Without Words: Learning from Absences in the Wendat Language

By John Steckley

The Wendat (Huron), when first encountered by the French in the early 17th century, were living south of Georgian Bay in central Ontario. They spoke an Iroquoian language (one related to those of the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois), and grew corn, beans and squash for most of their food. The missionaries that worked with them were the Jesuits, who during the 17th and 18th centuries developed some of the most extensive dictionaries and grammars then recorded.

Through these texts, I have studied the Wendat language for about 40 years, and have written or edited six books on the subject. I often say that the language is my best teacher. It never stops instructing me about how the Wendat ancestors thought. It continues to suggest to me how the language-based teachings of the ancestors could prove useful for mainstream North American society in the early 21st century. One way it can teach is through concepts the ancestors did not express with their language, concepts not necessary in their lives. At the very least the language can be seen as presenting an alternative viewpoint that challenges our mainstream Western sense of the universal.

The Wendat language has no way of saying best. Continue reading

“Finally”: Peace in Colombia?

Stefano Tijerina 

Ares. "El Proceso de Paz. Secuestrado por el Miedo? La Pluma.net. May 24, 2014.

Ares. “El Proceso de Paz. Secuestrado por el Miedo?” LaPluma.net, May 24, 2014.

It is with great skepticism that I reflect on the recent announcement of the peace agreement between the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government.  I grew up in Bogotá, Colombia and lived through directly and indirectly the multi-layers of the most recent Colombian Civil War.  Within this fifty-two year old Civil War I experienced the other spatial dimensions of violence that also impacted and continue to impact Colombians on a daily basis.  I have seen informal and organized crime, I have seen the bodies of the victims of urban social cleansing, I have been shaken by the bombs detonated by narcos, and I have heard the stories of those impacted by paramilitary violence, and even military violence.  I have seen the outcomes of systemic and structural poverty that ultimately led to greater social violence, including the attacks on workers and labour union leaders, I have seen the violence that falls upon those that question the state including comedians, journalists, students, civilians and humanitarian NGOs, and I have seen the cultural violence perpetuated on women, racial minorities, the LGBTQ community, indigenous groups, the homeless and other disenfranchised groups.

There is no good and evil in this conflict and from my perspective everyone has blood on their hands directly or indirectly.  Some do not want peace because there is plenty of money to make from the perpetuation of war; some do not want peace because their pain from lost ones may only now be satiated with vengeance; some want peace to advance their own individualistic agendas; others want peace because they have never experienced such pleasures; and others do not even care because they are marginalized and lack citizenship rights.  My experience in Colombia, my own knowledge and historical understanding as a scholar, and my gut feeling tells me there will not be peace in Colombia.  The history behind the genocide of the Unión Patriótica political party members in the late 1980s is enough evidence to show me that peace is not possible, and it is a history I am convinced will repeat itself in this particular case. Continue reading

Religion and Auteurism in The Revenant

What are the problems and possibilities of Hollywood history? ActiveHistory is pleased to feature a four-essay forum on The Revenanta 2015 Hollywood historical epic set against the backdrop of the early 1800s North American fur trade. As a primer, we recommend reading Stacy Nation-Knapper’s excellent review from earlier this year.

Benjamin Bryce and Anna Casas Aguilar

The Revenant is loosely based on a year in the life of the U.S. fur trader and mountain man Hugh Glass. The spectacular cinematography, the action, and – for some – questions about the veracity of the story may have overshadowed what in many ways is the central theme that runs through the storyline: religion.

The influence of Alejandro González Iñárritu, the director and co-author of the screenplay, can clearly be seen in the way religion appears in the movie. Iñárritu’s auterism (a film studies term that describes the indelible imprint that some directors leave on the films they make) has created a work of transnational cinema that emphasizes a specific view of the history of the North American West in the 1820s and also a specific view of religion.

The director (left) and star of the Revenant. Telegraph.co.uk.

The director (left) and star of the Revenant. Telegraph.co.uk.

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The True Revenants of a Buried Past

What are the problems and possibilities of Hollywood history? ActiveHistory is pleased to feature a four-essay forum on The Revenanta 2015 Hollywood historical epic set against the backdrop of the early 1800s North American fur trade. As a primer, we recommend reading Stacy Nation-Knapper’s excellent review from earlier this year.

Michel Bouchard

Hugh Glass’s encounter with the grizzly bear was depicted in illustrations soon after it was first reported. Wikimedia Commons.

Hugh Glass’s encounter with the grizzly bear was depicted in illustrations soon after it was first reported. Wikimedia Commons.

The Revenant is the latest of ghostly resurrections of the Hugh Glass story, and in many ways the worst in the ways it distorts the history of the French-speaking traders, trappers, and boatmen who outnumbered the Anglo-American “mountain men” by a ratio of four-to-one in the era depicted. Each time the tale has been told, the purpose is nonetheless the same, to define the new American hero. This latest haunting is no different. The movie first and foremost glorifies the hyper-individualist hero. Not only does Glass kill a grizzly bear, he does so alone. The first telling of the tale in 1825 was a bit more modest as it was Glass’s companions that came to his rescue: “the main body of trappers having arrived, advanced to the relief of Glass, and delivered seven or eight shots with such unerring aim as to terminate hostilities, by despatching [sic] the bear as she stood over her victim.” Written shortly after the incident and having certainly met Glass or acquaintances of Glass in person, the 1825 account had to be a bit more restrained in telling Glass’s story. Nonetheless, since 1825, both historians and popular culture have contributed to denigrating then burying then denying the history of the French speakers of the West and on both sides of the 49th Parallel.

The reality is the colonial French were actively pushing into the plains a century prior to the 1820s. In the 1720s, the French had established the “Compagnie des Sioux” with the stated intent of trading with the Sioux in this very region of the world where the historical Hugh Glass was crawling. Continue reading

Hugh Glass: The Evolution of a Legend

What are the problems and possibilities of Hollywood history? ActiveHistory is pleased to feature a four-essay forum on The Revenanta 2015 Hollywood historical epic set against the backdrop of the early 1800s North American fur trade. As a primer, we recommend reading Stacy Nation-Knapper’s excellent review from earlier this year.

Claire Kaufman

Wikimedia Commons.

Wikimedia Commons.

The fur trader and mountain man Hugh Glass – the heroic protagonist of The Revenant – has been captivating audiences for almost two centuries. The first known publication describing Glass being left for dead in the wilderness was written by James Hall in the 1825 edition of The Port Folio. There was a boom of interest in 1830s and 1840s, with other authors repeating Hall’s account and adding new information to the story. Even Alejandro González Iñárritu’s 2015 film (based on Michael Punke’s 2002 novel) is not the first cinematic depiction of Glass; another version of the story appeared as Man in the Wilderness (1971) starring the Oscar-nominated actor Richard Harris.

Given that the factual aspects of Glass’s life are spotty at best, ample room has been left for storytellers to embellish the details when weaving Glass into the historical tapestry of the fur trade. Of all chapters of his life, it is the brutal attack by a grizzly bear, subsequent survival against all odds and quest for vengeance that are the most captivating. Yet despite this core story, many elements of the legend have evolved over time. Continue reading

“Inspired by True Events”: The Fur Trade, The Revenant, and Humanity

What are the problems and possibilities of Hollywood history? ActiveHistory is pleased to feature a four-essay forum on The Revenanta 2015 Hollywood historical epic set against the backdrop of the early 1800s North American fur trade. As a primer, we recommend reading Stacy Nation-Knapper’s excellent review from earlier this year.

Ted Binnema

Jim Bridger. Wikimedia Commons.

Jim Bridger. Wikimedia Commons.

The Revenant’s trailer indicates that the movie is “inspired by true events.” True, the names of all of its main characters—Hugh Glass, Jim Bridger, John Fitzgerald, and Andrew Henry—are names of actual mountain men, and the movie is obviously inspired by William Ashley’s Rocky Mountain Fur Company’s brigade of 1823.

The claim that a movie is “inspired by,” “based on,” or is actually a “true story,” influences viewers’ perceptions of movies.  But in my opinion, moviegoers should assume that movies are works of fiction—not documentaries—regardless of any claims. I won’t belabor the fact that there is very little correlation between known historical events and The Revenant. Others have already done so.

I think it is more interesting to explore what historians know about actual events, so that viewers might be in a better position to review the movie as a work of serious fiction—something it was intended to be. Continue reading

Canada’s History and the First World War Centennial: A Conversation

ActiveHistory.ca has an announcement!  With contributors’ approval, Canada’s History will be selecting posts from the “Canada’s First World War” series on ActiveHistory.ca for inclusion in Canada’s Great War Album.   The album is Canada’s History’s online tribute to people and stories from the war, and carries on from their book project that recognized the centennial of the war’s outbreak.

The arrangement gives contributors to the “Canada’s First World War” series a chance to share their work with another community, and expand our collective discussion about the war’s history and legacy.  This is also an opportunity to broaden the reach of ActiveHistory.ca, and continue its work of connecting the public with the past.  To mark the start of this arrangement, we are running this post, in which Canada’s History answers some questions we posed via e-mail earlier this year.

 

Q (The editors of the “Canada’s First World War” series) – Could you start with an introduction to our arrangement?

A (Canada’s History) – Canada’s History is dedicated to bringing our audiences new ideas and perspectives of Canadian history. We recognize that ActiveHistory.ca provides a public platform for scholars to present and discuss their work and we hope to extend this platform across Canada using our websites and Canada’s History magazine. We understand that there are many stories within Canadian history and we want to make as many of them available to the public as possible. By working with ActiveHistory.ca we can continue to work towards this starting with the First World War.

CH_logo

The Canada’s History logo. (All images in this post were provided by Canada’s History.)

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Karl Marx reflects on the Subject of Confederation

By Mark Leier

Marx learning about Confederation

Karl Marx consulting the so-called “Fathers of Confederation”

Deep in the archives of the Society for the History of Anarchism and Marxism, (SHAM) I discovered a hitherto unknown letter from Karl Marx to Friedrich Engels. Dated 21 July 1867, the bulk of the letter is a reaction to the confederation of Canada, which had been proclaimed twenty days earlier. It is particularly interesting for two reasons. First, Marx paid scarce attention to Canada in his work. There are only three references to the country in Capital, and these are incidental; there are nearly as many references to oral sex.[1]

Second, throughout the letter, the events in Canada are cast explicitly in the light of his own work, especially The Communist Manifesto, written with Engels in 1848, and Capital, which Marx was preparing for the publisher at the time of this letter. Thus we see Marx applying his method of historical investigation in a concrete case.

Unless otherwise noted, Marx’s quotations are from the Manifesto. Where other work is drawn upon, I have added citations and explanatory material in footnotes.

Karl Marx to Friedrich Engels, 21 July 1867, London, England Continue reading

Was Laurier Canada’s Obama?

By Elsbeth Heaman

CaptureUntil 1887, the national Liberal party of Canada was led primarily from Ontario by statesmen hostile to the fiscal importuning of the other provinces. It bore a heavy impress from George Brown, who had largely based his political career on denouncing Catholics and French-Canadians for holding Canada back from its progressive destiny. But after Edward Blake lost yet another election that he should have won, given the strength of popular opinion against John A. Macdonald in other regions of Canada (especially in Nova Scotia and Quebec), the party leadership reversed its Brownian orientation and installed a Catholic French Canadian as its leader. Many Anglo-Protestant supremacists were shocked and appalled at the choice and they were more shocked and appalled when Laurier won the election of 1896. Sir Charles Tupper won a plurality of the popular vote and he held Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and much of Ontario and Manitoba, but Laurier won an overwhelming victory in Quebec that cemented other successes into a plurality of seats. The country would enter the 20th century, “Canada’s century,” with a French-Canadian Catholic at its head.

Laurier, were he alive today, would probably point to the parallels between his situation and that in the United States in 2016. The election of both Obama and Laurier signaled a new political era, where the old “race” hostilities could be turned into something more consensual and progressive. But in both countries, something different happened. In both cases the out party, which had a nativist base, stoked that base with more or less overt nativist attacks on the prime minister/president by yoking it to anti-establishment sentiment.[1] The result was to heighten rather than to diminish popular racism. Continue reading

The Bering Land Bridge Theory: Not Dead Yet

Alan MacEachern

Maybe you read some of the recent news articles: “The First Americans Didn’t Arrive by the Bering Land Bridge, Study Says.” “A Final Blow to Myth of How People Arrived in the Americas.” “New Study Suggests Route of First Humans to North America was not Western Canada.” Maybe you read some of the social media responses to those articles: “Finally! The Bering Strait theory shot down!”OMG heard on the CBC that Bering Land Bridge Theory – one of my very favourite theories – has been discredited.” “Scientists say first North American humans did not cross the Bering Straight ice bridge after all.” And maybe, since you’ll soon be teaching or TAing a Canadian history survey course and will almost immediately come up against the question of how to talk about the peopling of the continent by the ancestors of today’s First Nations, you think you will have to radically rework that section of your notes.

Maybe not.

Despite a lot of breathless commentary, the new findings published in the journal Nature by a team of paleogeneticists do not actually overturn much of the scientific consensus on how the Americas were peopled. Continue reading