Wednesday, December 10, 2008

First Nations people were "Savages"?

I became aware of this older story only because it was on today's National Native News radio piece.

Basically, an group promoting aboriginal culture in Canada filed a complaint against a member of the International Olympic Committee, Richard Pound. He made a remark, in French, that could be interpreted as calling First Nation's ancestor's "savages." The people filing the complaint are saying that it's actually the whole context of his sentence/point.

Pound's words translated in English, as reported in no2010:

“We must not forget that 400 years ago, Canada was a land of savages, with scarcely 10,000 inhabitants of European descent, while in China, we're talking about a 5,000-year-old civilization,” he said. In interviews with The Globe and Mail, Mr. Pound insisted the term sauvages carries a different meaning in French and English, and that he was using language of the era he was describing.

I am having a hard time finding all the facts out about this - I'm hoping a generous and knowledgable Canadian can point me in the right direction.

Pound's defense of this was the more frustrating part to me:

“I thought that in doing a 400-year-old picture, you use 400-year-old words,” he said. “If that hurts somebody today, I had no intention of doing that.”
“I used the term that was regularly used there by the Jesuits, in the Relations and all the other published material, ‘ les sauvages,' ” he said. “There was no intention of making any racist comments. But you know, as well as I know, what was going on here 400 years ago.”

This, to me, makes me lean toward thinking this guy is extremely ignorant. I mean, n -- r was regularly used to describe people of African descent in America 400 years ago as well as not that long ago. But I gaurantee you that if I use it to describe even the first black Americans ashore, few would view it as acceptable.

Yet I still am unsure what to think about this. I hate claims of racism when there is none - it makes fighting actual prejudice that much harder. But is this the kind of knowledge we want to be passing around? I don't think I'd be as undecided on this if it were an American making a comment in English. Cultural and linguistic differences out of the picture - this is a comment of ignorance. With them added, I just don't know enough about the differences in French/English and Canadian/American.

What do you think?



Alaskan Dave Down Under said...

Just ignore anything Dick Pound says. He has put his foot in his mouth practically every day when he was running WADA.

s.h. said...

I've read a lot of old french anthropological stuff, and he's right that "les sauvages" would have been an acceptable turn of phrase - to the jesuits way back when. There are many, less obnoxious words he could have chosen today. Your analogy with the n word is not far off mark, in my opinion.