Well, we are all continuing to decompress from the “New Directions in Aboriginal Policy” forum (2010) at Mount Royal University (held a few weeks ago now!).  Contrary to the insinuations that additional security would be needed, everyone acted in a very collegial (although sometimes passionate) manner.  Important lessons were learned about the benefits of public debate.  Censorship and professed “offence” will not help us to understand and address complex and difficult policy problems.  A number of faculty members from Mount Royal University chose to boycott the forum, but many others stated that, while they disagreed with many of the opinions that were expressed, censorship was an unacceptable response in an academic environment.  I even witnessed Gary McHale and Wes Elliott having a long and polite conversation with one another in the Faculty Centre. 

Mount Royal University should be commended for standing up to the intimidation, and allowing such an historic exchange to take place.  Once again, the Provost and Vice-President, Academic, Robin Fisher, the Dean and Associate Dean of Arts (Manuel Mertin and Sabrina Reed), and the Department of Policy Studies (especially the Chair, Bruce Foster) have shown themselves to be leaders in supporting academic freedom and critical inquiry.  The other sponsor of the forum, the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, should also be thanked for providing partial funding for the event.

Over the following days, additional materials will be posted on the “New Directions in Aboriginal Policy Forums” page on this blog.  I have already posted my opening remarks – “The Kindly Inquisition Influencing Aboriginal Policy Formulation”.  It is hoped that these additional materials will further stimulate debate on aboriginal-non-aboriginal relations.  I am already starting to think about next year’s forum – to be held in the first two weeks of May 2011 (it is still not clear when the best time is for the event).  It is hoped that with the additional contacts that I am making that next year we can begin to have more of an organized exchange on three questions concerning native economic development, aboriginal governance and “indigenous knowledge”/education/research.  It is also hoped that, on each panel, there will be two speakers directly supporting or opposing a question concerning a particular aspect of aboriginal policy, much like the Intelligence² debates on the BBC.

The keynote speaker, Don Sandberg, gave a very interesting overview of his thoughts on “The State of First Nations in Canada Today”.  In this presentation, Mr. Sandberg focussed on a number of the most significant challenges facing aboriginal peoples, especially in the areas of governance, economic development and education.  I was also interested in Sandberg’s comments about some of the problems concerning “traditional medicine”; in his presentation, Sandberg noted that some people in an aboriginal community were afraid that “bad medicine” was being thrown at them, causing them a great deal of  stress and unhappiness. 

The first panel, “Private Property and Native Economic Development”, featured a spirited exchange between Tom Flanagan (University of Calgary) and Albert Howard (Independent Researcher) about whether private homeownership could improve economic conditions in aboriginal communities (Flanagan stated that he disagreed with practically everything that Howard said, except for Howard’s comments about rentierism).  Albert Howard’s presentation will be posted on this site soon, and it is an encouraging development that Flanagan’s ideas are now being subjected to critical analysis, rather than being dismissed as “offensive”.  Joseph Quesnel also provided an interesting commentary on how the unviability of reserves could be addressed.

The second panel, “Aboriginal Sovereignty, Indigenous Nationalism, and the Rule of Law”, had presentations from Ron Bourgeault (University of Regina), Gary McHale (CANACE), Mark Vandermaas (Caledonia Victims Project), and Wes Elliott (Six Nations of the Grand River Territory).  It was unfortunate that Bourgeault’s work, which is very significant and underutilized in academe, was upstaged by the arguments concerning the Caledonia dispute.  Wes Elliott provided a diagram of his vision for achieving reconciliation in Caldedonia.  McHale and Vandermaas’ presentations contain too much memory to be posted on this site, but they can be accessed on the “Caledonia Victims Project”  website - http://caledoniavictimsproject.wordpress.com/   There is also a video recording of McHale and Vandermaas’ presentation on this site for those who are interested..

The third panel, “Traditional Cultural Revitalization and Aboriginal Education”, had presentations by Joseph Lane (Independent Researcher) on Australian education policy, Andrew Hodgkins (University of Alberta) on bilingual education in Nunavut, and an exchange between David Newhouse (Trent University) and myself on “indigenous knowledge”.  I will be posting PowerPoint slides and the written comments for my presentation in the next week or so on the “New Directions in Aboriginal Policy Forums” page of this website.  It is also hoped that David Newhouse will submit his slides.  In my opinion, the exchange between Dr. Newhouse and myself was the most cordial and intellectual that I have ever seen with respect to this subject.

Although it is a very busy time of year because of the upcoming Congress, I will do my best to post these materials in a timely manner.  I also want to put out a call for presenters for May 2011.  An aboriginal member of the audience made the comment that she felt the panels were “stacked” in favour of the integrationist/assimilationist position.  I informed her that I had tried for months to obtain representation from people who would sit at the same table and challenge the views of Flanagan, Howard, McHale & Vandermaas, and myself, but was told that they did not want to be a part of such an event (fortunately, Wes Elliott called me and stated that he wanted to debate McHale and Vandermaas – an encouraging development).  Funds are limited, but we usually have enough for two or three speakers (depending upon where they live).

Please note:

With respect to Wes Elliott, a mistake has been made.  He is not a negotiator, but is on the negotiating team.  I apologize for the error.

FW 

***

The final program for the New Directions in Aboriginal Policy forum at Mount Royal University on May 5, 2010 has just been completed.  It is posted on the New Directions in Aboriginal Policy Forums page and is cut and pasted below.  The posted program now contains the abstract for the presentation of Wes Elliott  (Six Nations of the Grand River Territory) – “Allies of the Crown: Honouring the Treaties is the Formula for Peace”.  The abstract states that

“The Great Law of Peace contains the principles which the Creator gave to the Houdensaunee people to live in harmony with one another and the land. This foundation formed the oldest confederacy of nations in the world. It is our Constitution. When European contact came, two wampum belts or treaties, were agreed upon: the Two Row and the Silver Covenant Chain. They became the Law of the Land. Today they are still the Law of the Land. They govern the conduct between our nations. They supercede any laws created for so called justice.

In Caledonia, both treaties have been violated. In Brantford, both treaties have been violated. In negotiations, both have been violated.  We have never been conquered. We are the only native nations in Canada that are allies to the Crown. We have our own language, culture and history, but most of all, we uphold our part of the Treaties. The basic understanding of these treaties, the honouring of them, then abiding by them, is the formula for peace”.

We are very pleased that Mr. Elliott has agreed to make this presentation and to critically engage the position of Mark Vandermaas and Gary McHale.  Once again, the forum does not endorse either position; its only goal is to present diverse points of view.  Although many will not agree with the arguments presented, Mount Royal University is a strong supporter of academic freedom and critical inquiry.  It is by being exposed to challenging points of view, in fact, that enables all people to develop intellectually.

***

New Directions in Aboriginal Policy

Free Public Forum at Mount Royal University

Nickle Theatre (Main Building, West Gate)

Calgary, Alberta, May 5, 2010

Sponsored by:

Mount Royal University’s Department of Policy Studies,

Arts Scholarly Events Committee, Office of Provost and Vice-President, Academic,

and the Frontier Centre for Public Policy

8:30-9:00              Coffee

9:00-9:20              Opening Remarks

Sabrina Reed (Associate Dean, Faculty of Arts, Mount Royal University) – Welcome

Frances Widdowson (Mount Royal University) – The Kindly Inquisition Influencing Aboriginal Policy Formulation

9:20-10:00            Keynote Address

Don Sandberg (Frontier Centre for Public Policy) – The State of First Nations in Canada Today

10:00-10:15         Coffee

10:15-12:00         Panel I – Private Property and Native Economic Development (Chair: Kari Roberts)

Tom Flanagan (University of Calgary) – Beyond the Indian Act: Restoring Aboriginal Property Rights

Albert Howard (Independent Researcher) – Field of Dreams: “Building” Aboriginal Economies with Property Ownership

Glenn North Peigan (University of Lethbridge) – The Treaties, Economic Development Funding and Aboriginal Dependency

Joseph Quesnel (Frontier Centre For Public Policy) – The Politics of Cutting Your Losses: Non-viable Reserves and Aboriginal Economic Development 

12:00-1:00            Lunch Break

1:00-2:45              Panel II – Aboriginal Sovereignty, Indigenous Nationalism, and the Rule of Law (Chair: Miriam Carey)

Ron Bourgeault (University of Regina) – The Aboriginal National Question: Colonialism, Self-Determination and the New Right

Wes Elliott (Six Nations of the Grand River Territory) – Allies of the Crown: Honouring the Treaties is the Formula for Peace

Gary McHale (CANACE) – The Face of Aboriginal Sovereignty Versus the Rule of Law in Caledonia

Mark Vandermaas (Caledonia Victims Project) – Listening to Victims: A Fresh Approach to Reconciliation and Healing

2:45-3:00              Coffee

3:00-5:00              Panel III – Traditional Cultural Revitalization and Aboriginal Education (Chair: Jennifer Pettit)

Andrew Hodgkins (University of Alberta) – Bilingual Education in Nunavut: Trojan Horse or Paper Tiger?

Joseph Lane (Independent Researcher, Australia) – Aboriginal Educational Successes in Australia: Mass Tertiary Education and the Development of an Indigenous Academic Class

David Newhouse (Trent University) – Canada Meets the Good Mind

Frances Widdowson (Mount Royal University) – The Good Mind and Critical Thinking: Exploring the Implications of “Indigenous Knowledge” Meeting the Academy

5:00-8:00              Reception (Faculty Centre)

The final version of the New Directions in Aboriginal Policy Forum program is now available on the New Directions in Aboriginal Policy Forums page on this blog (it is also cut and pasted below).  Work that has been undertaken by the various presenters also has been posted on that page.  One new development is that there has been an agreement between David Newhouse and myself to hold an exchange on incorporating “indigenous knowledge” into the academy in Panel III (“Traditional Cultural Revitalization and Aboriginal Education”).  This exchange will concern Newhouse’s article “Ganigonhi:oh: The Good Mind Meets the Academy”, Canadian Journal of Native Education, 31(1), 2008, pp. 184-197.  Another addition is Glenn North Peigan, who, along with Albert Howard, will be responding to Tom Flanagan’s views on aboriginal property rights.

FW

***

New Directions in Aboriginal Policy 

Free Public Forum at Mount Royal University

Nickle Theatre (Main Building, West Gate)

Calgary, Alberta, May 5, 2010

Sponsored by:

Mount Royal University’s Department of Policy Studies,

Faculty of Arts Scholarly Events Committee,

and the Frontier Centre for Public Policy

8:30-9:00              Coffee

9:00-9:20              Opening Remarks

 Frances Widdowson (Mount Royal University) – The Kindly Inquisition Influencing Aboriginal Policy Formulation

 9:20-10:00            Keynote Address

 Don Sandberg (Frontier Centre for Public Policy) – The State of First Nations in Canada Today

 10:00-10:15         Coffee

 10:15-12:00         Panel I – Private Property and Native Economic Development (Chair: Kari Roberts)

 Tom Flanagan (University of Calgary) – Beyond the Indian Act: Restoring Aboriginal Property Rights

Albert Howard (Independent Researcher) – Field of Dreams: “Building” Aboriginal Economies with Property Ownership

Glenn North Peigan (University of Lethbridge) – The Treaties, Economic Development Funding and Aboriginal Dependency

Joseph Quesnel (Frontier Centre For Public Policy) – The Politics of Cutting Your Losses: Non-viable Reserves and Aboriginal Economic Development

12:00-1:00            Lunch Break

1:00-2:45              Panel II – Aboriginal Sovereignty, Indigenous Nationalism, and the Rule of Law (Chair: Miriam Carey)

Ron Bourgeault (University of Regina) – The Aboriginal National Question: Colonialism, Self-Determination and the New Right

Gary McHale (CANACE) – The Face of Aboriginal Sovereignty Versus the Rule of Law in Caledonia

Mark Vandermaas (Caledonia Victims Project) – Listening to Victims: A Fresh Approach to Reconciliation and Healing 

2:45-3:00              Coffee

3:00-5:00              Panel III – Traditional Cultural Revitalization and Aboriginal Education (Chair: Jennifer Pettit)

Andrew Hodgkins (University of Alberta) – Bilingual Education in Nunavut: Trojan Horse or Paper Tiger?

Joseph Lane (Independent Researcher, Australia) – Aboriginal Educational Successes in Australia: Mass Tertiary Education and the Development of an Indigenous Academic Class

David Newhouse (Trent University) – Canada Meets the Good Mind

Frances Widdowson (Mount Royal University) – The Good Mind and Critical Thinking: Exploring the Implications of “Indigenous Knowledge” Meeting the Academy

5:00-8:00              Reception (Faculty Centre)

The draft program for the forum is available on the New Directions in Aboriginal Policy Forums page.   This program will likely change a little after additional information is received.  It is hoped that this program will be completed by the end of next week.  I am still attempting to find additional aboriginal academics and activists to present perspectives on aboriginal sovereignty and indigenous “ways of knowing”.  The hope is to have as wide a range of viewpoints as is possible presented at the forum.

FW

***

New Directions in Aboriginal Policy

Free Public Forum at Mount Royal University

Nickle Theatre (Main Building, West Gate)

Calgary, Alberta, May 5, 2010

Sponsored by:

Mount Royal University’s Department of Policy Studies,

Faculty of Arts Scholarly Events Committee,

and the Frontier Centre for Public Policy

8:30-9:00              Coffee

9:00-9:20              Opening Remarks

Frances Widdowson (Mount Royal University) – The Kindly Inquisition Influencing Aboriginal Policy Formulation

9:20-10:00            Keynote Address

 Don Sandberg (Frontier Centre for Public Policy) – The State of First Nations in Canada Today

10:00-10:15         Coffee

10:15-12:00         Panel I – Private property and native economic development

Tom Flanagan (University of Calgary) – Beyond the Indian Act: Restoring Aboriginal Property Rights

Joseph Quesnel (Frontier Centre For Public Policy) – The Politics of Cutting your Losses: Non-viable Reserves and Aboriginal Economic Development

Albert Howard (Independent Researcher, Canada) – Field of Dreams: “Building” Aboriginal Economies

12:00-1:00            Lunch Break

1:00-3:00              Panel II – Aboriginal sovereignty, indigenous nationalism, and the rule of law 

Gary McHale (CANACE) and Mark Vandermaas (Caledonia Victims Project) – TBA

Ron Bourgeault (University of Regina) – TBA 

3:00-3:15              Coffee Break 

3:15-5:00              Panel III – Indigenous “ways of knowing”, critical thinking and education

Andrew Hodgkins (University of Alberta) – Bilingual Education in Nunavut: Trojan Horse or Paper Tiger?

Joseph Lane (Independent Researcher, Australia) – Indigenous Education in Australia: Standard Tertiary Programs and the Development of an Indigenous Academic Class

David Newhouse (Trent University) – TBA

5:00-8:00              Reception (Faculty Centre)

Things are beginning to firm up for the New Directions in Aboriginal Policy Forum at Mount Royal University.  The forum is free and open to the public and is intended to stimulate public debate on aboriginal policy.  People with very different perspectives on aboriginal economic development, governance and education have been invited because it is assumed that bringing together opposing viewpoints enables all people to move closer to the truth.  The tentative program and confirmed participants are cut and pasted below.  I am still hoping to find more people who can present arguments supporting aboriginal sovereignty and indigenous “ways of knowing”.

FW

***

New Directions in Aboriginal Policy, Free Public Forum in the Nickle Theatre, Mount Royal University, May 5, 2010

8:30-9:00, Coffee

9:00-9:30, Opening remarks – The kindly inquisition influencing aboriginal policy development

9:30-11:30, Panel I – Aboriginal sovereignty, indigenous nationalism, and the rule of law

11:30-1:00, Lunch break

1:00-2:45, Panel II – Private property rights, the Indian Act, and economic development

2:45-3:00, Coffee Break

3:00-4:45, Panel III – Indigenous “ways of knowing”, critical thinking and education

5:00-8:00, Reception

Confirmed participants (in alphabetical order)

Ron Bourgeault (University of Regina), Tom Flanagan (University of Calgary), Andrew Hodgkins (University of Alberta), Albert Howard (Independent Researcher, Calgary), Joseph Lane (Independent Researcher, Australia), Gary McHale (CANACE), David Newhouse (Trent University), Joseph Quesnel (Frontier Centre for Public Policy), Don Sandberg (Frontier Centre for Public Policy), Mark Vandermaas (CANACE), Frances Widdowson (Mount Royal University)

The battle with certain members of the Women’s Caucus of the Canadian Political Science Association appears to be entering a new phase.  In a posting on the Women’s Caucus listserve, the distinguished political science professor from McMaster University, Janet Ajzenstat, weighed in with the following (for the full posting see “WC email – Janet Ajzenstat” on the Ethics page of this blog):

“In a recent contribution Jill Vickers speaks of “an issue” but doesn’t elaborate [see  "WC email - Jill Vickers" on the Ethics page of this blog]. She apparently wants to settle an issue. Let me suggest two issues the Caucus might discuss. Neither can be easily settled.

The first is that Kiera Ladner seems to have left herself open to a charge of unprofessionalism. I may not be in possession of all the facts. Correct me if I am wrong. It seems – a number of people may conclude – that Ladner rejected Frances Widdowson’s submission for a panel presentation at the CPSA this spring because it criticizes Ladner’s research.

I’m in touch with Widdowson. I read her Mount Royal University blog. I understand that she was offered a poster session. For goodness sakes! She could fill an auditorium. She should have been invited to address the Congress at large.

Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry (with co-author Albert Howard) has attracted almost unprecedented attention in academe and in the public sphere. Widdowson and Howard are major contributors to what many see as the most important domestic problem in this country: the wretched poverty on some reserves, the appalling condition of housing, and aboriginal exclusion from Canadian political life. Not everyone agrees with the analysis in Disrobing, but the argument is extensive, well grounded, and must be addressed openly. A few panel presentations will not suffice. There will be – there should be – continuing exploration of Widdowson’s facts and arguments. She must be allowed to develop her argument and take it in new directions. We can expect years of fruitful debate.

The second – related -  issue is this: Widdowson is tackling the problem of cultural relativism. The book has additional gravity because it deals head on with one of the central philosophical themes of our age. The main outlines of the argument on cultural relativism are well established. I won’t rehearse them. “Aboriginal ways of knowing,” “women’s ways of knowing”: there is every reason to welcome discussion of the subject. Indeed it can’t be suppressed. It cannot be adequately pursued on a poster board.

Widdowson’s current research promises an investigation into the SSHRC’s insistence that research on aboriginal reserves be limited by respect for “aboriginal ways of knowing.” Let me urge the Women’s Caucus to endorse investigation of this topic. Widdowson writes (Mount Royal blog): ‘If the CPSA were really interested in open and vigorous debate, as it claims, it would organize a debate on aboriginal epistemologies in political science between Kiera Ladner and myself.’ I agree. I’d nominate Rhoda Hassmann as commentator/chair”.

Ajzenstat’s comments about cultural relativism are especially pertinent.  If it can be believed, it seems that the question “is criticism of cultural relativism racist?” is being answered in the affirmative by certain members of the Women’s Caucus of the Canadian Political Science Association.  Although there has been no substantiation of the anonymous allegations that “racist remarks” were made and “overt and blatant racism” was expressed in my presentation, a person attending the 2008 Women’s Caucus meeting inferred that it was my “critique of aboriginal epistemology which was racist and offensive” (see the “Email exchange between F and and L” on the Ethics page of this blog).  Because these members of the Women’s Caucus appear to assume that questioning the scholarly value of “aboriginal ways of knowing” is “racist”, they feel that it is appropriate to prevent this viewpoint from being discussed.

But does it make sense to argue that there are “aboriginal ways of knowing”?  To do so is to assume that ancestry (race?!) determines philosophy – a proposition that is actually racist.

This is not to argue the point, as Joanna Quinn has attributed to me (see Letter from Joanna Quinn on the Ethics page), that “aboriginal scholars have nothing to contribute simply because they are aboriginal”.  It is to state that all people, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, must use rigorous methods if they are to make a meaningful contribution to political science.   As I pointed out in “Native Studies and Canadian Political Science: The Implications of ‘Decolonizing the Discipline” (see the Advocacy Studies page of this blog), what is referred to as “aboriginal ways of knowing” in the Native Studies literature does not really constitute “knowledge” at all, since it asserts that subjective opinions are fact and maintains that unsubstantiated supernatural forces shape the nature of the universe.

Peer review and Native Studies

December 24, 2009

Writing about the circumstances surrounding climategate has prompted me to think about the peer review process and research involving aboriginal peoples. While climategate constituted just one instance of peer review politicization, and is unlikely to be representative of the huge amount of research that is currently being undertaken with respect to global warming, the same cannot be said of the peer review process for scholarship undertaken on aboriginal peoples.  Even more disturbing is that the corruption of the process takes place at the level of the selection of reviewers, and so evidence is suppressed much earlier in the process.  This circumstance is legitimized by an acceptance of “indigenous knowledge and methods” in scholarship pertaining to aboriginal people, which results in highly dubious claims being published in respected peer reviewed journals.

In political science, the politicization of the review process has meant research that comes to conclusions that are supportive of parallelist arguments for land claims and self-government is eagerly embraced, while scholarship challenging these political demands is rejected.  As a result, there are numerous claims about the existence of pre-contact aboriginal “nationalism”, “governance”, “law”, and even “constitutionalism”, which are being incorporated into the foundations of the discipline and introductory textbooks. In the case of the Canadian Journal of Political Science, for example, an article published is supposed to be “excellent in all its aspects”, yet this journal published an article by Kiera Ladner - “Up the Creek: Fishing for a New Constitutional Order” (December 2005) – that made many claims supported only by political statements from the Union of Nova Scotia Indians and the wishful thinking of James Youngblood Henderson and his associates.   The paper is so poorly proofread, in fact, that it misspells the name of John Borrows numerous times, and does not contain a reference for “Henderson et al., 2000″, even though this work was used to provide a full page quotation in support of the alleged “connections…between the Mi’kmaw worldview and their constitutional order”.

Compare the publication of Ladner’s piece, which makes highly improbable claims that a pre-contact “Mi’kmaw constitutional order” was “similar to the British Constitutution” and “comprises and defines distinct, political, economic, educational, property and legal systems” (without any evidence except a reference to another, very problematic peer reviewed article of Ladner’s - “Governing Within an Ecological Context: Creating an AlterNative Understanding of Blackfoot Governance”, Studies in Political Economy, 2003), to my article on corruption in aboriginal communities that was rejected (the article, “Inherent Right of Unethical Governance – Widdowson – peer reviewed copy”, is available on the Aboriginal Policy page of this blog). This article was rejected because

“the author offers the argument that traditional governance systems based on kinship networks and norms of generalized reciprocity deny the rule of law and are inherently unethical and an inappropriate basis for governance in modernity. The author argues that corruption is inherent in aboriginal governance, without providing a compelling account of its actual scope. The author provides evidence from a variety of reasonable sources that corruption exists in aboriginal communities, however this evidence is largely anecdotal.  As a reader I am not provided with an analysis that allows me to make my own evaluation of the severity and extent of corruption on a national level.  The author makes no attempt to show that x% of reserve communities, for instance, have evidence of corrupt political practices, or have an endemic history of political nepotism. For if such an analysis showed, for instance, that 60% of aboriginal governments were corrupt and 40% were not, then I would be able to accept a conclusion that corruption is a big problem, but certainly not inherently so. If the numbers showed a corruption rate of 100%, then I could go about evaluating the empirical analysis and then, if the data was sound, have to deal with the consequences of such a remarkable finding. Surely making a sound empirical case is difficult, given the difficulty in getting this kind of data.  However, this type of methodical empirical analysis is necessary for me as the reader to jump from the observation that corruption exists to the conclusion that aboriginal governance is inherently unsound”. 

Publishing this piece would have been impossible  under these conditions – as the reviewer seems to recognize – because of the difficulties in acquiring the data that would be necessary to meet this standard or rigour, even though it is generally recognized that corruption is much higher in aboriginal governments than in municipal, provincial or federal governments in Canada.

A similar problem occurred in an article that Albert Howard and I tried to submit to the journal Arctic on “traditional knowledge” (the article – “Aboriginal traditional knowledge, science and public policy – Widdowson and Howard – peer reviewed copy” - is available on the Aboriginal Policy page of this blog).  Although the the article was favourably reviewed by two wildlife biologists working for the federal government and Robert McGhee, an archaeologist with the Canadian Museum of Civilization, it was rejected by three other reviewers who thought it was too “antagonistic” and did not contribute to constructive debate.  One reviewer even stated that the paper “…should offer a more balanced way forward rather than just a rant. The overall tone is too negative and sometimes, just outright offensive. The paper puts ‘science’ on a pedestal where it does not belong. The argument about relativism is perhaps ironic as there is not much in this paper in seeking common ground…”.   One of the most interesting aspects of this review is that the word “science” is put in ironic quotation marks, suggesting that its existence is somehow in doubt, even though the journal’s mandate is to “advance the study” of this region “through the natural and social sciences”.

 The obstacles to expressing critical viewpoints in scholarly venues appear to be increasing with the decision of the Canadian Political Science Association to divert a paper that I proposed presenting – “Aboriginal Peoples, Political Science and Research Ethics: Should Indigenous Politics be Studied Differently?” - to a “poster session” (where pictures and graphs are put on a 4′-6′ poster in the reception area, not in a formal panel).  The ideas in this proposal will be very difficult to present in this visual form, since they will require the elaboration of complex arguments with detailed examples provided as evidence.  This problem can be discerned by examining the proposal’s abstract: 

“In the development of research in Canada, there are increasing attempts to ensure that the study of human subjects is conducted ethically. As a result, bodies like the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council [SSHRC] recommend that research ethics boards should be put in place to review research applications requesting funding. Of particular significance is research pertaining to the study of groups that are perceived as vulnerable. There is heightened concern about the impact that research can have on aboriginal peoples, for example, because of the power imbalances instituted by colonization. It is argued that additional protection should be provided to the native population, and it is even assumed that the preservation of culture should be a goal of the studies conducted. Although it is important that individuals be protected from physical and psychological harm as much as possible, these developments in research ethics raise a number of questions about the constraints that will be placed upon academic freedom and a researcher’s capacity to investigate their area of study. In the efforts to balance the risk of harm with the potential benefits for society, it has become apparent that the importance of academic freedom is almost completely ignored in these ethics guidelines. This is particularly pertinent with respect to the study of aboriginal peoples; it needs to be recognized that the application of “research ethics” in the area of Native Studies often opposes researchers’ attempts to increase knowledge about the actual character of aboriginal-non-aboriginal relations”. 

How can this be represented on a poster?  As a result of this decision, I will be unable to present these ideas and “aboriginal epistemologies” will be promoted unopposed within political science.  This will be detrimental to to the academic credibility of the discipline of political science and its professional body in Canada.

Although it is not clear why diverting this topic to a poster session occurred, it probably has something to do with the fact that Kiera Ladner is the head of the section of the programme committee to which the proposal was submitted (the Women’s Caucus cabal is also heavily involved in promoting this session).  Ladner’s work, in fact, would have been discussed in my paper as an example of the problem of insisting that “aboriginal knowledge” must be respected (a requirement of current research ethics guidelines).  Ladner was also present at the infamous meeting of the Women’s Caucus in 2008 where anonymous allegations that my work was “racist” were made (I did not know Ladner was present until a few months ago because her name was not recorded in the minutes in the list of members “Present: (2008 Caucus Meeting)”. Evidently, at this meeting, Ladner was very distraught during the discussions about the paper that I had presented. It is reported that a large amount of hugging and comforting Ladner ensued,  as well as “talk of solidarity and outrage”. Although the discussion of the nature of my “overt and blatant racism” was not specified, it appeared that my critique of aboriginal epistemology - the idea that native people, because of their ancestry, have a “different way of knowing”, not accessible to others – was believed to be offensive by the postmodern clique now controlling the content of some CPSA panels.

When will it end?  One colleague has recommended that I try to present my ideas in other political science venues that are “less parochial”.  But, if I choose this course of action, doesn’t this mean that unsubstantiated and highly improbable arguments such as Ladner’s will continue to be accepted as legitimate within the discipline of political science?  What impact will this have on the discipline and our capacity to understand aboriginal-non-aboriginal relations and the development of politics and government more generally?  If the CPSA were really interested in open and vigorous debate, as it claims, it should organize a debate on “aboriginal epistemologies” in political science between Kiera Ladner and myself.

On January 19, 2009, Rhoda Howard-Hassmann, Canada Research Chair in International Human Rights, Wilfrid Laurier University, sent a letter to the the Interagency Advisory Panel on Research Ethics.  The letter was commenting on the revised Draft 2nd Edition of the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans (TCPS), and it provides a number of criticisms of this document.  Because of the important contribution that this letter makes to the discsusion of research ethics, especially those concerning the study of aboriginal peoples, I have posted it on the Ethics page of this blog (see TCPS research ethics – Howard-Hassmann).

It should be noted that Howard-Hassmann’s criticisms relate to an earlier draft of TCPS, since the Interagency Advisory Panel on Research Ethics has just released a revised version in November 2009 (www.pre.ethics.gc.ca/eng/policy-politique/initiatives/revised-revisee/chapter9-chapitre9/).  This revision involves chapter nine of the draft – “Research Involving Aboriginal Peoples in Canada”.  A review of this document indicates that many of Howard-Hassmann’s criticisms are still valid.  Because of the implications that this revised version has for academic freedom, it is important that people concerned about the rigorous study of aboriginal-non-aboriginal relations analyze this document and submit their comments to draft2e@pre.ethics.gc.ca by March 1, 2010.

The interest in developing special research guidelines for the study of aboriginal peoples began in 2002, when it was asserted that research involving aboriginal peoples should be “based on respect for Aboriginal knowledge, research modalities, and rights and needs”.  As Howard-Hassmann points out, the guidelines that came out of this concern are extremely problematic because they state that aboriginal peoples should be able to control all aspects of research that pertains to them.  Restrictions on research being undertaken with respect to aboriginal communities have been around for a while (for example, an editor at UBC Press told me a number of years ago that his publishing house had protocols in place that stipulated that “the community” had to approve research findings before they could be published), but what is changing is that these restrictions are now being formalized, and therefore will be imposed more widely and deeply across the country.

While it is important that research is controlled to try to prevent harm to individuals (in drug studies, for example), the restrictions being imposed on research being conducted with respect to aboriginal communities are much broader. What one sees is often not the protection of individuals from harm, but an attempt to prevent research that is threatening particular political interests. The result is that studies done in aboriginal communities are more advocacy than research.

This pressure to turn research into advocacy occurs in a number of ways. The first, as is mentioned by Howard-Hassmann, is the focus on “the community”. “The community” usually means the native leadership, and as a result, research that is threatening to those in power is censored. This has been happening informally for a number of years; Noel Dyck mentions that nepotism in aboriginal politics often is silenced out of concern for the image of “the community”. This problem is even greater when leaders are abusers of women and children; research that would document these circumstances often cannot be published, enabling powerful members of the community to oppress the vulnerable unopposed.

This is related to two other points that Howard-Hassmann mentions – preventing “division” and “stigmatization”. Promoting “harmony” in aboriginal communities often amounts to pressuring the marginalized and abused from rising up against their oppressors (as has occurred in many “sentencing circles”). Stopping “stigmatization” means the prevention of studies that indicate high levels of dysfunction. As Howard-Hassmann correctly points out, this inhibits a timely response to address serious social problems. In the case of research into Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) in B.C. for example, a study was halted because a high percentage of children were discovered to have been affected. This censorship is often justified under the guise that it is up to “the community”, not “outsiders”, to deal with the problem. But what if “the community” is in denial? Should the lives of future generations be sacrificed to appease “aboriginal pride”?

Another significant problem concerns, as Howard-Hassmann notes, the definition of “aboriginal knowledge” itself. As Albert Howard and I have also pointed out in Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry, much of what is referred to as “aboriginal knowledge” is not knowledge at all. It is often the unsubstantiated beliefs of certain members of the native population (usually elders). The result is the demand that assertions unsupported by evidence be accepted within the social sciences, and the questioning of these beliefs is met with all sorts of hostility and demands for censorship (as was shown by the reaction to my presentation on “indigenous methodologies” in June 2008 at the CPSA). The Bering Strait theory, the refutation of the assertion that the Iroquois influenced the American constitution, and the questioning of the claim that aboriginal peoples discovered hundreds of drugs now being used in modern pharmacology, etc., are vehemently opposed because a frank discussion of these ideas are perceived as a threat to aboriginal political aspirations. This has implications for a wide range of academic disciplines; even the scientific enterprise of archaeology is under threat because of the aboriginal “interest” in ensuring that thousand of year old skeletons should remain undisturbed.

There is one statement of Howard-Hassmann’s that requires much more discussion within the academic community. This is her assertion that “…the interests of aboriginal groups must be protected, given their long suffering under colonial and assimilationist policies…”. What are the “interests of aboriginal groups” and how do these differ from those of non-aboriginal people? Are these “interests” perceived as being in conflict with the research that is being undertaken in the social sciences and humanities? One often hears, for example, how science has been “harmful” to aboriginal communities, but no elaboration is provided. There needs to be much more detailed analysis of what such cases consist of, and when these accusations of “harm” constitute an attempt to prevent incovenient truths from being recognized.

With the amazing success of the 2009 New Directions in Aboriginal Policy Forum held at Mount Royal College (now Mount Royal University), interest was expressed in making the event an annual affair.  Therefore, I am pleased to announce the tentative date of next year’s New Directions in Aboriginal Policy Forum – May 5, 2010.  It is hoped that Mount Royal University will be able to host this event each year at the beginning of May.

The purpose of these forums is to stimulate open and honest debate about aboriginal policy.  Effort is being made to bring in a wide variety of perspectives for the benefit of students, faculty, and interested members of the public.  It is hoped that the free exchange of ideas in a collegial environment will help to reduce the ideological policing that has plagued discussions of aboriginal policy for so long.

Although the funding arrangements are still being worked out, a number of researchers and scholars have expressed interest in participating in the forum.  In addition to myself and Albert Howard, other potential participants include Tom Flanagan (University of Calgary), Joseph Quesnel (Frontier Centre for Public Policy), Ron Bourgeault (University of Regina), and Andrew Hodgkins (University of Alberta).   There is also hope (funding permitting) of bringing in researchers and scholars from Australia and New Zealand to discuss aboriginal policy developments in these countries.

Those interested in this forum should keep an eye on the New Directions in Aboriginal Policy Forums page on this blog.  This page will make the draft program available, as well as work from the scholars and researchers presenting at the forum.  The page also will keep a record of information from past forums.

The 2010 New Directions in Aboriginal Policy Forum is already promising to be a very interesting event.  Tom Flanagan will likely be discussing the ideas in his forthcoming book, written with Christopher Alcantara and André Le Dressay, Beyond the Indian Act: Restoring Aboriginal Property Rights (see the New Directions in Aboriginal Policy Forums page for a description)As readers of Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry will know, Albert Howard and I are very critical of arguments that propose property rights as a solution to aboriginal dependency and marginalization.  This viewpoint, however, has not been extensively debated in the academic community because it is easier for members of the Aboriginal Industry to dismiss Flanagan’s ideas than to subject them to critical analysis.

For more information on this forum, please feel free to contact me at fwiddowson@mtroyal.ca or 403-440-6884.

***

Program update – April 2010

New Directions in Aboriginal Policy, Free Public Forum in the Nickle Theatre, Mount Royal University, May 5, 2010

8:30-9:00, Coffee

9:00-9:20, Opening Remarks – The kindly inquisition influencing aboriginal policy development

9:20-10:00, Keynote Address – The State of First Nations in Canada Today 

10:00-12:00, Panel I – Private Property and Native Economic Development

12-1:00, Lunch break

1:00-2:45, Panel II – Aboriginal Sovereignty, Indigenous Nationalism, and the Rule of Law

2:45-3:00, Coffee Break

3:00-5:00, Panel III – Traditional Cultural Revitalization and Aboriginal Education

5:00-8:00, Reception

Confirmed participants (in alphabetical order)

Ron Bourgeault (University of Regina), Tom Flanagan (University of Calgary), Andrew Hodgkins (University of Alberta), Albert Howard (Independent Researcher, Calgary), Joseph Lane (Independent Researcher, Australia), Gary McHale (CANACE), David Newhouse (Trent University), Glenn North Peigan (University of Lethbridge), Joseph Quesnel (Frontier Centre for Public Policy), Don Sandberg (Frontier Centre for Public Policy), Mark Vandermaas (CANACE), Frances Widdowson (Mount Royal University)

If you scroll down to the post on this blog entitled “Caledonia: A glimpse of aboriginal self-government” (November 23, 2009), you will find a lengthy comment by Mark Vandermaas, the editor of www.VoiceofCanada.ca and co-founder of CANACE (Canadian Advocates for Charter Equality).  I recently became acquainted with Mr. Vandermaas and his organization after he sent me a message in appreciation of Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry.  Vandermaas noted that, while not mentioned specifically in our book, other circumstances that we had documented were eerily reminiscent of what had transpired in Caledonia and Ipperwash (interestingly, Albert Howard and I had followed some of the media coverage and hearings pertaining to Ipperwash, and were disturbed by the  inconsistencies and subterfuge that we observed.  For example, it was maintained that the aboriginal people involved were not in possession of guns, but one person was told by their lawyer to retract their testimony about participating in target practice with a rifle earlier that day).

One of the most significant aspects of Vandermaas’ post is that he notes that “[Caledonia: A glimpse of self-government"] makes an excellent point about non-natives having no expectation of justice under an aboriginal system…” but there should also be the reconition that “native people themselves have been badly victimized by native extremists and by the refusal of police to enforce the law”.  Vandermaas then provides the following links that document the problems of lawlessness for vulnerable members of aboriginal communities: http://voiceofcanada.wordpress.com/2007/12/20/voc-speech-at-remember-us-march-oct-0807/ and http://voiceofcanada.wordpress.com/victimizing-native-people/.

This was an unfortunate omission of my previous post.  It should be stressed that both aboriginal and non-aboriginal people are harmed by lawlessness.  As we pointed out in chapter six, “Justice: Rewarding Friends and Punishing Enemies”, in Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry (pp. 129-159), lawlessness in aboriginal communities results in the continued oppression of the most vulnerable members of aboriginal communities – especially women and children – because no mechanism exists to protect them from powerful abusers in the community.  “Justice” is kinship-based, and those not related to powerful families in aboriginal communities can be oppressed with impunity.

Some might question how my support for the rule of law in Caledonia is consistent with the historical materialist analysis that informs Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry.  How can someone who claims to be on the “left” be supportive of the laws enforced by the Canadian state?  Such an argument fails to recognize that equality under law is a progressive principle, and is an advancement over kinship-based “justice” systems.  Although the wealthy can often gain advantages in a modern legal system by, for example, hiring highly skilled legal help, we pointed out in Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry that “modern laws serve the interests of society in common, and so, have the general support of all citizens.  Equal, objective and impersonal application of the law makes sexual assault of anyone and everyone illegal, regardless of social position” (p. 140).

It should be recognized, therefore, that the non-aboriginal supporters of the “Mohawk Warriors”  are right-wing, not left-wing.  They are right-wing because they advocate a return to tribal politics, where entitlements are determined by kinship (blood and marriage), not laws that apply universally to the citizenry, regardless of their status and/or ancestry.  Accepting the views of the pseudoleftist supporters of the “Mohawk Warriors” would make Canada more unequal than it is right now (and inequality is the essence of right-wing ideologies).  In fact, current demands for “aboriginal nationalism” and “sovereignty”, because they connect land to ancestry, have more in common with the ideology of Nazi Germany than left-wing ideas.

Support for the “Mohawk Warriors” exists because it is mistakenly assumed that this criminal gang, which is often acting to protect its drug and gambling turf, represents socialist ideals.  Therefore, any argument put forward is accepted, regardless of the implications that this has for working class people in towns like Caledonia and marginalized members of the aboriginal population.  Although left-wing thinkers should support those who are struggling for social justice and equality, achieving this will mean challenging the romantic reactionaries that have turned Caledonia into a tribal war zone.

Norman Levitt (1943-2009)

November 26, 2009

It has just come to my attention that Norman Levitt died on October 24, 2009 (http://spiked-online.com/index.php/site/reviewofbooks_article/7652/).  I never met Norman, but became aware of his views through reading the book that he co-authored with Paul Gross, entitled Higher Superstition: the Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science.  After reading his book I contacted Norman by email, and he generously provided me with a number of insights that helped Albert Howard and I write our book Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry.

Although the subtitle of Higher Superstition is a little misleading, in that it refers to the “Academic Left” when “postmodernism” or “pseudoleft” would be a better description, the work is invaluable in that it offers one of the first comprehensive critiques of epistemological relativism and its corrosive effects on a scientific worldview - defined by Alan Sokal as “a respect for evidence and logic, and for the incessant confrontation of theories with the real world; in short, for reasoned argument over wishful thinking, superstition and demagoguery” (http://www.physics.nyu.edu/faculty/sokal/nyu_forum.html). It also prompted Alan Sokal to submit a parody article (later to become known as the “Sokal hoax”), “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity”, to the postmodern journal Social Text.  This journal accepted Sokal’s parody as a real, academically credible article, because it pretended to oppose the “(so-called) scientific method” and to end “the [enlightenment] dogma that…there exists an external world, whose properties are independent of any individual human being and indeed of humanity”.

Norman Levitt’s struggle against postmodern relativism lives on.  It is particularly relevant in that the opposition to science is still being promoted under the auspices of left-wing ideology (see, for example, the paper on the Aboriginal Policy page of this blog - “Indigenous Knowledge(s) and the Academy”).  Levitt was very effective in exposing this pernicious development, which was masquerading as “progressive politics”.  As Stuart Derbyshire explains, “Levitt was brilliant at uncovering attacks on science made under the guise of ‘democratisation’. He rightly pointed to the absurdity of advocating teaching intelligent design or creationism alongside evolution in American schools. Many on the academic left, and Steve Fuller, support this campaign on ‘democratic’ grounds. Levitt correctly observed that teaching creation as science whitewashes the rigours of science and threatens to reduce science to a popularity contest about belief”.

This comment by Derbyshire reminded me of a segment of a recent CBC radio interview with David Suzuki on November 25, 2009 (http://www.cbc.ca/q/pastepisodes.html).  In the program, Suzuki claims that the idea of objectivity is “ridiculous”, and that we should be promoting a diversity of values and beliefs and be open to new ideas.  But what happens if these ideas are contradictory, Dr. Suzuki?  As a “scientist”, shouldn’t you be concerned about the quality of evidence that is put forward to support a claim?  And if you cannot make some objective determination about the evidence, what makes you a scientist, and not an ideologue or mystic?

It is this kind of thinking, in fact, that leads Suzuki, in the “personal foreward” of Wisdom of the Elders to promote the “wisdom” of the “shaking tent” – the Innu’s “traditional way of communicating”.  In his account, Suzuki passes over the essential characteristic of the shaking tent – that a Shaman enters a tent alone and then claims that it shook because he was able to make a connection to the “spirit world”.  Instead, Suzuki relays an Innu story about how “a man once ‘flew’ over a long distance and ‘saw’ friends at a winter camp struggling for help.  So the person in the shaking tent sent for help and saved them”.  After recounting this anecdote, Suzuku makes the following comment: “I am not in a position to pass judgement on such stories, but as a scientist, I know that Nature posseses inexplicable mysteries.  We have no theories with which to make sense of many of the phenomena that indigenous people describe”.  He concludes the discussion by stating that “the phenomenon of shaking tents should arouse interest and curiosity rather than dismissive snorts of skepticism” (xxix-xxx).

But Suzuki doesn’t “know that Nature possesses inexplicable mysteries” because he is a scientist.  It is the anti-scientific tendencies in his philosophy that enables him to claim that there are “inexplicable mysteries” in the first place.  A scientist would ask what these “inexplicable mysteries” were, and how they are revealed by the Innu’s belief in the “shaking tent”.  What Suzuki should have said was “when I am not being scientific, I know that Nature posesses inexplicable mysteries”.

Besides, it is not difficult to explain the particular “mystery” that Suzuki describes.  The Shaman goes into a tent, shakes it, and then claims that he was able to do this because of his “powers”.  Then, when something good happens to the community (the “friends struggling for help” being found, for example), the Shaman takes credit for it.  This, of course, makes the community beholden to the Shaman, enabling him to control others for his own benefit.  Encouraging people not to approach the shaking tent with skepticism is to make the Innu susceptible to the Shaman’s manipulation.  It is outrageous and hypocritical for Suzuki, when he is presenting himself as a scientist, not to “pass judgement” on such obvious charlatanism.