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BOOK REVIEW

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First Nations? Second Thoughts

Tom Flanagan, a professor of history at the University of Calgary, says First Nations? Second Thoughts “is bound to provoke some hostile reactions.” Declaring one’s martyrdom early – in this case, in the book’s acknowledgements – is always a good way to pre-empt reviewers. Although Flanagan criticizes the aboriginal penchant for using victimhood as a means to dodge criticism from outsiders, he does the same thing by setting himself up as a sure-to-be-misunderstood myth-basher, taking on Canadian aboriginal policy and left-wing political correctness. Flanagan might want to consider the real reasons this book will provoke hostile reactions: it’s racist, ethnocentric, and ill thought out.

The author aims to dismantle the “aboriginal orthodoxy” – platforms promoted by aboriginal politicians, government officials, and academics – but his arguments prove only that he has a narrow world view and a Eurocentric understanding of history, political science, and anthropological theory. He spends 200 pages saying things like “European civilization was several thousand years more advanced than the aboriginal cultures of North America,” and arguing that colonization was therefore “inevitable” and “justifiable.” But he never explains why societies with urbanization and monumental architecture deserve sovereignty, while hunter-gatherers do not. Likewise, Flanagan argues that oral history traditions are automatically invalid – simply because they contradict Western models of knowledge.

First Nations? Second Thoughts isn’t an intelligent book. Flanagan errs in assuming that aboriginal societies were devoid of monumental architecture or economies, ignoring the Hopewell serpent mounds in Ohio or the trans-America trade route. His commentary reveals none of the breadth of vision that characterizes the work of scholars such as Alan C. Cairns, the author of the recently published Citizens Plus. Readers who want to understand why government policy will not lead aboriginal people into prosperity should read Cairns’ book, and not waste time with Flanagan’s.

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