Spirit World', but nothing was formalized. Death was their constant mentor and foe rolled in to one. There was ritual cannibalism in the East and on the West Coast. The average life span was 32+/-. You were a respected Elder if you made it to 40. It was a hard cruel life.
The social structure was generally a matriarchic democracy. These Aboriginals lived in constant fear of other groups. Any and all strangers were a threat to the survival of the clan and no mercy could be given. Kidnapping of women and children was fairly common, women for breeding, children to eventually become food gatherers or slaves to the women. Romantic love was a luxury they could not afford. Women were needed to do all the drudge chores while the men constantly hunted for food. The Great Plains Buffalo (Bison Bison) were driven off of thousands of Buffalo Jumps, like 'Head Smashed In' and 'The Woman's Buffalo Jump' in Alberta. At 'The Woman's Buffalo Jump,' the last Jump took place circa 1750 and there are solidly packed Buffalo bones TWENTY-THREE feet deep. The site covers 40 acres. There were typically only 3 to 5 days from when the buffalo were "Jumped" to when the clan had to leave. If a jump went well, at least 1500 to 3000 buffalo were killed for a maximum of 1 to 2 hundred people, counting the children. Most of the meat would have rotted with an overwhelming stench. The Buffalo were so numerous (in the summer and autumn) that the very limited number of Aboriginals living on the Great Plains could hardly put a dint in the vast herds. It wasn't until the railways came that the buffalo became seriously depleted (through hunting from trains and by destruction of migration paths).
It has been reliably estimated that, at the time of European contact, the Aboriginals living North of the Sannora desert numbered in the area of 1.5 million. It is known that there are more Aboriginals living today than there were at the time of Columbus's re-discovering North America (that also goes for beavers, by the way). The arrival of the opportunistic Europeans, with their wealth of technology and material goods, not to mention their diseases and destructive habits (alcohol consumption, for example), had a disastrous effect on the Aboriginals. Although it is well known that there is no difference in intellectual capacity between races, this cultural and material invasion overwhelmed the Aboriginal peoples completely. They have been expected to make the mind-boggling leap from the Stone Age to the Information Age in an incredibly short time!
The new settlers from different countries developed a Canadian society by adapting to the new land and cooperating with each other. After a generation or two, it became difficult to tell who had originated from which culture. Canadian Aboriginals, still reeling from their enormous culture shock, have remained separate from the rest of us. This has been as much the fault of governmental and ecumenical policies as anything else. Although we have been virtually throwing money at them for years, our First Canadians, with few exceptions, do not appear to be thriving. Just look at the suicide rate of First Nations teens. What kind of a life is it for the descendants of a fiercely proud people to be the third or fourth generation recipients of government handouts in a society that either tries to "cure" them of their own cultures or simply ostracizes them for who they are. It would do us good as a nation, to restore the pride of our First Canadians. That said, we simply cannot afford to continue our current trend of shoveling money at them. Pride comes from within.
There is not much pride in being given everything. If you doubt this last statement, you need only to consider what happens to many pampered children of the wealthy. We need to help our First Canadians establish a viable future for themselves, by inspiring them to want to work for their own success. A large part of this will be education, of First Nations people, in order that they may find a place for themselves in Canadian culture, and of the rest of us, in order that we see more clearly that First Nations people are our equals. We cannot afford to have descendents of the First Canadians left behind as we move to the future. They, like other, later immigrants from all over the World, must become part of a unified Canadian Culture. This is not to say that the rich Aboriginal history and belief structure should be left behind. On the contrary, we must ensure that these are woven securely into the colourful Canadian mosaic. It is, however, necessary to bring our First Canadians into the Information Age as rapidly as possible in order that they may claim their rightful place amongst those who build the future.
Links to National Geographic
See "The Dawn of Humans:Peopeling of the Americas."
Links To James Fenimore Cooper: Last of the Mohicans and others
Link to Hiawatha and Hiawatha's Childhood.
Links to Macleans Article: Mystery of the First North Americans
Signed; the Galloping Geezer
Jack C. Downey CD
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