Playing the Indian Card

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Remembering Africville

Africville is back in the news: former residents and descendants have a lawsuit pending before the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia demanding compensation for its destruction back in the 1960s.

Or rather, to be accurate, more compensation.

Some of us are old enough to remember when Africville was pulled down. At the time, it was considered a triumph of civil rights, a mighty blow against segregation, which back then was considered a bad thing.

Africville, after all, was a ghetto. And it was a slum. It was an unhealthy place to live. Even though few of them had legal title to their homes, the residents were given compensation, help moving, and new publicly-funded housing elsewhere. The old eyesore was turned into a public park.

And now, the rest of us apparently owe the descendants of Africville residents big time for it. And not for the first time. Aside from the original compensation, the Halifax municipal government shelled out an additional 4.5 million in 2010. Not bad pay, considering Africville had a peak population of only 400, in 1917.

No good deed ever goes unpunished.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Elon Musk on Ultimate Reality

Elon Musk is right, except for his arbitrary identification of physical reality with “base reality.” Take that away, and there is no real philosophical problem. It does not matter whether what we perceive is mental or physical in origin. Ask Bishop Berkeley. Material reality is an unnecessary assumption, and in the end, as Musk points out, an untenable one.

All that really matters is whether God exists. If he does, we can be confident that our experience is ultimately meaningful. If he does not, it equally does not matter whether we perceive “base reality” or some computer simulation: either way, nothing means anything.

They Didn't Like It Either

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Found Haiku

Flames shooting in the air
and a truck on fire

-- Stephen K. Roney

A Lovely Bit of Cultural Fusion


Shocker: Leonard Cohen Revealed as Secretly Irish

Fake News

Fake news is a real problem, and intensely annoying. Indeed, it used to be an offense under the criminal code of Canada: “spreading false news.” However, the Canadian Supreme Court, wisely, eventually struck the law down. The problem is that no agency can be trusted to decide for everyone else what is true. Such a law is an open door to attempted mind control. The only possible approach is to allow freedom of speech, and hope that the truth will out through free debate.

This article points out, correctly, that “false news” began to be a more serious problem when the postmodernists and the cultural relativists of the left began to declare that truth was not objective, that there was “my truth” and “your truth.” That wasn’t Trump’s idea.

And the “mainstream media” began pushing fake news well before any websites in Macedonia.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Pas le Dieu des Philosophes

Sure I had met God before:
Puking in dark alleyways,
Begging in streets;
Doing time for molestation;
In a fashion, climbing Anselm’s ladder;
In the spinning galaxies,
In the dawn,
Or fishing with a silver thread
In the secret sweetness of the night. 
But it was the thunderbolt this time.
This time it was the electric flame.
God blew off the top of my head,
And left it open forever to the sky. 
And I a shivering idiot
Knew in horror I could never again be alone. 
And ever since
At intervals a great bird comes;
Pecks at my brains
Scattering sparks;
And craps poetry into my empty skull.

-- Stephen K. Roney

Christ in the Agora

Mass at Our Lady of the Five and Dime

Although there is a church near our home, they do not have an English mass. Instead, last Sunday, we went to mass at our local mall.

What a fantastic idea! Here is something Canadian mall owners, if they are smart, ought to emulate. For the church-goers, it is perfect: malls have good air-conditioning, lots of parking, and you can stop at a restaurant afterwards for brunch, or a reward treat for the kids. For the churches, it is a free space, and it brings the gospel to the people where they really, right now, live. Probably boosts attendance. For the mall owners, it costs nothing: removable chairs were simply set up in the mall’s large open concourse for Sunday morning, before the shops opened. And it purchases a lot of good will at no cost. For the merchants, it brings in customers. The mass ended just as shops opened, and what would be more natural than to linger and do a little shopping before heading home?

There is good reason why, in earlier times, the market always grew up around the local church or cathedral.

Even if the mall is closed on Sundays, holding services there conveys the idea that it is the place to go, the community focal point. When in doubt, head for the mall...

One problem faced in Canada that does not exist in the Philippines, granted, is which denomination to invite. In the Philippines, no problem: Catholics demographically dominate. Canada is more diverse.

But the solution is simple: offer the space first to the largest local denomination, for the time nearest to when the shops open. If they decline, or for earlier services, offer it in turn to each other denomination in order of its local size. If, say, shops open at noon, there is room for five different denominations, starting at 7 am. And a large mall could accommodate several services at a time.

It seems to me the only reason this has not been yet done across Canada is a general anti-religious prejudice.

Cohen on Religion

I walked into this empty church I had no place else to go
When the sweetest voice I ever heard, whispered to my soul
I don't need to be forgiven for loving you so much
It's written in the scriptures
It's written there in blood
I even heard the angels declare it from above
There ain't no cure,
There ain't no cure,
There ain't no cure for love  

So whose voice do you think is he hearing?

Tuesday, November 22, 2016


I double-dog-dare the Democrats to try to impeach Donald Trump. But I doubt they will. Surely they would not want to run instead in four years against Mike Pence?

Leonard Cohen in Heaven

I look forward to meeting Leonard Cohen in heaven. If heaven is heaven, this must be one thing that happens there: you get to meet the people you always wanted to meet, and spend some time with them.

My best buddy back in college, James FitzGerald, now an accomplished author, used to play this game with me: who do we want to meet and talk with in heaven?

I imagine a little bistro in Montreal, perhaps on Crescent Street, but not in a fashionable area, where the lads meet regularly who built this thing we call Canada. 

Cohen meets and greets, but deeper in the recesses of the establishment, as my eyes adjust to the dark, I can make out William Kurelek, the artist. There is Thomas D'Arcy McGee, whom he is sketching, talking politics, Irish and Canadian, with Guy Carleton. James FitzGibbon, always gallant, entertains Lucy Maud Montgomery, but seems to be trying to listen in. Stephen Leacock is reading on stage, in his best suit.

The Real War on Science

The Real War on Science | City Journal:

'via Blog this'

Monday, November 21, 2016

Get Over It

This poster, meant to show that all religions (and atheism) are equal, and that morality has nothing to do with religion. Fails strikingly, I think, at its object.

To begin with, Christianity. It’s example of a good Christian is Martin Luther King. A good man on the whole, no doubt, but there are questions about his fidelity as a husband. Why not Mother Teresa? For that matter, there are thousands of examples you could cull from the official roster of Catholic saints. Leaving aside other Protestants, like Nelson Mandela, Albert Schweitzer, William Wilberforce, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, or Desmond Tutu. And then Hitler as an example of a bad Christian? Hitler was not a Christian. He never renounced the religion in public, true, but he did in private. And chroniclers of the time like William L. Shirer were in no doubt.

Bad Christian

Examples of bad Christians could of course be found. There were Mafia Dons, for example, who nominally held to the faith. How about Al Capone?

For a good Muslim, they offer Malcolm X. Really? When X died, the New York Times obit called him "an extraordinary and twisted man" who "turn[ed] many true gifts to evil purpose" and that his life was "strangely and pitifully wasted" Time called him "an unashamed demagogue" whose "creed was violence."

To be honest, I cannot think of a modern Muslim figure on a par with Mother Teresa. But they could still do better than Malcolm X. How about Muhammad Ali?

Then their example of a good atheist is Bill Gates. That’s almost enough to convince me, at least, that their thesis is wrong, that there is indeed a connection between religion and morality. Everyone into tech knows Gates as a robber baron. It was in fairly unsubtle reference to his Microsoft that Google initially adopted the motto “don’t be evil.” Granted, he has devoted himself more recently to philanthropy. He can afford to. One is reminded of the story of the widow’s mite. For him, his philanthropy is probably a reasonable investment in buying for himself a good reputation.

But then again, I too have a big problem coming up with a good example of atheist virtue. Yes, I know ordinary people who say they are atheists and are decent folks in the normal course of things and good to their neighbours. But nothing like the “heroic virtue” the Catholic church expects of saints.

On the other hand, I can think of lots of alternatives to Stalin as their example of a bad atheist: Mao, Pol Pot, Robespierre, probably Hitler and Napoleon.

Am I just biased? To double-check, I looed up a lost of “great humanitatians” on the Web. No doubt any such list is subjective, but this list can claim to be, for present purposes, randomly selected. The seven greatest humanitarians they thought of were: Norman Borlaug, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Oskar Schindler, Nelson Mandela, Harriet Tubman, and Mahatma Gandhi. Six Christians, one Hindu.

Atheist saint

Conclusion: contrary to claim, religion does indeed have a direct relationship to morality. Not that reality comes from religion. Morality is objective and objectively binding on all of us. But religion is, in large part, an act of conscious submission to that morality. One might, in theory, be sincere atheist, in which case you cannot be faulted for not loving God. But even so, not loving God means you have a huge additional reason for ignoring your innate conscience, your awareness of right and wrong, in favour of personal advantage.

And above and beyond that, Christianity seems to have the best track record of all in producing strikingly good people. That matters.

By their fruits, ye shall know them.

Leonard Loves Mary

Cohen's Marian bracelet, it seems, was not just a casual or one-off thing. These images, found at random, are well separated in both time and space. New Zealand, Leeds, England, and so forth. It is visible in all of them.

Apologies for grabbing other people's photos here. Fair use: purposes of research.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Members of the 101st Airborne

Painting themselves up as Indians just before their paradrop on D Day,

What's That on His Wrist?

A photo of Leonard Cohen found on the Internet. Does anyone else recognize what he is wearing on his wrist, and know its significance?

It'a a devotional bracelet to Mary. I have two just like it.

Beats a razor blade.

Ave, Leonard!

Mary Pokes the Devil in the Eye

You're welcome.

The Guaranteed Annual Income

Senator Hugh Segal, badly in need of a haircut.

The American working class is in full revolt. This is for many reasons, but one big one is economic.

The current popular surge for Brexit, for Donald Trump, against immigration, seems at least largely due to the concern that the working class is losing job opportunities.

Shutting the doors to immigration will not work. Neither will trade protectionism. Dog, that’s the wrong tree.

Building walls against newcomers only means jobs will move to other countries, as the developed world becomes less competitive. If you must pay a minimum wage of $15 in Canada, but you can get a Chinese or Indian worker to do the same work for $5, it is hard to see how to keep the work, or the money, in Canada. Better for our economy to have the jobs here, however low-paid.

Nor will trade protectionism work. It will raise prices for consumers, which will be a net loss. Only some of us are producers all of us are consumers. And it cuts us off from markets. You can only go so far on everyone taking in everyone else’s laundry.

Worse, even if these measures worked to protect the unskilled from globalism, they would be doing nothing for the real problem: automation.

In the past, improvements in technology have always led, overall, to more, not fewer jobs. The lower cost of production was cashed in mostly on a higher standard of living, with everyone buying more stuff. But there may be a ceiling to that: economists talk of the declining utility of income or wealth above a certain point, and I am not certain we have not reached it, at least in the developed world. My kids are not too interested in getting any more toys. Too much is available free on the Internet that is a lot more fun.

The same could be said for my old addiction to magazine, newspapers, and books.

Elon Musk, who tends to be a bit of a visionary, suggests most jobs will soon be take over by machine. So does this recent piece. Robots can do the same manual labour humans do at $2 an hour.

Nor can we escape this by concentrating on services rather than manufacturing.

The single most common job in North America is truck driving. That is already obsolete. Self-driving trucks are available now. Taxi driving is also gone. Cashiers can be easily replaced, and already have been in some places. In China, they have begin putting up buildings with 3-D printers.

Its not just blue-collar work either. The bulk of legal work is a matter of consulting past cases, or thumbing through law books. Infinitely easier by computer. The bulk of medical work is diagnosis. Easy, and more accurate, by computer. Bookkeeping, accounting? Easily handled by software. And, of course, the economies of automation here are much more compelling.

So now what happens? After all, the wealth is still there, and growing. It is just all in the hands of investors, not of labour.

The great political danger, too, is that the American working class, having put their faith in Trump's solution of lower immigration and trade protectionism, will not be terribly happy when they discover it makes things worse instead of better. They are mad now, and in a mood to disrupt. Imagine what it will be like then, if nobody has any solutions for them.

Welding robot.

Enter, perhaps, Hugh Segal’s proposal for a Guaranteed Annual Income.

I especially think right-wing parties should embrace it and put it in the forefront of their programmes.

The claim that the right wing does not care about the poor is a powerful argument against the right. It is time to address this. Give a strong push to the GAI idea, and call the left’s bluff.

In principle, GAI would cost less than what we are doing currently. Now, most of the money that is supposed to go to the poor instead goes to salaries for bureaucrats to administer the complex programmes. By simplifying the process, just giving money instead of trying to run the lives of the poor, we can let the poor live better for less. The money gets spent on more important things, and distortions in the market, always inefficiencies, are removed.

I have seen, as an argument against the plan, that it would only cause inflation in the price of basic goods like rent and food basics, so that the poor would end up no better off. But that is a problem with the present system, which the GAI would fix. Inflation happens when the seller can be confident of getting the asking price however high. As when the government commits to pay for housing for the poor, or medicine, or tuition. It is then a sweetheart deal, crony capitalism. It happens even if the government should commit to pay for a specified service up to a certain amount. The price will automatically rise everywhere to that amount.

But if the government simply gives the poor an adequate income, this will not happen, because the free market remains. Individuals, given the choice of renting a comparable apartment at either $600 or $800 per month, are naturally going to choose the $600 offer, and use the additional money on some other want or need. There remains a competitive advantage in building apartments and renting them for $600.

This incentive to go for the cheapest option, of course, declines with greater overall wealth. Then one can indulge in trivialities like preferred colour or neighbourhood.

In other words redistributing to the poor, instead of giving it to bureaucrats, should serve to lower the price of essentials, not raise it.

The next objection is more serious: that many, given an adequate guaranteed income, will stop working. That may be so—this is the main issue any pilot should be trying to determine. However, the incomplete evidence from an earlier trial in Manitoba is that it does not happen. The only people there who stopped working were mothers with small children—and there is a good case that society is better off having them at home in any case. It is an investment in our future.

And here, we should not compare the GAI in its effects with perfection, but with what we have at present. Our current system makes it difficult for those on social assistance to take work: they usually lose their social assistance. And it is not easy, if necessary, to get back on it again. Bureaucracy.

A well-crafted GAI could still make taking a job worthwhile—taking back, say, only fifty cents for each new dollar earned, up to a ceiling. If it did, there is reason to believe almost everyone, given the chance, would take one. Not only do most people find having more money better than having less; most people are not content having nothing in particular to do all day.

In any case, once again, this mat not even be an issue: there may be no more jobs to be had.

Would that be so bad? The ancient Greeks believed leisure was essential to the fully human life. That after all, was why God made slaves. This was also the foundational thought of feudalism and European chivalry. To work for a living was beneath the dignity of a gentleman.

We might all then devote ourselves to what life is really supposed to be about: to the humanities, so-named for a reason. And to the creative arts, the one human activity at which machines cannot replace us.

A renaissance of the humanities and the arts might be the single greatest possible improvement in our general quality of life. We do pretty well already on material things.

At the same time, if any other jobs remain at which humans might be of some special worth, those who already had their basic needs provided for might be happy to take them for a small consideration. They no longer need to make the proverbial “living wage.” Making our industries all more competitive.

There are worse futures to fear.

Welcome! I'm from the future, and I'm here to help.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Shocker: Smart People Need Time Alone

Everybody is circulating this report that finds “smart people” need more time alone. As if it is news. Surely this is self-evident?

And the study itself seems clueless as to why this might be: “Smarter people can more easily adapt to their surroundings in the modern world, so they don’t need close relationships to help them with food and shelter, like our ancestors did.”

That is just stupid.

The real reason is only too obvious.

Have you ever spent a lot of time around children? In large groups? Didn’t you find it exhausting?

Now imagine those children are, on average, as big and strong as you are. Now imagine that many or most of them have a chip on their shoulder against you, because you “think you’re smarter than they are.” One of them is almost inevitably your boss.

That is about what spending time with others, especially in groups, necessarily means to the especially intelligent.

No doubt they would love and cherish the sort of friendships the rest of us are able to have. This is not available, except rarely,

Moreover, instead of sympathy, they commonly get tarred with the obscene canard of “lacking emotional intelligence.” It is all supposed to be their fault for being “anti-social” or “inept at social situations.”

Let us be very clear: there is no such thing as “emotional intelligence.” Intelligence is intelligence, and it applies in interpersonal relationships just as any other situation. A highly intelligent person is also going to be unusually perceptive about social relations, and about the feelings of others.

And he or she has to be.

Another Bloody Miracle

More on the Smear Against Steve Bannon

If Steve Bannon Is An Anti-Semite Why Can't I Find Any Antisemitism?:

'via Blog this'

A Catholic Obituary for Leonard Cohen

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

They Just Don't Make Neo-Nazis Like They Used To 2

They Just Don't Make Neo-Nazis Like They Used To

Taking a Closer Look at Snopes and Debunking the Debunkers |

Taking a Closer Look at Snopes and Debunking the Debunkers |

'via Blog this'

RPT: Students Demand Classmates Remove Trump Flags Because They Create 'Hostile Environment' | Fox News Insider

RPT: Students Demand Classmates Remove Trump Flags Because They Create 'Hostile Environment' | Fox News Insider:

'via Blog this'

Using ‘misgendered’ pronouns is ‘discrimination,’ could get you fined: Ontario Human Rights Commission | News | LifeSite

Using ‘misgendered’ pronouns is ‘discrimination,’ could get you fined: Ontario Human Rights Commission | News | LifeSite:

'via Blog this'

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

There Is No Violent Hate-Crimewave in 'Trump's America'

There Is No Violent Hate-Crimewave in 'Trump's America' - Hit & Run :

'via Blog this'

March of the Sugar Plum Fairies

Chickens on their way home to their roost.

We Canadians should really take a lesson from our courageous southern cousins, currently refusing to accept the election results. It is time, and long past time, that we poured into the streets to demand an end to winter. While we are at it, we should also insist on an end to all taxation, and an immediate increase in all government services.

They must appease and satisfy us.

These are non-negotiable demands.

I suspect that some on the left in the US are already waking now with something like a hangover. They are beginning, some of them, to suspect to the fact that they have made themselves figures of fun, with their protests against the popular vote, their crayons and safe spaces.

This will bother them a lot, because their self-image is wrapped up in the idea that they are members of the educated and enlightened elite, far smarter than the unwashed ordinary masses. Looking foolish, once they see that they have been looking foolish, is going to sting.

What is likely to happen next?

They are going to turn on the folks who sold them a bill of goods—or is that a Hillary of goods--who told them that Trump and Republicans and conservatives were Nazi monsters. Especially when, in power, things turn out to be pretty much business as usual. They will, the brighter among them, see and understand that they were played here for suckers. They are not going to like that.

These people now marching in the streets will become the fiercest opponents, soon, of the Democratic party as we now know it, of the leftist media, and the leftist academia. For a generation, admitting that you were a Democrat at this time will be like admitting you bought in to McCarthy’s “Red Menace” was in the Sixties or Seventies. The right seems to have won the political contest. Now it may also win the culture war.

Except this will be more dramatic. McCarthy had a better case for his concern, and he had less of the establishment backing him.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Rape of Leonard Cohen

I am deeply offended by the latest “cold opening” of Saturday Night Live, now widely disseminated around the Internet. It features Kate McKinnon as a pretend Hillary Clinton singing Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” then urging her supporters not to give up.

Such lack of taste, to co-opt the man’s legacy for partisan political purposes just as soon as he is no longer able to do anything about it. Cohen was always careful not to identify with or endorse any political tendency.

SNL and those reposting with praise show here an unforgivable lack of human decency.

And then this sick comment on a repost of the video on Facebook:

“Leonard Cohen would have approved. I have to smile when ‘christians’ use this song, not realizing that Leonard Cohen artfully blended his life, love, and personal worship with a metaphor of an orgasm. The song is too sacred to fall from their lips.”

Ironic: she says herself that orgasm is a metaphor to Cohen—as it is in Song of Songs in the Bible, in Kabbalah, in the Western mystical tradition as a whole. And yet she does not understand what she just said, and still supposes it is “really” just about getting laid. If it were, why even have a poem?

Lucky for Cohen that he is inscrutable to boors.

Time, perhaps, to repost this.

Leonard Cohen's Hat 

In his current and recent tours, Leonard Cohen always appears on stage wearing a generous-brimmed fedora. 

Maclean's magazine asked him why. His answer sounds like a dodge: he simply said “I’ve been wearing a fedora for a long, long time. This particular hat is from a little hat store just opposite my daughter’s antique store in Los Angeles. They have a very good hat store there.” 
Changing the subject, in other words. 
The immediate, cynical suspicion, might be that he is going bald. But he is not. That can be easily proven—he doffs his hat at times, and shows it hides a silver mane: 

Nor is it a question of style—for it is not, despite the hint in his answer to Maclean's, a question of one particular hat, or style of hat. In Dallas, he appeared in a cowboy hat. For a long CBC interview recently, he wore a slouch cap:
And he wore it, in this case, even though he was at home, indoors. 
The real reason he wears the hat is obvious. Leonard Cohen has become (or has long been) an Orthodox Jew. 
Orthodox Jews, in line with the Halacha, traditionally keep their head covered at most if not all times. Even indoors, directly counter to the traditional Canadian practice.
Cohen's “fedora” is in fact a black trilby, the most traditional style of hat among North American Orthodox Jews. The rest of his standard dress also conforms precisely to the traditional halachic norms: covered arms, covered legs, shirt buttoned at the throat, no view of skin below the neck, and black in colour. 
He dresses like a Rabbi. 
It is remarkable that no one has noticed this; it is a measure of just how out of touch mainstream culture has become with the single most important subject of all, religion. 
Cohen, accordingly, is probably wise to dissemble on the point. He knows what happened to Bob Dylan when he went evangelical.

Cohen has always been deeply religious in his sentiments; but everyone wants to believe that he is a Buddhist. lists him as the fifth most famous Buddhist alive: 
This is particularly odd, since Cohen so far as I can tell has never claimed to be a Buddhist, and, when asked, has always said he is Jewish. In this, his experience is very much like—and probably informed by—Jack Kerouac, whom everyone also thinks is Buddhist, although he always claimed to be, as he was raised, Catholic. 
It is, I think, the general experience of great artists. Most of them end up, if they do not begin, deeply religious. But their public, and even more their critics, academic and journalistic, are rarely able to follow them there. Either they lose their audience, and become uncool, or they conceal their true message behind parables and smokescreens of superficial beauty, hoping the truly discerning will yet have eyes to see and ears to hear.

Buddhism is a good screen, in the modern West. People think it is cool; people think it is an amoral religion, and so they feel safe around it.

Judaism, like Christianity and Islam, is uncool, because it comes with all those tiresome moral precepts. 
But Leonard Cohen, I suspect, really believes in all those tiresome moral precepts. 
“You don't know me from the wind
You never did, you never will;
I'm the little Jew who wrote the Bible...”

By the way, notice who else always wears a hat?

Bob Dylan.

A Key to Understanding the Recent US Election

To the Clinton voters, it was all about race. To the Trump voters, it was all about class.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Literary Indian

Longfellow's Minnehana, dying poetically and clothed more or less as nature made her

In the 2016 American League playoff series, the Toronto Blue Jays faced the Cleveland Indians. Inevitably, a Canadian aboriginal activist appealed to the Canadian and Ontario Human Rights commissions to prohibit use of the visitor’s team name in Canada. Nor were they to to wear their uniforms, display their logo, or show their mascot. All were offensive to First Nations.

In support of the proposed ban, a “meme” hustled around the Internet holding that Indians as a team name was offensive just as it would be offensive to call a team "The New York Jews," or "The San Francisco Chinamen." So why should “The Cleveland Indians” be different?

Why, indeed? And why indeed is it different from the Minnesota Vikings, the Boston Celtics, the New York Knicks, the New York Yankees, the Montreal Canadiens, the Vancouver Canucks, or the Notre Dame Fighting Irish?

Teams everywhere want to name themselves after Indians. We have the Edmonton Eskimos, the Atlanta Braves, the Chicago Blackhawks, the Kansas City Chiefs, the Washington Redskins, the Florida State Seminoles, and so on. Even teams in Europe have used Indian names. The Exeter Chiefs play rugby. The Malmo Redhawks play hockey in Sweden. Yet nobody anywhere seems to have ever wanted to name a team after Jews or Chinese.

Pure business, folks. If you name a team the Indians, people like and want to support it. If you name a team the Jews or the Chinamen, people do not. You lose money.

In other words, there is a general popular prejudice against the Jews or Chinese, at least as athletes, but in favour of the Indians.

The surest proof that a group is not being discriminated against, is that it is used as the name of a sports team. People want to cheer it.

The Canadian aboriginal activist was not acting against discrimination. He was pulling rank.

This, of course, flies in the face of the common preconception. Every right thinker thinks Indians have been oppressed throughout history. Haven’t they always been discriminated against? Haven’t they been despised, spat upon, forced off their land, looked down upon as “bloodthirsty savages,” at least until recent, more enlightened times? Wasn’t the only good Indian once a dead Indian?

Nope. This is all a beautiful myth. As C.L. Sonnichsen puts it, not quite felicitously, “If the Apache is a gentleman of distinguished culture, the white man is a savage” (C.L. Sonnichsen, From Hopalong to Hud [College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1978], p. 65). He misuses the term “savage”--he means moral evil. If you believe in the myth of the “noble savage,” you must automatically believe that civilized man is evil. If the state of nature is a state of grace, it follows that all evil comes with civilization. The former assumption requires the latter. So it must be true that civilization is oppressive of the natural man. The Indian must have been hard done by.

Accordingly, without citing any actual evidence, the “TV Tropes” web site, for example, explains as given that “In the era of the ‘Revisionist Western,’ (the era in which we find ourselves) fiction often attempts to provide a more diverse and historically accurate view of violence by and against Native Americans.” The prior norm, then, was ahistorically anti-Indian.

“One of the main problems with the earlier Westerns,” explains a movie site, “is that they painted the Native Americans into the stereotypical savage who was only out to rape, pillage, and murder the white man “(Clay Upton, “Stereotyping Indians in Film,”

If t’were so, t’were a grievous fault.

“Before the movies added sound,” this account continues, “the Native Americans in films were stereotyped. They were always shown with scowls, while wearing war paint, showing that they were ready to kill at any time, or that they were less than the whites and that the Indians had need to be helped with everything having to do with the white way of life” (ibid).

Hmm. But does that sound like Tonto as you remember him?

At left: bloodthirsty savage.

Didn’t we all grow up with the righteous Tonto, hearing about how Pocahontas saved the life of what’s-his-name—the European is a lesser player in the legend? How the Pilgrims and the friendly local Indians celebrated the first Thanksgiving? How the Indians showed the incompetent Europeans how to survive in this strange new world? How Sacajawea skillfully guided Lewis and Clark across the Northwest? How Tiger Lily, the Indian princess, was a true and loyal friend (and love interest) to Peter Pan?

How bloodthirsty was all that?

Has somebody here been smoking Jimson Weed?

There certainly seems to be a stereotype, but not the one claimed. A rather more noble one.

More sophisticated analyses go so far as to admit that there are two standard portraits of the North American aborigine: not just the “bloodthirsty savage,” but also the “noble savage.” Both, however, the wise will understand, are equally wrong. Lacy Cotton writes of “the swinging pendulum of popular opinion concerning American Natives, and how that opinion always reached for one extreme or the other” (Lacy Noel Cotton, “American Indian Stereotypes in Early Western Literature and the Lasting Influence on American Culture,” MA thesis, Baylor, 2008, p. 37).

That sounds terribly balanced and enlightened, doesn’t it?

However, it ought to count for something, and seems not to, that the “noble savage” is commonly the Indian encountered in fiction, whereas the so-called “bloodthirsty savage” is the one most often found in eyewitness accounts.

In other words, only one of them is a literary stereotype.

And it isn’t the prejudicial one.

The idea is that Western civilization, being evil and greedy, has invented a slander against the Indians in order to steal their land. Think of the villain Ratcliffe in Disney’s Pocahontas, digging the beach for gold.

Hence indeed the whole idea that the “whites” stole the Indian land. It must be so. It is a necessary part of the Edenic noble savage myth that somebody took Eden away. Along with the idea that the Indians were particularly connected to the land.

Never mind that the white settlers never had any practical need to steal land from the Indians, whose numbers had already been dramatically reduced by disease. Never mind that there is still adequate uncultivated land around Attawapiskat and any point north to continue the traditional Indian way of life, if anyone were mad enough to want to.

Hence the strange untrue assertion that in the past, our ancestors despised the Indians, but now, we are more enlightened. A rejection of “civilization” is a rejection of tradition. That is what civilization is. A rejection of tradition is a rejection of the supposed wisdom of our ancestors, in favour of the spontaneous desires of the present time. If savages are better off, civilization is evil. If civilization is evil, our civilized ancestors are evil, or their counsel is. We, on the other hand, being at least potentially in and of the moment, if we learn the trick of being here now, can make some personal claim to natural spontaneity and following our own instincts. We enlightened are on the side of the Indians.

Keats put it plainly in his romantic ballad, “La Belle Dame Sans Merci.” The narrator’s fantasy of unrestricted romantic love is arrested by an interfering conscience personified as:

“pale kings and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;”

Hughes, La Belle Dame Sans Merci

The voices of social propriety—our ancestors—the dead.

I saw pale kings and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
They cried—‘La Belle Dame sans Merci
Hath thee in thrall!’
I saw their starved lips in the gloam,
With horrid warning gapèd wide,
And I awoke and found me here,
On the cold hill’s side.

Some may object that the aboriginals themselves have and had a great respect for the wisdom of their ancestors. Indeed they did—they too, like most men everywhere, saw the critical value of civilization. They were themselves not romantics, and would have had no time for such mad ideas. But as a practical matter they were crippled in this by the lack of any form of writing. Their knowledge of their own traditions, and their ability to build on them, was limited to living memory.

Indian princess

Related as well to the noble savage archetype—indeed, its epitome--is the cult of the beautiful Indian princess: Pocahontas, Sacajawea, Tiger Lily, Leonard Cohen’s Kateri Tekakwitha, Land O’Lakes butter, and so on. The Indian princess is the Belle Dame Sans Merci, image of, in the end, free love. She is found also in Kore, Persephone, the innocent daughter of Mother Nature. She is the possibility of unbridled raw romantic passion, emotion without pale reason, including and symbolized by carnal union, without the restraints imposed by polite society. Adam and Eve before the fig leaves.

The weird legend that the residential schools were harmful to the Indian children also functions as part of the same myth: the schools were, symbolically, the imposition of evil civilization on these pure children of the forest, these Indian innocents and virginal maidens. The white man is Pluto, god of the underworld, rich, selfish, and cruel; the residential school is his kingdom of Hades, to which the virginal maiden is abducted.

In 1911, just as today, just as every day, everyone “knew” that the discovery of the nobility of savages was some recent revelation. In a 1911 copy of The Dallas Morning News, the Associated Press gives a favorable review of a book contemporary to its time, titled The Indian Book by William John-Hopkins. AP praises the book for its “multi-layered view of the Mandan Indians,” stating that “the author makes the simple life of these primitive people vividly human, and the child forms a sympathetic and humane conception of this vanishing race, altogether different from his usual picture of the paint-daubed scalper” (Cotton, p. 41).

But this “usual picture” seems always to have been quite unusual. One could argue that the noble savage myth is even older than Persephone, is as old as the oldest sustained narrative known, The Epic of Gilgamesh: Enkidu, Gilgamesh’s BFF, is a wild man of the forests who comes to rescue mankind from, it seems, excessive governance.

To the Greeks, in turn, noble savagery evoked a lost “Golden Age.”

In the Golden Age, according to Hesiod, men

“lived like gods without sorrow of heart, remote and free from toil and grief: miserable age rested not on them; but with legs and arms never failing they made merry with feasting beyond the reach of all devils. When they died, it was as though they were overcome with sleep, and they had all good things; for the fruitful earth unforced bare them fruit abundantly and without stint. They dwelt in ease and peace.”

In India, the Mahabharata nurses the same cosmic fantasy:

“Men neither bought nor sold; there were no poor and no rich; there was no need to labour, because all that men required was obtained by the power of will; the chief virtue was the abandonment of all worldly desires. The Krita Yuga was without disease; there was no lessening with the years; there was no hatred or vanity, or evil thought whatsoever; no sorrow, no fear. All mankind could attain to supreme blessedness.”

The myth of the noble savage is every man’s yearning for a simpler life in the midst of the restraining requirements of existence with others. We each indulge it, spontaneously, when we feel nostalgia for our youth, a supposedly happier time. That’s how many of us remember childhood. But it is unlikely to be true of real history

All of life was once a garden

Alexander Pope wrote in his "Essay on Man" (1734):

Lo, the poor Indian! whose untutor'd mind
Sees God in clouds, or hears him in the wind;
His soul proud Science never taught to stray
Far as the solar walk or milky way;
Yet simple Nature to his hope has giv'n,
Behind the cloud-topp'd hill, a humbler heav'n;
Some safer world in depth of woods embrac'd,
Some happier island in the wat'ry waste,
Where slaves once more their native land behold,
No fiends torment, no Christians thirst for gold!
To be, contents his natural desire;
He asks no angel's wing, no seraph's fire:
But thinks, admitted to that equal sky,
His faithful dog shall bear him company.

This was the most famous take on the American Indian in all of English literature in the 18th century.

And here we plainly see the noble savage as the dominant view, well before the Romantics. While Pope, a Catholic, does understand the Indian as lacking important knowledge, the latter lives where “No fiends torment, no Christians thirst for gold! [shades of Pluto, of Disney’s Ratcliffe]/To be, contents his natural desire.”

Crane: Persephone and Pluto

This, unfortunately, we know from missionary accounts to be untrue: Mr. Indian was very much tormented by fiends, and very much valued trinkets. But it fits with the Garden of Eden myth of a Golden Age of man.

It also reveals, properly enough, how very patronizing and condescending the “noble savage” idea really is towards Indians. Innocence is not itself a virtue, any more than ignorance is. It is simply a state of never having exercised free will.

On the French side, importantly for Canadian perceptions, there is Rousseau, also of the 18th century, the great proponent of the state of nature, and before him Montaigne. “He [Rousseau] explained that all men when in the state of nature were essentially good, with untainted intuitions and inclinations. But to be civilized was to be corrupted and made unhappy by experiences in society. Gaining knowledge through tuitions enforced unnatural behavior on the natural man and removed him from his more natural, and therefore good, inclinations.” “American Indians, then, became an ultimate example of man uncorrupted and unfettered by civilization, a concept that countered the beliefs surrounding original sin and reinforced that all men were, at their core, good” (Lacy Cotton, op cit., p. 30).

One might add Freudianism to the noble savage mix. Civilization, according to Dr, Freud, represses our natural instincts, and repression of our natural instincts ultimately causes us to go mad. Therefore – free sex is a moral right. Civilization is the nexus of evil.

One can see the attractions to the argument, quite independent from its possible truthfulness. Everybody, in the abstract, would prefer to follow their first instincts if they could. The only problem is everyone else doing likewise.

Feminism, too, drinks deep of this traditional joy juice of the Kickapoo: all tradition, all established social norms, are of the evil patriarchy, aka Pluto, established to oppress women, who themselves represent unblemished nature. All Indian princesses, all of them. Therefore – free sex is a moral right. Civilization is the nexus of evil.

One can see again why church-run residential schools get targeted as the chief villain in the piece. They teach original sin! They deny our primordial innocence! They oppose free sex!

Now let us pass to the specifically North American tradition.

The Transcendentalists, American Romantics, of course embraced the idea of original innocence. “This could be related to Emerson’s encouragement to seek the Aboriginal Self in his essay ‘Self Reliance.’ This self supposedly existed inside all men and listened not to the tuitions taught by society, but to the natural instincts of the soul” (Cotton, op cit., p, 30).

“The American Indian has since been idealized in this fashion throughout history,” notes Cotton, “and most notably in literature during the nineteenth century, including in James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales, with its noble descriptions of chief Chingachgook and his son Uncas, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, featuring Queequeg, and Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, containing Crusoe‘s companion, Friday” (Cotton, op cit., p. 30). Not to mention Tonto, Chief Bromden in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Chief Dan George in Little Big Man, or Nobody in the recent Jarmusch film Dead Man.


In plain English, Indians have been traditionally venerated in the American, Canadian, and European mind, so long as that mind finds itself in a parlour. They are not now, and have never been, discriminated against; the discrimination has always been in their favour. While black Americans for many years wanted nothing so much as an end to segregation, and to fit in to the mainstream society, Indians saw the same proposal, offered to themselves, as an alarming loss of status.

So, no doubt, would the Queen of England.

If they have nevertheless been at times described as bloodthirsty savages, this can more easily explained not by prejudice, but by the fact that they were, at times, bloodthirsty savages.

Here are some European-invented “bloodthirsty savages” for you:

“Slowly the ship comes in, nearer and nearer the little wharf. Now, with a heavy swash of water and a boom, she touches; out jump her sailors to fasten her ropes.
But hark! what noise is that? It is the Indian war-whoop. And see! down rush the Indians themselves, yelling and brandishing their tomahawks. In an instant they have boarded the vessel. Down into the hold they go, yelling and whooping at every step.
The terrified sailors stand back aghast. Out they come again, lugging with them their heavy chests of tea.
Still they yell and whoop; and over go the chests into the dark water below.
And now, when every chest is gone, suddenly the Indians grow very quiet; they come off from the deck; and, orderly, take their stand upon the wharf; then do we see that they were not Indians at all. They were only men of Boston disguised.
This then was the Boston tea-party, which took place in Boston Harbor on the evening of December 16, 1773. (Pratt, Mara L., American History Stories, Volume II, 1908, pp. 30-31).

Many of us have heard the tale, of the first stirrings of the American War of Independence.

But did you ever wonder why the disaffected colonials dressed up as Indians?

For the same reason the Cleveland baseball club does.

Americans in general, and Canadians just as much, far from seeing the Indians as a despicable underclass of horrible others, have always wanted to identify themselves with them. The Europeans were the bad guys. As for we colonials, nobody here but us innocent, freedom-loving Indians.

Donald Grinde and Bruce Johansen, in their book, Exemplar of Liberty: Native America and the Evolution of Democracy, devote an entire chapter to analyzing why the Sons of Liberty used Mohawk disguise. “The Mohawk image,” they conclude, “was emerging as a revolutionary symbol of liberty in the new land, long before Uncle Sam came along. The resort to Indian guise was not seen only in Boston, but at similar protests up and down the Atlantic coast. One unit of the Sons of Liberty called themselves the ‘Mohawk River Indians.’” Mock Indians burned the British ship Gaspee in June of 1772. Some anti-British proclamations distributed by the patriotic groups were signed “The Mohawks.” (Grinde, Donald A.; Johansen, Bruce E [1991] Exemplar of Liberty: Native America and the Evolution of Democracy).

Bloodthirsty savages

Notice the eagle on the Great Seal of the United States—arguably an Indian symbol. And note the arrows he holds in his left talon. Is it Indian inspired? I don’t know: flip a coin. Wait—isn’t that an old Indian-head penny? No, my mistake. It’s an Indian-head nickel.

In October 1988, the U.S. Congress passed Concurrent Resolution 331, to formally recognize the influence of the Iroquois Constitution (the Great Law of Peace) upon the American Constitution and Bill of Rights. This seems highly dubious; if you actually read accounts of the (oral) Iroquois Constitution, it is hard to find anything in it that resembles the US Constitution. But it seems to be something everyone wants to believe. It makes Americans, symbolically, the descendants of the Indians.

Hence, symbolically, American “freedom,” freedom from the commands of Keats’ pale kings and princes, from the baggage of the “Old World.” The British are the oppressive Europeans, the Americans the free and brave Indians.

Canadians, of course, traditionally disagree. Americans north of 49 are the oppressive Europeans. Canadians are the true successors to the Indians. Were we not the allies of Tecumseh and Joseph Brant? Did we not give sanctuary to Sitting Bull? If we live in the West, do we not consider Louis Riel our spiritual father? If we live in the Quebec, did we not grow up with tales of the lovely Indian maiden Kateri Tekakwitha?

Devotional image of St. Kateri Tekakwitha

There are two great American founding myths. Both intimately involve native people. One is the story of the first Thanksgiving, of union and amity between the new settlers and the native people, the natives passing on their wisdom. The other is the story of Pocahontas.

Here it is from a nineteenth-century children’s history book:

“Two large stones were placed in front of Powhatan and Smith was pinioned, dragged to the stones, and his head placed upon them, while the warriors who were to carry out the sentence brandished their clubs for the fatal blow. One of the daughters of Powhatan, named Matoa, or Pocahontas, sixteen or eighteen years old, sprang from her father's side, clasped Smith in her arms, and laid her head upon his. Powhatan, savage as he was, and full of anger against the English, melted at the sight. He ordered that the prisoner should be released, and sent him with a message of friendship to Jamestown. (Mann, Henry, The Land We Live In: The Story of Our Country, 1896).

And from the early twentieth century:

“A few days afterward, Captain Smith was brought before Powhatan and his braves. A big stone was brought and laid on the ground in the chief's wigwam. Powhatan again sat on his throne of furs, and his warriors stood round in a circle. They looked fierce in their war paint. They were eager for the white man's death. The prisoner's arms were tied behind him. His head was laid on the stone. An Indian brave stood ready with his war club. The club was raised to strike. A scream was heard, and in rushed Pocahontas and threw herself on the captive.

‘Kill me,’ she cried, ‘kill me, but you shall not kill him.’
The Indian did not dare to strike. He would have killed his chief's beloved daughter. The heart of the Indian chief was touched. Of all his children, he loved her best.” (Blaisdell, Albert E., and Francis K. Ball, The Child's Book of American History, Boston: Little, Brown, and Company 1923 , p. 32-3).

There is slim evidence that the scene actually happened. But it is cherished, because it says something important about the natural man, or natural woman: that she is innately good, that her most basic instinct is love. Trouble only comes with growing up.

We want that to be true. It reflects well on all of us. The archetype of the Indian princess, the Pocahontas myth, represents this hope.

Ever since, it has been a mark of nobility in Virginia to claim direct descent from Pocahontas. Charles Dudley Warner, writing in 1881, speaks of "the natural pride of the descendants of this dusky princess who have been ennobled by the smallest rivulet of her red blood" (The Story of Pocahantas). Two American first ladies have claimed such descent: Edith (Woodrow) Wilson and Nancy Reagan.

In North America, in short, to be Indian is to be nobility. Johnny Cash and Jessica Alba were publicly disappointed to discover they had no Indian blood, contrary to their family traditions. Elvis always insisted he did.

In Canada, this eternal desire to assume Indian identity is well-represented recently by John Ralston Saul’s essays arguing that Canada is ultimately a “Metis nation.” “Canada’s founding rationale and ongoing purpose in the world is to serve as a bulwark against the American steamroller of technology, capitalism and individualism” (Andrew Potter, “Are We a Metis Nation?” Literary Review of Canada, April, 2009). We hosers are the noble savages; the Americans represent the evils of plutocratic civilization. Saul argues that the “single greatest failure of the Canadian experiment, so far, has been our inability to normalize—that is, to internalize consciously— the First Nations as the senior founding pillar of our civilization.” To Saul, “single-payer health care, environmental protectionism, peacekeeping, soft power diplomacy, even the egalitarian elements of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms—these all supposedly bear the unmistakable stamp of aboriginal ideas and influences.” All the great virtues of the Canadian personality are owed to the country’s Métis character, and so our “desire for harmony and balance, our preference for diversity, inclusion and complexity, our renewed interest in egalitarianism—all are emanations of our aboriginal soul” (LRC).

Remarkable how like the Americans we are in our founding myth. Odd that we evolved to so many opposite conclusions about our Indian heritage. To Americans, being Indian means rugged individualism and personal freedom. To Saul, it means communitarianism, keeping everyone equal, and individualism is from the polluting civilization.

Put an Indian face on it, and any ideology at all sounds more plausible.

Sacagawea intrepidly guiding Lewis and Clark

Sacagawea is the second great American historical myth of the aboriginal princess. She gets to be on the dollar coin, after all – rather like the Queen in Canada. Although she is of course not the first Indian to feature on the coinage. She is commonly credited with guiding Lewis and Clark to the Pacific.

This is almost certainly not true. According to the expedition’s records, she gave directions in only a few instances. Her principal value to the expedition was probably her mere presence, because it suggested to the various native groups the peaceful intent of the expedition.

Nevertheless, her part has been lionized and widely commemorated because it fits with the desired American archetype of the good-hearted and wise Indian princess, especially as a founder figure.

The myth has continued to play out throughout American literature.

The first really popular American novel had an Indian in its title: James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans, 1826. And the eponymous Indian was certainly of the noble savage tribe—literally a noble in Indian terms, the son of a chief and last of his noble line.

"Uncas ... clearly demonstrates a noble and chivalrous nature toward Cora Munro, his unrequited love” writes William Starna. “He dies stoically and with honor at the hands of Magua after Cora is killed by another Huron" (William A. Starna, “Cooper's Indians: A Critique,” [SUNY Oneonta] Originally published in James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art, Papers from the 1979 Conference at State University College of New York, Oneonta and Cooperstown. George A. Test, editor, pp. 63-76).

Nor is Last of the Mohicans Cooper’s only tale of a noble savage. “James Fenimore Cooper was well known,” writes Lacy Cotton, “for his sympathetic opinion of Native Americans in his writing” (op cit., p. 65).

“Cooper's The Pioneers (1823), ... is set in the twilight of rural 18th century central New York where the frontier has now moved West beyond them; the beautiful wilderness replaced by orderly farms. Cooper's ‘civilization,’ however, is prone to irrational, sinful destruction of nature. The townsfolk's slaughter of the wild animals is well beyond any safety or economic justification. In one scene, the hero character of Natty Bumppo, whose legendary wilderness skills and attitudes were honed through his intimate contact with nature and Indians, is appalled at their employment of a cannon to bring down a massive flock of migrating pigeons. Bumppo criticizes the ‘wasty ways’ of so-called civilization and says it's a sin to kill more than one can eat. Meanwhile, the noble Indians struggle to understand and accept the ‘order’ imposed on them in the form of strict hunting laws.”

Unlike his hero Natty Bumppo, Cooper had little intimate contact with nature or Indians. This no doubt helped his characterization immeasurably.

“Chingachgook is first introduced (in the arrangement of the book order) in The Deerslayer (1841) as Natty Bumppo‘s traveling companion and adopted brother. His presence is representative of nature, and natural living, and he is often contrasted against the actions of other white characters like Harry March. One of the most poignant scenes in the novel takes place in chapter thirty-two, where Natty Bumppo stands between two trails, that to the garrison, and that to the village of the Delawares. Waiting in one direction are Chingachgook and Hist-Oh!-Hist, and in the other, Judith, Captain Warley, and the settlement troops. Natty Bumppo is faced with the choice of moving on into the wilderness with the Indians or devoting himself to Judith and leading a domestic, civilized life with her. Ultimately, he chooses to go with Chingachgook and Hist-Oh!Hist, metaphorically rejecting white civilization and choosing the life of the Noble Savage for himself as well” (Cotton, p. 43-44).

This is the ultimate American road less travelled. The “Last Mohican” of the book title may not, in the end, be Uncas. For Natty Bumppo too is a Mohican. He is Uncas’s adopted uncle, brother of Chingachgook, and he has symbolically chosen the Indian way of life. The “Last of the Mohicans, the inheritor of the Indian ways, may as well be understood to be the American frontiersman. The cowboy.

The cowboy was never the enemy of the Indian. He was his cultural descendant and adopted brother. Both literary stock characters stood for a primitive freedom against encroaching settlement. Both must be understood, following the Eden convention, as people of the lost golden age, always riding off into the sunset, always the last of their kind, or even already extinct, beings of a more wonderful past. The Old West is almost dead, and it always was. Innocence by its nature, like virginity, like childhood, must be under dire threat. We grow up. Damn.

The noble savage has remained at the noble and savage heart of American literature. In 1826, actor Edwin Forrest took out an advertisement in the New York Critic newspaper offering $500 “to the author of the best tragedy, in five acts, of which the hero … shall be an aboriginal of this country.” The winner was Metamora; or the Last of the Wampanoags. It became the first great American stage sensation.

Washington Irving was another loyal fan of the Noble Savage. In “The Trait of the Indian Character,” 1819-20, he wrote,

“The current opinion of the Indian character, …., is too apt to be formed from the miserable hordes which infest the frontiers and hang on the skirts of the settlements. These are too commonly composed of degenerate beings, corrupted and enfeebled by the vices of society without being benefited by its civilization…. Poverty, repining and hopeless poverty, a canker of the mind unknown in savage life, corrodes their spirits and blights every free and noble quality of their natures.”

Noble—nature. Note the inevitable juxtaposition.

“How different was their state,” he continues, “while yet the undisputed lords of the soil! Their wants were few, and the means of gratification within their reach. They saw everyone around them sharing the same lot, enduring the same hardships, feeding on the same aliments, arrayed in the same rude garments. No roof then rose but was open to the homeless stranger; no smoke curled among the trees but he was welcome to sit down by its fire and join the hunter in his repast. ‘For,’ says an old historian of New England, ‘their life is so void of care, and they are so loving also that they make use of those things they enjoy as common goods, and are therein so compassionate that rather than one should starve through want, they would starve all; thus they pass their time merrily, not regarding our pomp, but are better content with their own, which some men esteem so meanly of.’ Such were the Indians while in the pride and energy of their primitive natures they resembled those wild plants which thrive best in the shades of the forest but shrink from the hand of cultivation and perish beneath the influence of the sun.”

Cruel civilization crushes these innocent blossoms of the forest.

Note too that Irving presents this, in 1819, as the modern revisionist view of the Indians. Yet he is able to quote the same view already from an “old historian.” Being new is part of the myth, not the reality.

In a sense, however, Irving at least is right; the period before his own was dominated by the “captivity narrative,” which usually documented Indian cruelty to European captives. But there is a crucial difference: the authors of the original captivity narratives were writing from personal experience. Irving had little firsthand knowledge of actual Indians. His Indians were literary Indians, and literary Indians have always been noble savages.

Longfellow's Minnehaha: Another Indian Princess

To be fair, there was also a backlash to Irving’s and Cooper’s depiction of the native American. Some then still had experience of real Indians living outside the settled lands. This backlash was the far less well-remembered novel Nick of the Woods, published in 1837 by Robert Bird. Its Indians were indeed more savage than noble, at least in the eyes of Bird’s protagonist. However, this was hardly an established motif of the time: rather, according to his preface, Bird wrote the book in rebuttal of Cooper.

“At the period when Nick of the Woods was written,” Bird explains, “the genius of Chateaubriand and of Cooper had thrown a poetical illusion over the Indian character; and the red men were presented—almost stereotyped in the popular mind—as the embodiments of grand and tender sentiment—a new style of the beau-ideal—brave, gentle, loving, refined, honourable, romantic personages—nature's nobles, the chivalry of the forest.”

Bird was not trying to malign Indians, but simply to present a more realistic portrait. “It may be submitted that such are not the lineaments of the race—that they never were the lineaments of any race existing in an uncivilised state—indeed, could not be—and that such conceptions as Atala and Uncas are beautiful unrealities and fictions merely, as imaginary and contrary to nature as the shepherd swains of the old pastoral school of rhyme and romance; at all events, that one does not find beings of this class, or any thing in the slightest degree resembling them, among the tribes now known to travellers and legislators.”

“The Indian is doubtless a gentleman,” Bird allows; “but he is a gentleman who wears a very dirty shirt, and lives a very miserable life, having nothing to employ him or keep him alive except the pleasures of the chase and of the scalp-hunt—which we dignify with the name of war. The writer differed from his critical friends, and from many philanthropists, in believing the Indian to be capable—perfectly capable, where restraint assists the work of friendly instruction—of civilisation: the Choctaws and Cherokees, and the ancient Mexicans and Peruvians, prove it; but, in his natural barbaric state, he is a barbarian—and it is not possible he could be anything else. The purposes of the author, in his book, confined him to real Indians. He drew them as, in his judgment, they existed—and as, according to all observation, they still exist wherever not softened by cultivation,—ignorant, violent, debased, brutal; he drew them, too, as they appeared, and still appear, in war—or the scalp-hunt—when all the worst deformities of the savage temperament receive their strongest and fiercest development.”

Bird was quickly condemned for this assertion and this depiction at the time, and has been condemned for it ever since. This may be why he is far less well-remembered than Irving or Cooper. His preface goes on to say: “Having, therefore, no other, and certainly no worse, desire than to make his delineations in this regard as correct and true to nature as he could, it was with no little surprise he found himself taken to account by some of the critical gentry, on the charge of entertaining the inhumane design of influencing the passions of his countrymen against the remnant of an unfortunate race, with a view of excusing the wrongs done to it by the whites, if not of actually hastening the period of that ‘final destruction’ which it pleases so many men, against all probability, if not against all possibility, to predict as a certain future event.”

This idea of the Indian’s inevitable final disappearance, of course, has not happened: Bird, and not Cooper or Irving, has proven more prescient here. The idea of the inevitable passing of the Indian is, in the end, an aspect of the noble savage myth. Eden and the Golden Age, like childhood, must by their nature be lost forever in order to be truly romantic and real to the imagination; just as Swift’s Lilliput or Brobdingnag must not be found on any conventional charts. The noble savagists cannot, in the end, as Bird rightly saw, allow the Indian into the modern world. They must forever be picturesquely dying, or already dead.

Bird does not say that Indians are evil, but rather draws a fictional portrait of a man who does. A not-uncommon sentiment, Bird says, among those who had dealt with real wild Indians before the cruel influence of civilization blasted these innocent forest flowers. “No one conversant with the history of border affairs,” Bird writes, “can fail to recollect some one or more instances of solitary men, bereaved fathers or orphaned sons, the sole survivors, sometimes, of exterminated households, who remained only to devote themselves to lives of vengeance; and ‘Indian-hating’ (which implied the fullest indulgence of a rancorous animosity no blood could appease) was so far from being an uncommon passion in some particular districts, that it was thought to have infected, occasionally, persons, otherwise of good repute, who ranged the woods, intent on private adventures, which they were careful to conceal from the public eye.”

“The author remembers,” the author continues, “in the published journal of an old traveller … who visited the region of the upper Ohio towards the close of the last century, an observation on this subject, which made too deep an impression to be easily forgotten. It was stated, as the consequence of the Indian atrocities, that such were the extent and depth of the vindictive feeling throughout the community, that it was suspected in some cases to have reached men whose faith was opposed to warfare and bloodshed.”

Bird himself did not believe that Indians were in any way inferior or depraved. They simply behaved as their unfortunate condition, a war of all against all, required of them. It was the Romantics, he insisted, who saw Indians as inferior, as bestial.

Nevertheless, this seems to have been a rare and futile kick against the pricks already by the early nineteenth century.

Like the first widely popular play, the first musical score published in America was about Indians, and presented from the Indian perspective: “The Death Song of an Indian Chief,” released in March 1791 in the Massachusetts Magazine (Cotton, op cit., p. 5).

It was always, after all, the proper business of Indians to be romantically dying.

“Romanticizing the Indian dominated western fiction and poetry between 1800 and 1830,” writes Cotton. “Titles such as Frontier Maid; or, the Fall of Wyoming (1819); Logan, an Indian Tale (1821); The Land of Powhatten (1821); and Ontwa, Son of the Forest (1822), all portrayed dramatically idealized Indians that fit into the Noble Savage definition. …. By 1830 the theater was dominated by ‘Indian’ plays, that heavily featured the Noble Savage motif. … [O]n stage in 1893 was Belasco and Fyles‘s play, ‘The Girl I Left Behind Me,’ which victimized innocent Indians at the hands of corrupt white culture” (Cotton, p. 6). Or rather, portrayed Indians as victimized at the hands of corrupt white culture.

So too among Canadian writers. Adam Kidd, in 1830 Montreal, wrote the long poem, “The Huron Chief,” featuring the lines

Undisturbed as the wild deer that strays o’er the mountain,
Or lily that sleeps in its calm liquid bed,
In that arbour of green, by the gush of the fountain,
Oft, oft has my Huron there pillowed his head.
But the hand of the white man has brought desolation —

Duncan Campbell Scott, Confederation poet, is often criticized for showing traditional Indian life as difficult; he was with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and knew something of real Indians. Nevertheless, his poetry shows the marks of the Noble Savage myth. In “On the Way to the Mission,” he tells the story of a lone Indian shot dead by Europeans, the “whitemen servants of greed,” in order to steal his sled-load of furs.

Pauline Johnson recites

And then there are Grey Owl, Pauline Johnson, and Emily Carr, aka “Klee Wyck.” Johnson claimed to be a native princess, and recited in Indian dress. Farley Mowat made his literary reputation with People of the Deer (1952), about the Inuit. It was sympathetic to the native people, highly critical of the government, the Hudson’s Bay Company, and Western civilization generally. “It’s the story,” explains Craig MacBride in the Toronto Review of Books, “of white people disrupting and ruining Indigenous culture” (March 15, 2013). Marketable. Unfortunately, there are charges that Mowat made most of his stuff up.

In Canada, claiming to be Indian or an adopted Indian has plainly always been a good career move in the arts.

Throughout the nineteenth, and into the twentieth, centuries, one of the most popular forms of entertainment throughout North America was the Indian medicine show. Indians, again, were shown to the rubes in a completely favourable light. The success of the enterprise depended, after all, on the general prejudice that Indians could not tell a lie. Accordingly, if they said a patent nostrum worked, it must work. “The Noble Savage‘s determining features,” notes Cotton in another context, “included a harmony with nature coupled with a moral innocence and inability to lie” (Cotton, p. 30).

We see the same prejudice in the naive acceptance by the Canadian courts of Indian “oral tradition” as of equal weight with written and signed treaties. We see it in the acceptance of “victim” statements without any further corroborating evidence by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. If an Indian says it, it must be true.

Were little white children once taught to see the Indians as bloodthirsty savages? Here is how an Ontario school history book of 1879 introduces them: "They were bold and cunning, generous to their friends, but bitterly revengeful to their foes. There were, however, some great chiefs among them, who were noted for their love of the people, their honesty, and their kindness to enemies (Jeffers, J. Frith, History of Canada, 1879, p, 4). Said chiefs are not identified; we are left to speculate.

Of course, Canadian kids did once play that notoriously racist old game of cowboys and Indians. But consider: in order for it to work, roughly half of the kids must always have wanted to be Indians.

Nor were literary cowboys and Indians enemies by nature: they were brothers, like Uncas and Natty Bumppo, like Tonto and the Lone Ranger. If cowboys sometimes fought with Indians, this was the Indian way. Just as cowboys fought with cowboys, in their shoot-outs, and Indians fought with Indians, the Iroquois with the Huron, the Cree with the Blackfoot, the Huron with the Mohicans. It was the inevitable logic of life beyond police patrol and government control, and it was, in fictional form, as fun as any Tom and Jerry cartoon. The cowboy was the European Indian—the free man, the wanderer, living by his own code of honour outside the law.

The traditional image of the cowboy, and the original Western, began with dime novels in the second half of the 19th century. And the dime novels themselves began with tales of Indians. Only later did the cowboy emerge as a subject of similar interest to the same readership.

The first dime novel ever was Malaeska, the Indian Wife of a White Hunter (1860). Its vision of Indian life, as first presented to the reader, is plainly romantic:

“wigwams might be seen through a vista in the wood. One or two were built even on the edge of the clearing; the grass was much trampled around them, and three or four half-naked Indian children lay rolling upon it, laughing, shouting, and flinging up their limbs in the pleasant morning air. One young Indian woman was also frolicking among them, tossing an infant in her arms, caroling and playing with it. Her laugh was musical as a bird song, and as she darted to and fro, now into the forest and then out into the sunshine, her long hair glowed like the wing of a raven, and her motion was graceful as an untamed gazelle. They could see that the child, too, was very beautiful, even from the distance” (p. 10).

Like an untamed gazelle: Malaeska is the familiar archetype of the innocent and good-hearted Indian princess, representing an imagined purity of nature. “[H]er untutored heart, rich in its natural affections, had no aim, no object, but what centered in the love she bore her white husband. The feelings which in civilized life are scattered over a thousand objects, were, in her bosom, centered in one single being; he supplied the place of all the high aspirations – of all the passions and sentiments which are fostered into strength by society” (p. 31-32). Pure of heart, in other words; here as the story progresses ruined by contact with the evil Europeans and their civilized prejudices.

The same motif is soon reprised in The Frontier Angel (1861), its topic an Indian maiden’s “suffering and devotion.” This was followed in turn by King Barnaby or The Maidens of the Forest: A Romance of the Micmacs (1861). Oonomoo the Huron came in 1862, plus a romance, Ahmo’s Plot, or The Governor’s Indian Child, based on the premise that Count Frontenac took an Indian wife, the daughter, of course, of a chief. Laughing Eyes, in 1863, reverses the stock situation; it has a European maiden falling in love with an Indian prince. Mahaska, the Indian Princess tells the continuing story of Frontenac’s supposed half-Indian daughter, her mother having died “of a broken heart, as we see forest birds perish in their cages.”

Obviously, the fallout from the residential schools was not the first time we conceived the idea that exposure to European civilization was harmful to native people.

The Indian Princess was soon succeeded, logically enough, by The Indian Queen, purportedly the story of Mahaska become the Queen of the Senecas. In 1869, Border Avengers, or The White Prophetess of the Delawares, announced an upcoming series on Wenona, the Giant Chief of St. Regis, including Silent Slayer, or The Maid of Montreal, and Despard the Spy, or the Fall of Montreal. Despard, a European, was the villain. Wenona, of course, a Mohawk, was the hero.

Over time, the frontier of romance, to remain plausible, had to move west. The Lone Chief or the Trappers of the Saskatchewan (1873) tells of Chief Blackbird. It is a tale that “awakens our warmest admiration”; its heroine is a “strangely beautiful” Cree girl. This was quickly followed by Old Bear Paw the Trapper King, or The Love of a Blackfoot Queen.

Indian princesses everywhere populated the West. Virginally.

Buck Taylor

In 1887, Henry Nash Smith, Beadle Dime Novels editor, hit upon the idea of the cowboy hero to add to the now-traditional Indian. He published a fictionalized biography of the real star of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, Buck Taylor (William Levi Taylor). The literary Taylor, the original cowboy, reveals his true lineage in his origin story: he is first captured by the Comanches, then eventually freed by an Indian friend. It is like a second birth, as an adopted Indian, in the mold of Natty Bumppo.

And the cowboy, in turn, is the essential image, at home and abroad, of the American character. He is the American hero.

The Wild West Show as popular entertainment followed more or less the same evolution: the first Wild West shows, organized by artist George Catlin to tour the US and Europe, featured only Indians. Buffalo Bill Cody hit upon the idea of adding “cowboys,” Europeans who lived on the frontier and adopted many of the Indian ways, to the shows. While the Indians were spectacle enough in themselves, by doing this, he could add displays of trick shooting, horsemanship, roping, and other talents more easily found among the pool of European-Americans. Visiting Europe, the “cowboys” made a point of sleeping outdoors, like the Indian performers. They were, after all, children of nature.

In novels, the Western genre truly came into its own with the full-length yarns of Zane Grey. And, like his predecessors, Grey was a faithful acolyte of the noble savage. "His respectful treatment of Indians,” boasts the Zane Grey West Society web page, “was ahead of its time."

Yep. Always was, always is.

Among other treatments, Grey wrote The Vanishing American, obviously sympathetic to the eternally dying Indians.

“In his 1910 novel, Heritage of the Desert,” similarly, “Grey idealizes the Navajo people, particularly the Chief Eschtah” (Cotton, p. 47).

“This pattern of victimizing [sic] the Noble Savage continues in Grey’s novel, The Rainbow Trail (1915). In this story, yet another female Indian named Glen Naspa is seduced and assaulted by a white missionary” (Cotton, p. 48). The Vanishing American, similarly, features “lecherous and greedy ministers” who “oppose noble and good Indians that honor the nation by participating in World War I” (Cotton, p. 51).

Sound familiar? The missionary is the inevitable fall guy in the noble savage myth, because he introduces the idea of original sin.

In the same novel, “Shefford... discovers [an] Indian woman in her home, having died in childbirth, and his guilt over the tragedy leads him to feel something of the white man’s burden of crime toward the Indian weighing upon his soul.” “Grey,” Cotton adds, “was not the only author to use this method of victimizing [sic] an Indian woman and orchestrating her death as a metaphor for the ruthless cruelty of white culture” (Cotton, p. 49).

“The roots of this imagery,” Cotton goes on, “can be traced back as far as the 1890s, when David Belasco and Franklin Fyles wrote the play “The Girl I Left Behind Me.” This story of an Indian uprising involves a maiden named Fawn Afraid, whose involvement with white culture ultimately leads to her death” (Cotton, p. 49).

“Fawn Afraid”? You have to love it.

But Cotton is significantly wrong here. The imagery of the innocent Indian maiden being destroyed by contact with white culture is not from some play in the nineteenth century. It is an essential element of the Indian princess myth, going back to Greek mythology and Kore/Persephone. We have already seen it many times.

The popularity of the cowboy novel has, of course, spread beyond North America. When the Americans occupied Germany at the end of World War II, they were amused to find the Germans entirely wrapped up in the romance of the old frontier—as they largely remain today.

This is mostly due to Karl May, probably the most popular novelist in the German language, who specialized in “Western” stories.

But note that on May’s frontier, as in the early dime novels, the central hero is an Indian, not a cowboy: Minnetou, the “wise chief of the Apaches.” “Old Shatterhand,” the cowboy figure, is like Bumppo or the Lone Ranger his “blood brother.”

According to Anthony Grafton, writing in the New Republic, May always depicted Native Americans as “innocent victims of white law-breakers.” He had much that was unflattering to say about Jews, the Irish, the Chinese, blacks, and Armenians; but never about Native Americans.

Why were Indians special? “His readers longed to escape from an industrialized capitalist society,” writes Grafton, “an escape which May offered” (Grafton, “Mein Buch,” The New Republic, December, 2008). The noble savage, exactly.

Grafton points out that Karl May and his Western adventures were special favourites of Adolf Hitler. “Hitler later recommended the books to his generals and had special editions distributed to soldiers at the front, praising Winnetou as an example of ‘tactical finesse and circumspection’" (Grafton, op cit.). “The fate of Native Americans in the United States was used during the world wars for anti-American propaganda,” writes Frederic Morton in the New York Times. “The National Socialists in particular tried to use May's popularity and his work for their purposes” (Morton, Tales Of The Grand Teutons: Karl May Among The Indians. The New York Times, 4 January 1987).

This should not surprise us. The cult of the noble savage always had Nazi-esque overtones. Like Nazism, it was a cult of nature and the natural man. Like Nazism, it believed in a mystic oneness of the “volk” with the ancestral land and the landscape. Foreigners were not welcome. Like the Nazis, it believed in the value of racial and cultural “purity.” The evil forces of “cosmopolitanism” were simply transferred by the Nazis from May’s encroaching European plutocrats to the capitalist, cosmopolitan Jews.

But what about the movies? What about Hollywood? Surely here, at least, the racist stereotype of the bloodthirsty Indian descending on the helpless wagon train ruled supreme? As we have read, “One of the main problems with the earlier Westerns is that they painted the Native Americans into the stereotypical savage who was only out to rape, pillage, and murder the white man” (Clay Upton, Stereotyping Indians in Film, Up until “Little Big Man,” or “Dances With Wolves,” wasn’t the story always at the very least told from the point of view of the white man?

Anyone is free to believe that. So long as they have never seen a Western.

The very first Western movie with a narrative that featured Indians is told from the supposed Indian perspective: "The Red Man's View," 1909, by D.W. Griffith. According to a review of the day, the film is about "the helpless Indian race as it has been forced to recede before the advancing white, ... full of poetic sentiment" (NY Mirror, Thomas Cripps, Hollywood's High Noon: Moviemaking and Society Before Television, JHU Press, 1997, p. 27).

If the reader doubts the accuracy of this characterization, he is advised that the full film is available for view at the Internet Archive:

Make no mistake: white people are the villains, and D.W. Griffith is rarely ambiguous about such things. They repeatedly drive the Indians off their land and, of course, abduct a poor defenseless Indian princess.

Pocahontas, 1910

A classic treatment of the prototypical Pocahontas appeared in 1910, and a second version in 1911. In 1912 came “The Heart of an Indian Maiden” (YouTube: and “The Invaders”-- said invaders, of course, being the Europeans. In the latter movie, according to IMDB, "the U.S. Army and the Indians sign a peace treaty. However, a group of surveyors trespass on the Indians' land and violate the treaty. The army refuses to listen to the Indians' complaints, and the surveyors are killed by the Indians."

Also in 1912 came “A Temporary Truce”: “three malicious drunks have just killed an Indian, solely to amuse themselves. When Jim abducts the prospector's wife, and takes her to a remote place, he soon afterwards encounters a party of angry braves seeking revenge" (IMDB).

Yes, you see fights between cowboys and Indians—but the cowboys are always to blame.

D.W. Griffith’s “The Battle of Elderbush Gulch” (1913) (Internet Archive, is sometimes cited as an example of the contrary, bloodthirsty savage image of Indians. But their offense in the film is not that great. They try to eat a couple of dogs, hungry and not knowing this is taboo among whites, and are shot dead for it. A battle ensues.

Who here is being portrayed as bloodthirsty?

One might expect that a film called “The Indian Wars Refought,” filmed with the cooperation of the US government, might offer a more balanced account, if not an outright tribute to the US Army.

We will never know. The film was suppressed, claims Wikipedia, by the US government, and all copies disappeared. Reputedly, this was because it turned out to be too awkwardly pro-Indian and anti-US government, during a period of wartime censorship (IMDB; Larry Langman, Larry, American Film Cycles: The Silent Era. Greenwood Publishing Group [1998]).

In 1922, Canada produced what is commonly cited as the first ever feature-length documentary film. That would be “Nanook of the North,” a sympathetic portrayal of the life of an Inuit hunter. Roger Ebert calls it “alone in its stark regard for the courage and ingenuity of its heroes" (Ebert, Roger [2005-09-25] "Nanook of the North [1922]," Chicago Sun Times). Another “revisionist” view of aboriginal Canada; as they all are.

“They Died With Their Boots On,” 1941, again tells the story of the Indian Wars, culminating in the Battle of Little Big Horn. But, again, white men are clearly blamed: “The battle against Chief Crazy Horse is portrayed as a crooked deal between politicians and a corporation that wants the land Custer promised to the Indians.” “A letter left behind by Custer, now considered his dying declaration, names the culprits and absolves the Native Americans of all responsibility; Custer has won his final campaign.” (Wikipedia) It has to be so; if the Indians were guilty of anything, it would not be a satisfactory ending in the eyes of an American audience.

Of course, many may argue that this is simply telling it like it was—that the whites are fully responsible for the Indian wars, fought to take the Indian land. But was this true? Indians, after all, were always fighting one another. Why would they always make an exception of the white men?

“Sitting Bull,” 1954, was the first Western in CinemaScope. Again it was filmed from the Indian point of view. “When the white man wins,” the cinematic Sitting Bull complains, “you call it a victory; when the Indian wins, you call it a massacre.” This seems the eternal lament of the Hollywood Indian; but there never seems to have been a prior time during which everyone called the one a victory, or the other a massacre. It is simply part of the Noble Savage myth.

And then we had “Little Big Man”…

It is always possible, I suppose, that some day, someone actually will make an anti-Indian movie. Or write an anti-Indian novel.

But nobody will buy it.