All Mouth and No Ears: Settlers with Opinions

By Justice, Daniel Heath; Professor and Canada Research Chair et al. | The Canadian Press, September 20, 2017 | Go to article overview

All Mouth and No Ears: Settlers with Opinions


Justice, Daniel Heath, Professor and Canada Research Chair, University of British Columbia, The Canadian Press


All mouth and no ears: Settlers with Opinions

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This article was originally published on The Conversation, an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Disclosure information is available on the original site.

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Author: Daniel Heath Justice, Professor and Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Literature and Expressive Culture, University of British Columbia

It's a depressingly common experience for Indigenous people in this country. It happens on a daily basis: At work with colleagues, in encounters with strangers, in news commentaries, in social media exchanges and at parties when we just want to relax.

It's almost a guarantee that any time an Indigenous issue receives public attention, we will be subjected to the pronouncements of Settlers with Opinions.

Recently we have had to deal with the misinformed public opinions of a Canadian senator who celebrated Canada's assimilationist policies in an open letter and who in the spring cited fake news in her defence of residential schools. She is just one of many with inaccurate and distorted opinions, including editors of influential Canadian media and men serving in the Canadian military.

Settlers with Opinions are far from those fair-minded non-Indigenous folks who bring generosity and humility to their interactions with Indigenous peoples: thoughtful professionals who do their research and build meaningful connections, curious and committed students in my Indigenous Studies classes, sincere strangers with challenging questions and friends who trust that their gaps in knowledge won't be shamed.

Regardless of political affiliation -- whether sneering Conservatives or head-patting Liberals -- Settlers with Opinions are of an entirely different type. It's attitude, not identity, that distinguishes the two. Mostly white and often -- though not always -- men, these apologists for colonialism can be readily identified by their relentless, resentful Certainty, detached from informed understanding or even empathy.

Opinions without knowledge

The Settler with Opinions doesn't just have thoughts about these matters: He has important Opinions, and he insists on subjecting us to them. He is generally not trained in any relevant profession or scholarly discipline that would give some credibility to his assertions, nor is he even a particularly careful or selective reader. When more academically inclined, he typically adheres to long discredited 19th-century pseudo-scientific theories.

Nor does he have meaningful personal experience or relationships that might provide understanding of Indigenous matters. Maybe he lived near a reserve or worked with an Indigenous person once. Maybe he's among the growing ranks of settlers who has found an anonymous Indian in the family tree that seems to magically authorise commentary on all things Indigenous without accountability to a living community.

The Settler with Opinions believes herself to be above critique or even questioning, as she is The One with All the Answers. She assures us she knows our problems better than we do. Her lack of knowledge is no obstacle: She claims her ignorance as a badge of honour, for it confirms that she's Objective.

Her solutions are a tiresome regurgitation of devastating imposed policies that have failed time and again. But because she doesn't do any careful research, because she feels no need to actually engage with people who've experienced these things firsthand, she's unfamiliar with this long and ugly history.

We've heard the exact same vacuous Opinions and ill-formed stereotypes a thousand times before. Our parents and grandparents and many generations before us heard them, too, and they resisted them as best they could. They had to deal with Settlers with Opinions in their times, too.

Reconciliation without truth

There's nothing the Settler with Opinions won't opine upon, no matter too intimate or too painful for him to intrude. …

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