Is Canada suffering from “Indianism”, a misplaced version of orientalism?

18 Mar

Is Canada suffering from “Indianism”, a misplaced version of orientalism?

Edward Said, a great scholar and expert on post-colonial literature wrote a book in 1978 called Orientalism.  This literary work was a critical analysis on the study of eastern culture as interpreted by the dominant western culture and known as orientalism.

When I look at the Idle No More Movement in Canada, I see some striking similarities.  Said suggests that the west has built stories rather than discovering stories about the Orient.  In Canada, our entire history is predicated on stories that were built and not necessarily discovered.  Canadians, especially political and church leaders have looked at the Indigenous peoples of Canada with the same veiled opinion that so skewed the way we saw the East.  Aboriginal people were considered childlike, lawless, godless, and therefore required not only our oversight but required us to consider them wards of the state:  lock, stock and barrel.

 Canadians have been educated both formally and informally to reinforce the theory that First Nations needed to be looked after by the church and the state.  In the community where I live relationships between Aboriginal and non-aboriginal peoples have been studied as a microcosm of what is happening in Canada.  One of our local leaders who was questioned about the impact of Residential schools stated that these institutions provided some good to the First Nations people because the children had “no proper shoes” and lived off “fish and berries”.  She was certain that residential schools were a good thing for a few reasons:  history had been built that way and it was a way of coming to terms in the same way that Orientalism was used by Western Europeans.

The same binary opposite, us and them, goodness and darkness, that Said discusses in his book could be applied to some of the arguments we hear when we hear stories of the Idle No More Movement.  For many Canadians the movement is about First Nations rights as almost a nuisance.  For First Nations it appears to be more about us (the people who care) vs. us (the people who don’t care).  Said suggests that the built stories were different for Westerners as their interest was differently vested in various parts of the East.  As a resident of BC who arguably has a lot to lose from any environmental issues surrounding pipeline breaches or marine accidents, I arguably am in the “us who care” camp.  If I live in the middle of large urban centre in Ontario, I may be part of the “us who don’t care” camp.

Is it Indianism?


Said, E. (2009) Introduction to Orientalism.   In.  S. Thornham, C. Bassett  & P. Marris (Eds.), Media Studies – A                             Reader (pp.111-123).  New York:  New York University Press


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