From Fierlbeck

I’m corresponding with Katherine Fierlbeck about the fuss over the book, Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry: The Deception Behind Indigenous Cultural Preservation, by Frances Widdowson and Albert Howard, to appear soon from McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Readers of The Idea File will remember that Widdowson’s paper at the Learneds last spring occasioned controversy. Some people thought the discussion was disgraceful and some proposed censuring Peter Russell, the meeting’s chair, for letting things get out of hand.

The Canadian Political Science Association is not proposing to censure Russell. It is thinking of creating a protocol on “offensive speech.” We’re awaiting news of the CPSA Board meeting in December.

Katherine sends this url for Kevin Libin’s story on Widdowson and Howard in the National Post, “A Marxist take on native life.”

http://www.nationalpost.com/news/canada/story.html?id=925403

The article usefully reminds us that Widdowson and Howard mean by the “Aboriginal Industry” not a cabal of native peoples but the “mercenaries” who manipulate natives to inflate land claim grievances, demand industry payoffs and pressure politicians for more funding with fewer strings attached. Like proper Marxists, says Libin, Widdowson and Howard contend that the system is perpetuated by those benefiting from the arrangement – “which certainly aren’t rank and file aboriginals, persisting in poor, sick and miserable conditions.”

I say that you don’t have to be a Marxist to suppose that mercenaries gather when tens of billions of dollars are floating freely in the blue, up for grabs. The Post says that Widdowson and Howard are bothered by “accusations that they are in collusion with, of all people, such Fraser Institute types as Tom Flanagan and Melvin Smith.” There’s gratitude!  Flanagan wrote a highly favourable blurb on Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry for McGill-Queen’s.

I ask Katherine whether Widdowson is a bit too unsympathetic to the idea of learning from myth and story.

She replies:

Perhaps she is; and certainly there is much to be said for learning through
narrative (hello, Richard Rorty!). What bothers me about the position she
opposes is the implicit – and often explicit – argument that
liberalism/rationalism/scientific thought is inherently oppressive and
imperialist. The practical consequence of this is not only polarization, but
also the message given to native people (especially students) that engaging in
fields based on rationalist/scientific method is selling out to the oppressor
(sorry, “the Other”). They’re not considered “real Indians” if they accept this
mindset. And, if they do, they risk “assimilating” their people into mainstream
society, which is also racist.

So the real cost of this postcolonial claptrap is the intellectual stagnation
of generations of aboriginal students.

I agree.

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22 Responses to “From Fierlbeck”


  1. 1 Frances Widdowson November 22, 2008 at 3:35 pm

    Below is a letter that I just attempted to post on PolCan (the listserv of the Canadian Political Science Association). It should be noted that this letter does not concern the conduct of either Joyce Green or Kiera Ladner, two political scientists were originally mentioned in relationship to the events that transpired. Ladner was never involved, as she acted graciously at the session, and Green has stated that she regrets how I interpreted her behaviour on that day. In fact, I have great admiration for the work of Dr. Green and hope that she knows that my arguments were never meant to be a criticism of her scholarship. The people to whom this letter refers are those unidentified members of the Women’s Caucus who were in attendance at the June 6 meeting and stated that my presentation expressed “overt and blatant racism” (according to the Women’s Caucus’ minutes, neither Green nor Ladner were present at the meeting). I believe that this unsubstantiated, and therefore presumably false, allegation was then used to convince other members of the Women’s Caucus to develop and submit the troubling motion transcribed below.

    Sincerely,

    Frances Widdowson

    ***

    Frances Widdowson
    Department of Policy Studies
    Mount Royal College
    4825 Mount Royal Gate SW
    Calgary, Alberta T3E 6K6
    Email: fwiddowson@mtroyal.ca
    Telephone: 403-440-6884

    November 22, 2008

    Re: “Offensive Speech”, Academic Freedom and the CPSA’s Women’s Caucus

    Dear Canadian Political Science Association members:

    I am a political scientist who studies aboriginal and environmental policy, and I have been a member of the Canadian Political Science Association since 2002. By writing this letter I hope to alert members to a motion that has been drafted by the Women’s Caucus of this organization and submitted to the CPSA Board of Directors for consideration at their December 2008 meeting. This motion should be of concern to all members because it threatens academic freedom and has the potential to smother legitimate scholarly debate on an important topic in political science.

    The motion in question was submitted to the CPSA Board on July 8, 2008, and reads as follows:

    We [the Women’s Caucus] request that the CPSA Board create policy concerning (1) speech that promotes hatred or creates a hostile environment; and (2) the consequences of such speech. In particular, we would like guidelines concerning professional conduct during the Annual Meeting (for panels and all other formal and informal sessions). These guidelines should include instructions for session chairs, participants, and discussants. We also request the establishment of protocols for registering complaints and a process for their resolution.

    Although appearing relatively innocuous, since no political scientist is likely to support the promotion of hatred or the creation of a hostile environment, the events leading up to the development and submission of this motion suggest the existence of a hidden agenda. The motion came about because a number of unidentified members of the Women’s Caucus complained “about a panel on aboriginal politics [at the CPSA Conference in June]”. According to the minutes of the June meeting of the Women’s Caucus (http://www.cpsawomen.ca/lucheon/index.htm), claims were made about “overt and blatant racism” being expressed at this and other CPSA meetings. This, evidently, consisted of aboriginal members being called “squaws” and “similar offensive language” being used. It was then contemplated if these incidents constituted “hate speech” under the criminal code and questions were raised as to whether or not the “CPSA should play a role in prohibiting sexist/racist language/behaviour” during presentations or “in the selection [of papers and presentations]”. The above motion was then drafted so as to facilitate the CPSA’s role in such an endeavour.

    According to Janet Ajzenstat’s website (https://janetajzenstat.wordpress.com/page/2/), the person being complained about, and whose work the motion targeted, was me. I am quite shocked and dismayed about this circumstance, for while my ideas are undoubtedly controversial, I cannot see how they could be perceived as “promoting hatred”. As Janet Ajzenstat points out, the main argument being made in the paper upon which my presentation was based (available at http://www.cpsa-acsp.ca/papers-2008/Widdowson.pdf) “is that to adopt the aboriginal worldview uncritically, violates principles of sound academic inquiry”. Is this an argument that can be interpreted as being “hateful” or “creating hostility”?

    Therefore, although one might be inclined to support the prevention of “speech that promotes hatred or creates a hostile environment”, the actions of Caucus representatives with respect to this particular motion are unsettling. Unnamed members have asserted that my presentation expressed “overt and blatant racism”, yet they have not specified of what this consisted. The only explicit claim is the reference to the term “squaws” – a word that was certainly not used in my presentation or paper. Even more disturbing is the fact that the Women’s Caucus minutes do not identify those who are complaining about about my conduct, which makes it difficult to demand that these allegations be substantiated or withdrawn.

    It seems likely that the current representatives of the Women’s Caucus are proposing this motion to restrict my ability to criticize the current direction in aboriginal policy. This view seems to be confirmed by a posting on Janet Ajzenstat’s website asserting that “the Women’s Caucus is calling for a motion censuring McGill-Queen’s [University Press]” for publishing Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry – a book that I recently co-wrote with Albert Howard. Some CPSA members dislike the arguments that are being put forward and, rather than providing an intellectual response, are using their influence in the Women’s Caucus to try to prevent a legitimate debate from taking place. All CPSA members should think twice before they condone censorship on the basis of such mendacity.

    Sincerely,

    Frances Widdowson

  2. 2 Wodek Szemberg December 14, 2008 at 4:00 pm

    As television producer, I’m concerned that too often opportunity to strongly disagree in public debate is being replaced with claims that positions that “cause offence” ought to be simply dismissed or silenced.

    The gradual moving away from Enlightenment universalism allows for ethnic/race/gender niche policing of ideas in a way in which only natives have the right to approve ideas about natives, only women have the right to issue permission for non-feminists contribution to discussion about gender etc. All this in the name of combating “epistemic violence”. It’s up to academics to decide whether they are willing to give in to the radical narrowing of the scope of debate. As a television producer interested in intellectually free debate, I’m inclined to oppose it.

    The language of “taking offence’ was briefly used in the debate I’ve produced around the Widdowson/Howard book.

    Here are links to both the televised portion of the debate as well as the on-line portion

    http://www.tvo.org/TVO/WebObjects/TVO.woa?video?TAWSP_Dbt_20081127_779378_0

    http://www.tvo.org/TVO/WebObjects/TVO.woa?video?TAWSP_MChat_20081127_779378_0

  3. 3 R.S. LeBlanc February 26, 2009 at 1:43 am

    The motives of “champions” are suspect. We are by nature wary of those who would presume to speak or act on behalf of others, particularly when those others have shown themselves capable of speaking and acting on their own behalf. It may be argued that our wariness reflects little more than our own personal cache of self interest, but doing so does little to dispell the perception that champions may be host to conflicts of their own.

    To say that post-colonialism is rife with conflicts is harldly an overstatement and hardly novel. What is, however, worth noting is the sequestered nature of much of this conflict; sealed within on a personal level, and sealed away from the public sphere. Until the issues of post-colonialism are marshalled in the open, there will be no suitable venue to dispell the myths embraced by all parties and the legacy of conflict these myths sustain.

    On the one hand we have a debate fairly tendered, on the other hand we would have it set aside. Ironically, intolerance and hatred find their most fertile ground (and possibly their most subtle expression) not when ideas are openly debated, but when the free sharing of ideas is constrained.

  4. 4 Nicholas March 14, 2009 at 9:45 am

    Arses to Allah:
    Ontario’s Human Rights Worship
    (To read aloud!)

    Bah, bah, Barbara Hall*,
    I’m Barbara Hall, you know.
    I’m spurring my horse with all of my force
    To make the carousel go.

    Let nobody laugh at me and my staff
    In the office of Barbara Hall’s.
    We’re riding astraddle, our bums in the saddle,
    A-hunting for infidel balls.

    My professional life is wielding a knife
    For the cause of minority rights,
    And to fight the good fight with all of my might
    On perceiving the slightest of slights.

    There’s no grievance too small for Barbara Hall
    To make it a mountainous case.
    I’ll suck you so dry, you’d wish you could die
    And drown without any trace.

    I’ll fight for Elmasy, the one that is crazy,
    For I drool at the way that he yells,
    ‘My arse is to Allah! I’m off to Valhalla,
    In the rocket my farting propels!’

    My sympathy lies with Elmasy’s demise
    And especially the fate of his goat.
    I hear he did vomit as he prayed to Mahomet
    And he grabbed the goat at the throat.

    When he tried to depart, the thrust of his fart
    Was damp as a waterlogged squib.
    He collapsed for his trouble in confusion and rubble,
    Like a baby out of its crib.

    It’s always my dictum to fight for a victim,
    And Elmasy’s a poor little worm.
    So if anyone jeers or salaciously sneers,
    I’ll make him grovel and squirm.

    I ferociously land my ravenous hand
    On the crotch of any offender.
    If you think that it’s trendy to offend the effendi
    I’ll pulp your balls in the blender.

    An insatiable goddess, I keep in my bodice
    A knife for cutting off balls,
    And I serve them in batter on an elegant platter
    At the table at Barbara Hall’s.

    I love my profession to the point of obsession
    It makes me a woman of pleasure.
    And my lust is compulsive. It’s almost convulsive,
    A pleasure beyond any measure.

    The trumpet resounds as I hunt with the hounds,
    All thanks to the taxpayers’ money.
    But nobody cares and nobody dares
    To challenge their Barbara Bunny.

    Bah, bah, Barbara Hall,
    I’m Barbara Hall, you know.
    And I’m spurring my horse with all of my force
    To make the carousel go.

    * Ontario’s Human Rights Kommissar

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