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October 23, 2012

Russell Means, R.I.P.

As an undergraduate in art history, I met Russell Means on his visit to The Spirit Sings, a controversial exhibit of Native Canadian arts staged in conjunction with the Calgary Olympics. He addressed the controversy, naturally, but it was an observation about the settlement of the West which stuck with me.

American Indian identity had persisted in the United States, he argued, and had had an earlier and stronger resurgence, because warfare had underlined the importance of that identity. Canada's relatively peaceful* conquest, by contrast, was not the accomplishment it is commonly made out to be. Instead of gold prospectors and railroad barons, it was the Hudson's Bay Company and North-West Mounted Police (later the RCMP). In Canada, peace, order and good government arrived before European settlement, like "a great grey sludge rolling west across the Prairie."

* Pace the Metis, who fought.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at October 23, 2012 11:48 AM