Playing The Indian Card
January 2nd, 2022 | JH
The official narrative around Canada’s history with and treatment of the Indian people of North America is one of self-loathing and endless flagellation. 21st century wokeness has attempted to deify Indian people as the eternal victims of malicious racist European scoundrels and we’ve all been subjected to liberal media telling us endless fictions about historical tragedy since forever. The truth is always more complicated than what neat political ideology would like us to believe and when many of us are woke scolded for some perceived historical transgression, we are increasingly likely to be suspicious of both the “facts” presented and the intention of the person holding them.
Stephen K. Roney has written a book called Playing the Indian Card: Everything you know about Canada’s “First Nations” is WRONG!.
In short, this book is fantastic. Mr. Roney has researched and detailed the perfect antidote to the progressive narrative we are bombarded with and provides extensive and nuanced analysis of a very complicated history of Canada.
This book is clear-eyed and often brutally so. It astonishes the mind to realize how people lived in this country 500, 300, or even 100 years ago. You’ll learn about the truth behind the disappearance of Newfoundland’s Beothuk people. You’ll learn about the real nature of the treaties. You’ll be introduced to very different angles on Truth and Reconciliation and murdered and missing Aboriginal women. Roney will explain those blankets containing smallpox and why potlatch was banned and what the Cree really thought of the Dene.
This is required reading for anyone interested in the politically incorrect truth of Canadian history and ultimately provides a more realistic and respectful assessment of the good, the bad and the ugly relationship between Europeans and Indians over the course of the past 500 years.
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Roney’s book is not without prescriptions or optimism, however, and it leaves the reader feeling hopeful that progress will be made.
We reached out to Mr. Roney and asked for an interview that is exclusive to Poletical… enjoy!
Poletical: What got you interested in doing this type of historical research and writing a book about this topic?
Roney: I’ve always been aware that I have Indian blood. I have cousins who have their Indian cards. I was appointed as the official editor for the Centre for World Indigenous Knowledge at Athabasca University. While working on and editing the texts in this capacity, I became more and more aware that “Indigenous culture” just did not make sense. I wrote an article about this for Alberta Report magazine and continued research on this and eventually my father and brother encouraged me to put together a book on the subject.
Poletical: Your book is so contrary to the mainstream narratives in the corporate press and the CBC, you must have had some pushback.
Roney: Oh yes. I’ve had a lot of pushbacks. I’m blacklisted from some publications because I’ve written this book. Even when I write something on a completely unrelated subject, they won’t publish me now because I’ve been blacklisted.
It’s like the McCarthy days. This is a forbidden subject. I think it’s bizarre because I think my book is not anti-Indian…it’s pro-Indian, but our Indian policy has been built on a myth from the beginning and this has been tremendously destructive both to the Indians themselves and to the wider culture.
Poletical: You reference the “Pocahontas” movie and “Dances with Wolves” regarding the “Noble Savage” myth…
Roney: Yes, this is not new. People think we’ve changed our view of Indians. They think we used to be prejudiced against them, but now we’re enlightened with the new interpretation that’s anti-Western. That’s completely wrong. All of the Westerns from the very beginning had a very mythological image of the Indians.
The Indians are never the villain in the old Westerns, they’re always virtuous “nature’s gentlemen”.
Poletical: You reference that even in the old Western novels from the early days of settlement that Indians were depicted to be living in a “Garden of Eden” type situation and that appeals to people who reject modernity.
Roney: You know how long people have been rejecting modernity and romanticizing the past? Probably since the very first cities were developed. The epic of Gilgamesh, which is the oldest known connected narrative in the world, is based largely on the “Noble Savage” myth. Gilgamesh’s best friend, Enkidu, is the “Noble Savage.”
It’s ingrained in the human spirit, this notion that “wouldn’t life be so much better without all these rules binding us in and if we just followed our natural instincts everything would be wonderful.”
That’s the myth and Indians have personified this to us for centuries. We treat them like darling forest animals whose innocence must be protected. That’s why they’re hedged off in these reserves just as we have nature reserves or game reserves. They aren’t animals and this doesn’t help them.
Poletical: One of the interesting aspects of your book is looking at the symbiotic relationship between Europeans and Indians over the course of the centuries. Both groups started out much different in the beginning (1500s and 1600s) and changed radically over time as they both integrated.
Roney: That’s right. Even European culture back on the continent changed radically because of contact with North American Indians. Where would the Irish be without potatoes? Look how tomatoes changed Italy.
It’s artificial to see two distinct cultures at this point in Canada. What we have now is the happy blending of the best of the original Indigenous cultures with the European cultures (and increasingly now with Asian and African cultures). It’s artificial to hive off a separate Indian (or Canadian) culture anymore.
For generations now your average Indian has been watching the same television programs and reading the same comic-books and following the same sports teams as anybody else. Their culture is our culture. We are all one people.
Poletical: You’re part Mohawk?
Poletical: How did that inform the writing of your book?
Roney: I don’t think it did. Genetic studies suggest that 50% of people in Western Canada have some Indian ancestry. In Quebec it’s probably more than that. So, there’s nothing really special about being part Mohawk. That’s the view I had while writing this.
John Roulston Saul said Canada is a Metis culture. I think he’s right. Canadian culture is a mix.
Poletical: A huge section of your book illustrates just how, shall we say, ”hardcore” average life was for people 200 or 300 years ago. The conditions of life were nightmarish compared to how people in Canada live today. How much does historical ignorance play into today’s obsession with politically correct narratives regarding Indians?
Roney: Ignorance is putting it too weakly. I think it’s deliberate delusion and denial. We don’t want to hear the truth about history because it interferes with our myth of the Noble Savage. Thomas Hobbes was right about the state of nature, it’s hellish, but that’s the direct disproof of our idea that life would be great if not for all these rules.
I think this is what’s behind the political correctness movement. In a way it’s oppressive in that it puts more and more rules on us, but ultimately, they want to tear down civilization because they feel that if they just remove everything that’s here, then we’ll return to the Garden of Eden.
That won’t happen. What will happen is what Thomas Hobbes described…it will be a war of all against all.
"They aren’t animals and this doesn’t help them."
Poletical: That’s a problem for us all, but the direct problem for Indians with the Noble Savage Myth is that it is just so patronizing.
Roney: Exactly. The Noble Savage Myth is dehumanizing because it removes from the Indian the idea that they have free will or choice. They get treated like an animal.
Poletical: You propose solutions to the status quo regarding official policy towards Indians today. Can you elaborate?
Roney: We must respect the treaties, but we can define things much better. We should convert reservations into corporations and every member would have a share. This way individual Indians could have capital to establish businesses or improvements on the reserve. This would break the current monopoly on power that has been holding Indians back for centuries.
Our current path is unsustainable financially. It’s legally unsustainable too because of recent Supreme Court redefinitions. Under the Indian Act, originally, they struggled with how to define Indians in the context of inter-marriage. They decided that if an Indian man married a non-Indian woman the children were Indians, but if it was the other way around those children would be considered non-Indians and would be recognized as full Canadian citizens.
Under the Mulroney government this was considered sexist, so they changed the rules. They made the children of Indian women who married non-Indian men, Indian for two generations. This was considered a bad and still sexist solution so the courts said being recognized as Indian should apply to the children of either Indian men or Indian women.
The problem is that the records weren’t kept for children of Indian women who married non-Indian men. How do we go back and rectify this? So just about everybody who applies is just automatically recognized as Metis.
In Newfoundland, one hundred thousand people applied for recognition as Metis. This is a province with a total population of about five hundred thousand. This on an island whose Indian population was said to be extinct since 1829. Nevertheless, people applied.
Poletical: How do we adjudicate who is an Indian and who isn’t at this point?
Roney: We could do blood testing, but there will be people who are officially treaty Indians who have less Indian blood than people who aren’t. That’s going to be tremendously disruptive.
It doesn’t make sense in terms of Indian culture either because traditional Indian culture was such that anybody could join the tribe, you didn’t have to be descendent. There were lots of examples of people moving from one tribe to another or even Europeans joining tribes. The Seminoles were in Florida and many runaway slaves joined the Seminoles. So, tribalism was not genetic.
The courts ruled that people had to have a continuing affiliation with a native group, but this didn’t hold up because anybody could declare themselves a native group. Then distinctions would have to be adjudicated.
So, at this point if you say you have a family tradition that suggests you have Indian heritage…then you’re an Indian by definition of the Indian Act. It’s completely fluid and anybody who says they’re an Indian is an Indian.
The Canadian government has an insupportable financial burden based on all the benefits they’ve decided you’re entitled to if you’re an Indian. Free tertiary education and free healthcare above and beyond what’s available to everyone and not having to pay taxes under certain conditions. It’s not sustainable.
The courts have also ruled that Indian oral traditions are equally as valid in evidence as written documents in courts. So, anyone who declares themselves as Indian can declare anything as their oral tradition and it holds up against any written contract. There’s no way to prove if someone is lying and they made it up yesterday or if it's something real that happened many years ago…you don’t know.
What we have now is unsustainable.
Poletical: Since you wrote this book the corporate media made a circus of the “unmarked graves” found around residential schools. The spin they delivered was that we had some sort of Kosovo-style genocide happening back in the day and the whole country should be shocked and horrified. It was egregious ahistorical wokeness on a scale I haven’t quite seen before. What did you make of it?
Roney: It’s almost certain that the mortality rate in the residential schools was much lower than it was on the reserves themselves. They were better off in the schools and less likely to die. Those kids most likely died from tuberculosis. Kids of all sorts were dying regularly back in those days.
If you read the book School Days by Tom Brown, it was about one of the richest boarding schools in England in the 19th century and Tom Brown’s best friend dies and it was just something that happened. Kids died from childhood illnesses. Typically, in the 19th century only about 50% of kids made it to ten years old and that’s the general population.
(*editor note – Statistics are difficult to come by, but I found this link showing roughly 1/3rd of Canadian children didn’t make it past age 5 in the 19th century. Canada: child mortality rate 1830-2020 | Statista)
When children died back then the families often didn’t have the money to ship the corpse back to their home communities, so they buried them locally. They probably had grave markers, but the markers would have been made of wood so they wouldn’t last that long.
There was a case here in Ontario in Kingston where there’s a park called Skeleton Park. It used to be a gravesite and it had been abandoned for twenty years so they turned it into a park and all the gravestones by that time had disappeared. If you don’t keep a graveyard tended to, then the grave markers will disappear.
Poletical: Back when most people had trouble getting enough to eat, they wouldn’t be spending money on modern-style, polished granite markers.
Roney: There was a gravesite up in Lac La Biche and they had crosses made out of lead pipes that you’d use in plumbing. Those markers remain, but they aren’t much since as you said, in those days people didn’t see the need.
Poletical: This has been a great conversation, but the best stuff is in the book. What’s the best way to buy your book?
Roney: If you visit playingtheindiancard.wordpress.com you can find all the options on my website to buy the book. It’s available on Indigo and Amazon, etc.
Poletical: I’m surprised Amazon hasn’t banned your book.
Roney: They haven’t yet!
Buy the book on Amazon here.
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