Howard Adams: Half-breed at full throttle
August 07th, 2012
Blessed be the English and all that they profess.
Cursed be the savages that prance in nakedness.
Blessed be the English and everything they own.
Cursed by the Infidels that bow to wood and stone.
Howard Adams of Vancouver was born into a Métis family in St. Louis, Saskatchewan in 1926. “In school I was taught that we were retarded. I believed that I was dumb, in comparison to white students; and that I was low class, crude and dirty.
“… As a child in the ghetto, I knew my shame by looking ‘Indian’, by living in a log shack, by eating bannock and lard. Hostility and violence emerged with self-hatred. The fact that I could not play on the village baseball team or hockey team because I was not white stung me deeply…
“I was ragged, uncouth and I stunk. I did not belong to the level of the ‘nice, proper, elegant’ middle class. There were reasons, I told myself, why I should be treated differently. I lived in a low class colony. I did not speak the ‘Standard English.’”
Adams received his BA from UBC and his PhD from Berkeley in 1965. As a professor at the University of Saskatchewan he doubled as President of the Metis Society of Saskatchewan. He subsequently taught Native American Studies at the University of California from 1975 until his retirement in 1988.
Adams’ two ground-breaking books are The Education of Canadians (1968) and his better-known Prison of Grass: Canada from a Native Point of View (1975, revised 1989).
In his new book, A Tortured People: The Politics of Colonization (Theytus), Adams looks with uncompromising anger at Canadian history through the prism of colonialism. He feels that Eurocentrism, as an instrument of camouflage and exploitation is still very much alive.
“As recently as 1990 Quebec businessmen invaded the cemetery land of the Mohawk Indians at Oka and tried to claim it as sovereign land for a golf course. Nothing is sacred in imperialism!”
White supremacists and Eurocentric prejudices are not solely to blame for the subjugation of aboriginals in Canada.
Adams is painfully aware that a “collaborator class” of Metis, Inuit and Indian leaders has been created by “massive government grants” to aboriginal organizations. These Native puppets “have harmonized their lives and goals to the political culture of the colonizer,” he says.
Adams is particularly concerned about the fate of Canada’s Metis after “twenty years of corruption, fraud and thieving by mafia Aboriginal organizations”.
He wishes Native people across Canada would call a halt to the operations and activities of organizations such as the Metis National Council, Metis Society, Metis Federation of Manitoba, Alberta Metis Nation, United Native Nation, Assembly of First Nations, and other similar organizations that pretend to represent Indian and Metis people.
As a halfbreed (self-described), Adams sees detrimental hierarchic divisions have emerged between so-called ‘Status’ or treaty Indians and Non-status Indians, Inuit and Metis.
For Adams the term First Nations is racist in tone, part of the imperial vocabulary and serves to thwart the unification of aboriginal communities.
History is written by the oppressors. By failing to locate interpretations of history in the context of imperialism, most Canadian historians have been unaware of the rampant biases and subjectivity of their sources. As a result, Adams believes Canadians have been “grossly misinformed” about our racial and colonial history.
“As an Aboriginal historian, I am deeply concerned by the incredible lack of authentic Aboriginal historical writing,” he says.
“By muffling the voices of protest of simply ignoring them, the establishment hopes to keep Aboriginals out of sight and out of mind.”
Adams is simultaneously aware that his frankness as a “Red Power” advocate – his impolite lack of self-censorship – automatically renders much of his analysis distasteful. He has been “marginalized” by the mainstream in Canada of all colours.
“White people are not aware that they are the pace-setters for the racist cultural standard of mainstream society,” he writes. “It is taken for granted without sensitivity. Racist whites are the dominant ‘ordinary’.
“No one ever talks about the ugliness of racism and the politics of colonization. Instead the masses speak about racial minorities, multiculturalism, and appropriation. We should be talking about racist education, theft of land, Mohawk style revolt, imperial bureaucracy and Davis Inlet Soweto.
“But I am reminded that my language is too political, pejorative and rhetorical. I do not apologize. My language is in harmony with my race/class and colonization. ‘He’s a Red Power radical.’ All my credibility is destroyed, and I am reduced to an over-politicized halfbreed.”
Although his academic credentials are considerable, and he enjoys the respect of many fellow members of the Writers Union of Canada, Adams has released his cumulative views on Canadian society and history via Native-owned and operated Theytus Books in Penticton.
“We must never forget that Louis Riel surrendered to the Ottawa government, hoping for mercy. We know, too well, his fate.”
Here are some other opinions from Howard Adams’ A Tortured People: The Politics of Colonization:
• Our struggle is similar to that of the Mayan Indians of Chiapas, Mexico. As a result, out methods of decolonization may need to be the same.
• The Aboriginal peoples of Canada are as vulnerable to starvation as those in Somalia. One only need examine Canada’s backyards, eg., Davis Inlet, to realise this Canadian reality.
• The Aboriginal peoples of Canada, Australia and New Zealand live under conditions relatively equivalent to those in South Africa under Apartheid.
• The Indian Affairs Department manages Indian reserves as oppressively and rigidly as maximum security prisons.
• Prostitution and tourism go hand in hand. Tourism fosters vicious racism.
• Canada’s standard histories have masqueraded, glossed over, or simply omitted the subject of Indian slavery.
• If Louis Riel had not been at Batoche, the Metis and Indians would have had a much better chance of winning their liberation battle.
• Riel’s life and leadership is one of the most overstudied topics, researched by imperial white historians.
• State sanctioned self-government, as exemplified by the Sechelt Indian Band and loosely envisioned by the Charlottetown Accord, is not supported by the vast majority of aboriginals.
• By developing a political unit similar to a municipality, “self-government” could reduce the authority of Band Councils and Metis Local Councils and result in deeper colonization.
• The majority of Indian and Metis writers are not necessarily highly educated, and that may be a good thing, as Native writing has tended to be more candid and less academic in style.
Essay Date: 1996