Archive for January, 2011

Methodology in Aboriginal Studies

Scholars in the field of Aboriginal Studies pay as much attention to the “how to” of the subject as the results. How should scholars approach issues of Aboriginal identity, economic development development, and human rights? Does the field require a distinctive methodology?

There will be a panel on the issue at the Canadian Political Science Association meetings this year.

It’s something Frances Widdowson has been asking for. Widdowson is the author (with Albert Howard) of Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry: The Deception Behind Indigenous Cultural Preservation, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2008.

She’ll be appearing with Tom Flanagan, Peter Russell, David Newhouse (Trent University), Robert Innes (University of Saskatchewan), and Rhoda Howard Haussmann (Wilfrid Laurier).


The Pygmy Holocaust

What atrocities should be commemorated in the new Canadian Museum of Human Rights? Discussion continues.

Rhoda Howard-Hassmann (Wilfrid Laurier) gave her informed opinion in the Idea File of January 19: “if the Canadian Museum of Human Rights intends to have a permanent exhibition dedicated to genocide that occurred outside Canada, it should cover all the known major genocides, not only the genocide of the Jews.”

Should we include “pygmy holocaust,” Rhoda?

In the National Post of January 20, Geoffrey Clarfield, “anthropologist-at-large,” contends that militias battling for control of the Congo, have raped, enslaved, massacred, and eaten the pygmies when it suits their needs. The persecution is on-going.

The sketch that accompanies the story shows men and women who are clearly adults although not much taller than a well-grown North American pre-teen, being herded along by men resembling park rangers.

Clarfield continues: “As a teenager in Toronto’s Forest Hill Collegiate Institute, I well remember reading Joseph Conrad’s riveting novel about the Congo, Heart of Darkness, a fictitious memoir set in the less-than-fictitious 19th-century Belgian Congo of King Leopold. In it he wrote: ‘The conquest of the Earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.’”

“It wasn’t pretty when the Belgians were doing the taking,” says Clarfield. “And it’s no prettier when it’s the Bantu. No matter how many times we say ‘never again,’ we never really seem to mean it.”

On Comparing Genocides

Rhoda E. Howard-Hassmann, Canada Research Chair in International Human Rights, at Wilfrid Laurier University, contributes the following to our discussion of The Canadian Museum of Human Rights:

In 1985 I taught my first course in comparative genocide studies in the department of sociology at McMaster University. I had heard that a film existed about the mass starvation of Ukrainians in 1932-33, so I called a local Ukrainian-Canadian community organization to ask if they knew where I could find a copy. The person who answered the phone was astounded that someone who was not Ukrainian herself would be interested in the Holodomor, as the Ukrainian genocide later came to be known. The community organization gave me a free copy of the film to show my students.

Anyone who studies genocide should be aware of the Holodomor, which is exemplary of one of the most common, yet understudied methods of genocide; mass starvation. Jews, as well as Ukrainians, were subjected to mass starvation during their respective genocides. Mass starvation occurred in China during the so-called “Great Leap Forward,” in Cambodia during the reign of the Khmer Rouge, and in North Korea in the mid-1990s. The citizens of Zimbabwe since 2000 have only been protected from state-induced mass starvation by the good offices of the World Food Program and other international organizations. It is not correct, therefore, to assume that the Nazi genocide of the Jews was the paradigmatic genocide. It was one horrific way, but not the only one, to murder millions of people.

Thus, if the Canadian Museum of Human Rights intends to have a permanent exhibition dedicated to genocide that occurred outside Canada, it should cover all the known major genocides, not only the genocide of the Jews. Moreover, this is a Canadian museum of human rights; thus the exhibit should focus on Canadians’ reactions, or lack thereof, to these genocides, in our immigration, refugee, aid and foreign policies. I make this statement not only in my professional capacity, but also as a Canadian whose father escaped from Nazi Germany and some of whose Jewish relatives were murdered in various cruel ways by the Nazis.

Finally, I do not know what exhibits the Canadian Museum of Human Rights intends to have on Canada’s aboriginal peoples. If the Museum intends to investigate genocide, however, then it ought to take very seriously the argument that aboriginal Canadians were victims of cultural genocide, or ethnocide. I have always included a section in my courses on comparative genocide on the genocides of indigenous people world-wide. Also, when I taught introductory sociology, I always discussed cultural genocide in my lecture on Canada’s indigenous peoples.  It is incumbent upon us as Canadians to devote special attention to the genocides of indigenous peoples in the Americas, and the cultural genocide of indigenous peoples here in our own country.  The cultural genocide of Canada’s indigenous people warrants a separate, permanent exhibit.

The Canadian Museum of World Wrongs

The new Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg will document the Nazi Holocaust, the Rwandan massacres, the Cambodian killing fields, the deliberate starvation and execution of millions of Ukrainians during Stalin’s regime and other “mass atrocities” of the twentieth century, among them, one assumes, the Armenian Genocide, the induced famine in the People’s Republic of China, and ethnic unpleasantness in the Balkans.

Why is Canada building a “Museum of World Wrongs”? I do not know.

A letter in the National Post (January 14) recommends a permanent installation depicting wrongs done to women. Another asks us not to forget that an estimated 80 million Hindus were slaughtered during the Islamic occupation of India. A third says that between 1880 and 1900, Belgian overlords killed 10 million Congolese in their quest for rubber, the “Black Gold of the times.” On this blog, Angus MacDonald notes that under the direction of Kaiser Wilhelm One, German soldiers largely exterminated the Hottentots or Khoikoi people.

Originally the Museum was to have a Hall of Fame as well as a Hall of Shame. The Hall of Fame was to be a tribute to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, not only because he gave Canadians the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982, but also because he modernized divorce and reformed the Criminal Code in 1967 by removing prohibitions against homosexuality and abortion.

Trudeau, an extraordinary man, to be sure, made decisions on rights issues about which Canadians are not of one mind. From the beginning The Canadian Museum of Rights – The Canadian Museum of Rights – a national monument – was meant to hold up to the world an idea of human rights not universally shared. What does the word “rights” mean in such a context?

And then there’s the fact – it is a minor matter, perhaps – that the Hall of Shame was  – and perhaps still is – intended to include Canadian “shames,” exhibits that will serve as a reminder to future generations of Canadian wrongs, among them the Chinese head tax passed in 1885; exclusion of all Chinese immigrants in 1947; refusal to allow a freighter with Sikh passengers to land in Canada in 1914; internment of Ukrainians, Italians and Japanese as enemy aliens; Canadian treatment of Aboriginals; the refusal to allow Jews as immigrants, etc.

Canadian Museum for Human Rights: Reprise

In a recent contribution to Christopher Moore’s Canadian History Blog, Mary Stokes draws our attention to the unpleasant competition between Ukrainians and Jews over the Museum’s allocation of exhibition space.

The Nazi Holocaust is to have a “dedicated space.” Other documented “mass atrocities,” like the Rwandan massacres, the Cambodian Killing Fields and the Holodomor – the deliberate starvation and execution of millions of Ukrainians during Stalin’s regime – are to occupy a “separate zone,” meaning, I take it, a shared space. (See the story in the National Post, January 8, page 1.)

The Museum acknowledges the problem. Angela Cassie, the Museum’s director of communications said: “We don’t want this to be a competition on suffering. But the Holocaust is the most documented of all mass murders so it can be used to deconstruct the steps that lead to all mass murder. But I know that many people will still not be satisfied with our decision.”

Mary Stokes (Moore’s History Blog) asks : “how do we as historians, and as citizens, measure historical evil and victim-hood?” There is no definitive answer, she concludes: “everything is political (in the largest sense of the word.)”

She’s right. Is it enough to say that museums are not the place for politics?

I notice that nothing was said in the Post’s account about the destruction of the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire during and after World War II, or the “ethnic cleansings” of the Balkans. Oh, the twentieth century! And is the twenty-first likely to be better?

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights opens later this year. According to the mission statement it “will strive to enhance the understanding of human rights, promote respect for others and encourage reflection and dialogue.”

Praiseworthy objectives. But what are we seeing so far?

In a recent contribution to Christopher Moore’s Canadian History Blog, Mary Stokes describes the unpleasant competition between Ukrainians and Jews over the museum’s allocation of exhibition space. The Ukrainians lost 10 million people to starvation in the Holodomor, Stalin’s imposition of collectivized farming. The Jews lost six million to the Nazi’s ovens, labour camps, and gas chambers.

Stokes cites David Lett in an article from the Winnipeg Free Press (December 14): “For dispassionate observers, the debate over which is the worst atrocity, or even whether one atrocity has been given too much emphasis while others have been marginalized, is awkward, even discomfiting. It is, in essence, an attempt to measure and compare human suffering. For Ukrainians, this is about being marginalized, adding an insult to the injury inflicted on them in the early 1930s. For many Jews, the debate itself is anti-Semitic, a bid to diminish the importance of the Holocaust as part of an ongoing war against the Jewish people.”

Dear friends, we should have known from our own Canadian experience that the attempt to compare and to publicly evaluate, the rights, identities, and sufferings of political minorities results in anguish and anger.

Think back to the bad days when Canadians were debating the merits of the Charlottetown Constitutional Accord. The Draft Legal Text called for constitutional recognition of Quebec’s “distinctiveness.” It also “recognized” Aboriginals, official-language minorities, ethnic and religious minorities, women, and proponents of regionalism. There were debates about which group had contributed most to Canadian history. Should the Innuit be recognized in a separate clause? The Métis?

Individuals and groups were seized by fears that political programs antithetical to their interests would be justified in the courts through appeal to the constitutionally entrenched rankings. Feminists would rule. Or wouldn’t rule. The Aboriginals would tear the country apart. Or be ignored yet again. The French would refuse to acknowledge provincial equality. The English would once more assert their insufferable sense of superiority.

We defeated the Charlottetown Accord in a national referendum. Canadians refused to “reify” the Accord’s rankings and definitions. We refused to write them in constitutional stone and it appears in retrospect that we did the right thing. Is there a way to avoid reifying the rankings inherent in a Museum of Rights?

I’ll take the issue up tomorrow, starting with  Mary Stokes’ good observation: “how do we as historians, and as citizens, measure historical evil and victim-hood?” There is no definitive answer, she concludes: “everything is political (in the largest sense of the word.)”

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A helper monkey made this abstract painting, inspired by your stats.

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 13,000 times in 2010. That’s about 31 full 747s.


In 2010, there were 54 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 187 posts.

The busiest day of the year was January 7th with 190 views. The most popular post that day was The Opposition to Prorogation.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were,,,, and

Some visitors came searching, mostly for janet ajzenstat, ajzenstat idea file, the idea file, idea file, and g20 protests.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


The Opposition to Prorogation January 2010


About February 2008


Harper’s Senate Appointments February 2010


The G20 Protests June 2010
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Restoring Aboriginal Property Rights March 2010
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