Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Native Studies

Eurocentrism in Aboriginal Studies: A Review of Issues and Conceptual Problems

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Native Studies

Eurocentrism in Aboriginal Studies: A Review of Issues and Conceptual Problems

Article excerpt

Abstract

This paper is a discussion of the portrayal of First Nations people in terms of what has been termed "Eurocentrism." Anthropology has long been a lightning rod for such charges; however, the legal system has attracted similar criticism. The controversial issue of "distinctive culture tests" that were involved in the Supreme Court of Canada decision in the Van der Peet case (1996) as presented by Chief Justice Antonio Larmer, as well as the Delgamuukw (1997) decision of Chief Justice Allan McEachern, have also been subjected to widespread disparagement. These decisions bring to the forefront contentious aspects of academic perspectives regarding the portrayal of First Nations people and the possibility of inaccurate stereotypes. Similarly, the Tri-Council Policy Statement (2009) points to the ethical issues involved in the manner in which Aboriginal communities are portrayed in academic research. It is evident from the discussion in this paper that much more dialogue is needed among both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal scholars regarding the representation of First Nations people. Unfortunately, such a dialogue has not taken place in a very systematic manner in the literature of Aboriginal Studies.

Résumé

Cet article examine la représentation des individus issus des Premières Nations en terme d"'eurocentrisme". De telles accusations ont longtemps été monnaie courante en anthropologie, mais elles ont aussi été dirigées envers le système judiciaire. La question litigieuse de "test de culture distinctive" touchant la décision du juge en chef Antonio Lamer de la Cour suprême du Canada dans le jugement Van der Peet de 1996, ainsi que la décision en 1997 du juge en chef Allan McEachem dans l'affaire Delgamuukw, a également fait l'objet de vives critiques. Ces décisions mettent à l'avant-plan des aspects litigieux de visions universitaires portant sur l'image des Premières Nations et sur des stéréotypes peut-être sans fondement. De la même façon, l'Énoncé de politique des trois conseils de 2009 attire l'attention sur les questions éthiques qui se rattachent à l'image des communautés autochtones dans la recherche académique. A la lumière de la discussion dans cet article il va sans dire que la représentation des autochtones est une question qui requiert beaucoup plus de discussions chez les autochtones comme chez les non-autochtones. Il est malheureux qu'une telle discussion ne se soit pas faite de façon plus systématique dans les travaux sur les études autochtones.

Introduction

"Eurocentrism" has been described as "the imaginative and institutional context that informs contemporary scholarship, opinion, and law. As a theory, it postulates the superiority of Europeans over nonEuropeans. It is built on a set of assumptions and beliefs that educated and usually unprejudiced Europeans and North Americans habitually accept as true, as supported by 'the facts', or as 'reality'" (Battiste and Henderson 2011: 11). Not surprisingly, anthropology has taken the brunt of this sort of criticism, although other areas of study such as history and legal studies have also been seen as culpable in this regard. The goal of this paper is therefore to examine the issue of Eurocentrism in such manner as to widen the dialogue concerning the impact of this issue in Aboriginal studies.

Eurocentric Perspectives

The problem with "Eurocentrism" pertains to issues of perspective in terms of the manner in which Indigenous societies are portrayed in anthropology and Western social sciences more generally. This problem is attributable, as Alfred (2011: 3) suggests, to "Euroamerican arrogance." Eurocentrism, according to Battiste and Henderson (2011: 12-18), has its roots in a belief in European superiority, in the idea of progress, which has made modern scholarship unable to grasp the crisis of understanding and perceptions of the natural world. Anthropology has been a focus of criticism for the biases and weaknesses of Eurocentric thought: "Contemporary anthropologists have focussed on developing a critique of ethnocentrism in both academic theory and popular culture. …

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