Authors use ‘flimsy knowledge’
Writing a book on the “Aboriginal industry” is certainly a worthy and important undertaking. There are lots of “industries” out there in the real world, such as cancer, diabetes, “green,” subsidization, immigration, and to situate the case of Aboriginal people within this industry context would certainly be an important practical and theoretical contribution to both the academy and policy makers or analysts.
However, without comparative information, one cannot really assess any one single case. Just because you find the budget for an “industry” is $8.9 million doesn’t allow you to say if this is high, low or medium in expenditures. Only when you find out that another industry such as the “subsidization business” has an expenditure of $14.9 billion can you then make as statement as to whether or not the original case study allocation is low. Here lies a fundamental problem of the book. There is no comparative data presented by which to evaluate the “Aboriginal Industry.”
The use of “cute” titles throughout the book detracts from any scholarly contribution that is intended by the authors. Titles such as “Discovering the Emperor’s Nudity” and “Consolidating the Lawyers’ Retirement Fund” are derogative, demeaning and overly simplistic, misleading and inappropriate.
Since this has been cast as an “academic” book, I note that many of the citations are from newspapers, such as the Toronto Star, News/North, Edmonton Journal and various magazines. This simply is unacceptable for an academic piece of scholarship. If students were to base their arguments on newspaper and magazine citations for a university course, I suspect that they would receive a failing grade. Scholarship is very different from journalism.
Finally, I would say that the authors reflect the same disrespect offered by the newspapers in that they conspicuously refuse to use the term “First Nations” and when using “Aboriginal,” never capitalize it. One would never talk about Canadians, Germans or Americans without capitalization.
My last comment focuses on the refusal of the authors to accept something called Aboriginal Knowledge. My first reaction is that they don’t know what it is because nowhere in the bibliography are there references to the considerable work that has been carried out in the area. Most energy companies are more aware of Aboriginal Knowledge and use it than the authors.
As such, we find that the level of ignorance displayed by the authors with regard to Aboriginal culture and Knowledge unfortunate. My suggestion is that they need to go back and do their homework before dismissing the concept and the embodiment of this knowledge. For example, there is an emerging Aboriginal literature on the entire issue (covering national and international case studies) and it is inexcusable for the authors not to have incorporated this material into their book.
In summary, the authors take a narrow view of reality and come to the conclusion that if “it isn’t middle class and oozing of capitalism,” it’s not worth anything. The flimsy logic used in the book also leads the reader to dismiss many of the claims made by the authors.
Poor scholarship, demeaning attributions to First Nations people and lack of cogent arguments place this book on my non-recommended reading list. There are many other books that do a much better job in explaining the Aboriginal context in Canadian society that students would benefit from reading them and not waste their time on this “trade” book which is more concerned about sales than content.
— Jim Frideres
Jim Frideres is chair of ethnic studies and director of international indigenous studies at the University of Calgary.