Oct 10 2009
There’s politically incorrect and then there’s just dumb. You’d think a “New York-based political and media strategist” would have the smarts to avoid comments like this:
Forget the 2016 Rio Olympics – there’s a more pressing issue to address: Who is fighting to ensure that the immigrants of European descent are adequately represented at next year’s Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games?
I’m talking about the people who can be credited for turning the city from a giant wilderness into the budding metropolis of today. The place, and indeed the whole of my country, Canada, was pretty third-worldish until the English, French, and various other Europeans arrived and started planning and building infrastructure and government, and teaching the natives discipline, order, and capitalism…
It’s no coincidence that the best countries in the world are either European or founded by Europeans. Everywhere they go, European immigrants make things better – until they’re asked to leave, at which point everything usually descends back into chaos. Not that they ever get any thanks for it.
(For that matter, you’d think the Telegraph would know better than to print it).
I don’t know if Rachel Marsden is racist, as some have said. From what I can tell, she seems to simply lack knowledge of the history of how Canada and other former European colonies developed. For the millions of aboriginals in the Americas and Australia who were wiped out, mostly by disease (in many places, death rates approached 100 per cent), European immigrants did not “make things better”. Natives did not need to be taught “discipline” and “order”, as they already had these things in measures that were practical for tiny populations spread out over wide territory (police stations and legislatures don’t make much sense when most population centers are no bigger than villages). Certainly, Native economies were disrupted by the arrival of Europeans as well — though it should be noted here that in the early phase of colonialism, capitalism was not even practiced — European societies in North America could not have existed without generous subsidies from the heart of empire. And building cities out of wilderness isn’t a particularly European trait (has Marsden ever been to Beijing? Tokyo? Mumbai? Does she even know about the ancient cities of the Americas?) I could go much further into just how far off Marsden’s premise is, but fortunately, Jared Diamond already wrote that book in 1997.
Of course, today, we do have a prosperous, technologically-advanced democracy in Canada. But we have this in part because of the active participation of First Nations people in the development of this country, from the fur trade through Confederation to the present day. Our Native heritage and culture is also something that helps make Canada unique, which is why these symbols are so instantly recognizable internationally.
Certainly, European colonizers brought technology and their own culture to Canada (as have immigrants from the rest of the world in more recent decades), from which we’ve benefited. But would Canada really be better represented at the Olympics by a statue of a British soldier or French voyageur than by a piece of Native sculpture?
Granted, I was never that happy about the Inukshuk. Given that the Olympics are taking place on the west coast, a totem pole seems far more appropriate. Before the introduction of European metal tools, there were very few totem poles on the west coast and they were much smaller than the ones we see today. Now, these majestic artworks are distinct symbols of this region and our country’s heritage.
Canada isn’t all Inukshuks and totem poles. Maybe the graphic artist who came up with Miga the Sea Bear and Quatchi the Sasquatch could have thrown in Dudley Do-Right or Yvon of the Yukon. But picking at this as a sign that European culture is somehow being slighted at the Olympics seems a stretch. It’s not like the tourists coming to Vancouver are going to be unaware of Canada’s European heritage. Heck, unlike many North American cities, Vancouver is actually named for one of the first Europeans to visit the west coast. Thanks for dropping by, George.