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The Corruption Of Canada’s Indigenous Victim Industry
How Rent Seeking Profiteers Benefit From The Postmodern Turn And Contribute To Indigenous Dependency
What is the “postmodern turn” and why does it matter? What are its implications on public policy, Canadian attitudes, and the plight of the nation’s first peoples? And what is so controversial (and unforgivable) about a tenured professor critiquing prevailing views of Indigenous Studies?
I’m referring to the brilliant, and tough-as-nails, Frances Widdowson, former professor of economics and policy studies at Mount Royal University. Her book, Separate But Unequal: How Parallelist Ideology Conceals Indigenous Dependency, examines the situation of Canada’s Indigenous peoples through the lens of political economy to reveal a perverse system of incentives at play - a perspective deemed so unforgivable that she was first targeted, and ultimately fired, for holding it.
This essay outlines her theory, “the political economy of neotribal rentierism,” and explains why it is considered so threatening to prevailing orthodoxies in Canada. According to Widdowson - “much of the attempt to understand aboriginal economic and political circumstances has been left to postcolonial theory, and a focus on hypothetical transcendental cultural factors rather than historical and material ones.1”
In response to this problem, Widdowson combined the ideas of New Zealand political economist, Elizabeth Rata (the framework of neotribal capitalism) with the ideas of Iranian economist and political scientist, Hossein Mahdavy (Theory of the Rentier State) with some of her own to create a new way to analyze the issues: The political economy of neotribal rentierism. A theoretical framework designed “to help understand the specific circumstances of how aboriginal groups in Canada are being integrated into late capitalism.”
In Separate But Unequal, Widdowson explains that - “the demand for, and control over, transfers to Indigenous people have resulted in political and economic relations referred to as ‘neotribal rentierism.’…Since the 1960s there has been an increasing amount of government funding provided to a number of Indigenous organizations, consultants, and lawyers to pursue land claims and self-government initiatives.”
Widdowson’s work criticizes the “unexamined” mechanisms driving Indigenous policy and what she refers to as “the Aboriginal Industry.”
“What is being described is the type of political and economic relationships that result when members of the neotribe try to gain access to a windfall that they had no role in producing, whether it be royalties, compensation payments, or government transfers for services2.” -FW
A number of Widdowson’s essays, such as “The Political Economy of “Truth and Reconciliation”: Neotribal Rentierism and the Creation of the Victim/Perpetrator Dichotomy,” point to the corrupt rent-seeking processes of the “Aboriginal Industry.”
“…neotribal rentierist processes are oriented towards extracting “rent” so as to incorporate aboriginal groups into late capitalism. The “rent” being sought… (can be) the dispersal of compensation payments – a form of circulation that is becoming increasingly common in addressing the conflicts between aboriginal peoples and the Canadian state. -FW
Readers should begin to get a sense of the complexity of Canadian Indigenous issues and the challenges faced by controversial academics, like Widdowson, who not only critique conventional understandings of Indigenous issues, but also the environment of “wokeism” that pervades both the Universities, where such issues are studied, and the government departments where related public policy decisions are made.
What Widdowson’s case makes clear is that there are extreme consequences for questioning or criticizing established norms in academia today. This should be of central concern to all Canadian taxpayers. It is academic research and analysis in fields such as policy studies, political science and political economy that inform government policy, educate lawmakers and guide the decision making for social programs and initiatives relevant to Indigenous (and non-Indigenous) communities. It is important that politicians be given sound policy scholarship based on objective truth derived from processes wherein open critical analysis employing a diversity of methodologies is welcome. The postmodern turn has systematically removed the ability for universities and academic research bodies like The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (referred to as the “Royal Commission”), to seek objective truth in this manner.
Tax-payers are now governed by leaders who subscribe to myths. In regards to the Indigenous situation, tax-payers are financing an industry that generates these myths for the purpose of extracting the maximum benefit available from government funds, but then siphones the majority of proceeds back into the machinery of a self-generating corruption; including privileged members of Indigenous communities (neotribes) and non-Indigenous lawyers/brokers/consultants and others of the bureaucratic “Aboriginal Industry.”
The Royal Commission’s Final Report, and related initiatives, amounts to a “detailed review” of Indigenous issues in Canada. According to Widdowson, “Academics in Canada continue to refer to the Royal Commission when discussing future proposals for Indigenous policy.” It is the lack of critical examination of the Final Report, that Separate But Unequal aims to address.
“In contrast to the Royal Commission…which argues that a loss of Indigenous culture has caused native marginalization, an alternative hypothesis is postulated - that it is the retention of cultural characteristics associated with hunter-gatherer/horticultural modes of production, in the exploitative context of capitalism, that can help to explain Indigenous dependency.” -FW
The Postmodern Turn
In a zoom meeting for the Society of Academic Freedom and Scholarship (SAFS), Widdowson explains the nature of “the problem” in modern academia and the difficulties encountered when someone challenges certain norms or presents forms of analysis or theories that differ from established orthodoxies. Wokesim is the term generally accepted, although grudgingly by some, and understood to be “the thing” that is the problem. But what exactly is this “thing” to be “woke”? Widdowson, like many scholars aware of its severity, points to Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay’s definition of wokeism: reified postmodernism.
To reify, is to make something that is abstract, more concrete or real. Abstract is exactly what postmodernism is; detached from reality, reason and objective truth. To paraphrase Frances Widdowson:
It began to take hold in academia in the 1960s as a relativist philosophy termed deconstructive postmodernism. This “disarmed the academy so they no longer had science/logic as constraining methods, which allowed identity politics to assert itself. However, at first identity politics was accepted as just another viewpoint, but in this later stage it has become reified. This final stage is a totalitarian development - you must accept the claims of identity politics. Identities must be made real.”
What Widdowson is describing is the postmodern turn. From the moment academia made this turn, identity politics has disrupted an academic's ability to conduct research and made it increasingly difficult to generate scholarship untainted by the myths of reified postmodernism (that now permeate knowledge production). Postmodernism’s appearance in Western Universities had humble beginnings in the 1960s, but because of the ideological nature and built-in activist component of so many postmodern “critical theories,” the “long march through the institutions” has, in this reified late stage, become totalitarian.
Indigenous dependency and the failure of postmodern myths, like parallelism, to help them
The Royal Commission has for decades adopted a thoroughly postmodern conception of Indigenous-non-Indigenous issues. Detached from material and historical methods of analysis, this government funded body (that commissions and aggregates research on Canadian Indigenous issues), ensures scholarship conforming to postmodern conceptions is favoured and applied in their reports and recommendations to government policy makers. In other words, this body of elites choose myth over materialism. The effects on Canada’s most isolated members of the Indigenous population are immeasurably destructive, even though the causal mechanisms involved remain largely invisible.
“The agenda of the Royal Commission…to give ideas, interests and identities’ that have been historically marginalized more representation in the Canadian political system. The concern to strike a ‘balance between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people’ also became evident in the amount of Indigenous input into the Royal Commission’s research and public consultations…so prominent was the acceptance of the ideology of parallelism, in fact, that it even extended to the structure of the Royal Commission itself.” -FW
But how does Postmodernism use myths?
The postmodern descent into myth is a pervasive phenomenon. Postmodernism has, over decades, encroached deep into the fabric of governments and academic institutions. There are many examples of it spilling into virtually all areas of society, however, it's beyond the scope of our purpose here to thoroughly cover it. Instead let's focus on the example already mentioned - the acceptance of postmodern ideas that pervade the Royal Commission’s Final Report (the topic of Separate But Unequal). The Final Report being a particularly important document relied upon by Canadian policy-makers for over 20 years.
Before I explain exactly why The Final Report is akin to a mythic work of religious fiction, let me first quote Widdowson to give you a sense of the stakes:
“Addressing Indigenous dependency is generally not seen in terms of facilitating Indigenous participation in Canadian economic and political processes, but in increasing indigenous autonomy by building Indigenous ‘nations’.”
If that is true, could the Royal Commission’s purpose be to confuse everyone, including the Indigenous, with the promotion of postmodern assumptions, in order to avoid the practical implications of such assumptions on the poorest segment of the Indigenous population? Who’s plight is, at the same time, invoked to call for “more to be done” and thereby perpetuate the cycle of dependency endlessly. As pointed out by Widdowson, the Royal Commission repeatedly avoids analysis of a material and historical nature, presumably because this would challenge the validity and relevance of Indigenous “ways of knowing” (aka Traditional Knowledge), contradict postmodern assumptions and employ practical methods (like Widdowson’s use of analytical frameworks found in political economy).
Under parallelism (which holds the guiding principles of the Royal Commission), “nations” refers to separate nations. It is an ideology involving separate parallel states existing alongside one another. The Canadian government, informed by the Royal Commission’s Final Report has long supported the idea of Canada’s Indigenous living alongside non-indigenous under a parallelist situation of separate and distinct societies. The details of exactly how remaining separate will address dependency are lacking from the Royal Commission’s recommendations.
In an essay published in C2C Journal entitled - “Thirteen Things That Can’t Be Said About Aboriginal Law And Policy In Canada,” Canadian law professor Bruce Pardy explains -
“If Indigenous communities are dependent, they cannot be independent. Control and responsibility are two sides of the same coin. In Canada, “self-government” is a fiction while somebody else is footing the bill.” -BP
From the same article Pardy offers the following observation regarding the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, - “... the bulk of the TRC’s recommendations seek to reinforce dependency rather than end it, by calling upon government to fix this, build that, or pay lots of money. ‘We call on the federal government to…’ appears repeatedly in the TRC report. Many Aboriginal claims are exercises in rent-seeking that essentially amount to an insistence to be paid for nothing other than their presence.”
The identity politics of postmodern relativism influenced the conclusions of the Royal Commission’s Final Report, by prioritizing cultural imperatives over economic ones. In other words, the Royal Commission asserts that it is necessary for Canada’s Indigenous (many living in by far the worst conditions in the country) to retain their cultural identities and reconnect with their ancestral subsistence practices, as a means of overcoming government dependency. Even though investment in traditional practices will not help the most isolated members of Indigenous communities to function or succeed in the competitive global economy of which Canada is part, the Final Report repeatedly emphasizes the primacy of the restoration of traditional Indigenous identity (through language, religion, cultural practices, “ways of knowing,” etc).
It matters little that hunter-gather/horticulturalist practices do not create the surplus needed to facilitate the division of labor required in a functioning modern capitalistic and technological society. It also matters little that the negative disparity in Indigenous education outcomes needs addressing in order for the Indigenous to meet the challenges of a competitive workforce. Instead, the priority is in making sure the Indigenous maintain their cultural identity; ice fishing, fur trapping, hunting and other subsistence practices are deemed essential under the parallelist model. This promotes the notion that Indigenous should maintain distinctive cultural habits regardless of modern day relevance, practical application or feasibility in addressing Indigenous dependency.
These policies are justified because, under postmodern relativism, Indigenous “ways of knowing” are to be respected and accepted as truth. With reified postmodernism, identities are made real. The problem is that many Indigenous “ways of knowing” amount to what non-indigenous people would consider to be spiritual beliefs. The acceptance as truth, of spiritual beliefs and other such postmodern myths, in the context of an elite Royal Commission financed by Canadian taxpayers for the purpose of examining and offering solutions on Indigenous issues, is exactly what has led to policies that not only fail to address the core issue of dependency, but actually expand and ensure it continues indefinitely into the future.
The ideology of parallelism demands that esoteric postmodern distinctions be recognized. Indigenous “ways of knowing'' include cyclical explanations of history, that reject theories of evolution which exist as linear conceptions of change and development over time. The Indigenous conception does not accept that humans exist on a developmental continuum, believing instead that cycles of change are experienced and repeated. Indigenous spiritual belief, rejecting theories of development, but fitting relativist notions of subjective truths, rationalizes government investment in pre-existing Indigenous cultural practices assumed to have been cut-off by the encroachment of colonization, instead of programs that encourage the development of modern day skills required to meet the imperatives of an advanced technological society under global capitalism.
Disrobing the Postmodern Aboriginal Industry
Frances Widdowson began teaching at MRU in 2008. Shortly after, controversy erupted when she and co-author Albert Howard, published Disrobing The Aboriginal Industry: The Deception Behind Indigenous Cultural Preservation; a critical examination of Indigenous issues and the resultant policies that fail to address deprivation and isolation among a disproportionate segment of this population.
It's worth pointing out that, although Widdowson admits she did not notice the late stage totalitarian development of reified postmodern identity politics (wokesim) at Mount Royal university until around 2015, her words from 2008 sound in many places like they could be referring to 2022. For instance -“Postmodern rhetoric like ‘cultural context’ and ‘cyclical thinking,’…acts to mystify the true character of traditional knowledge, preventing the implications of its use in public policy from being understood.” As well, the following seems to foreshadow the “cancel culture” that would take hold of the Academy only a few years later -”The Aboriginal Industry has constructed a taboo…the cry of ‘racism’ that meets any honest analysis of Aboriginal problems and circumstances.”
There are many parallels between what Widdowson calls “the Aboriginal Industry” and other industries rooted in grievances, such as - “anti-racism” and “diversity, equity and inclusion.” In a New Discourses podcast James Lindsay identifies a hidden motive behind grievance based movements and their corresponding calls for “social justice,” as most often leading to a redistribution scheme of one form or another. Generally speaking, this redistribution is based on the assumptions of identity politics; those identified as oppressors must agree to redistribute either wealth, land, resources, opportunity or some other benefit in order to achieve the “desired” goal of an equity utopia.
The way in which these industries exist essentially incentivizes grievance. As I covered in my essay - Profits of Division: The Unfair Equity Of The Diversity & Inclusion Industry, there exists a “grievance studies to equity office pipeline.” Diversity & Inclusion is projected to be a 15 billion dollar global industry by the year 2026. The Indigenous “grievance industry” according to Widdowson, however, is the “ result of a long historical process in which an ever-expanding, parasitical Aboriginal Industry…have used the plight of Aboriginal peoples to justify a self-serving agenda. The legal and ‘culturally sensitive’ bureaucratic solutions to Aboriginal problems…would continue to keep natives isolated and dependent…justifying demands for more funding and programs for the Aboriginal Industry.”
Culturally Sensitive Scholarship
“Culturally sensitive” is code for the postmodern departure from reason. In her book “Acknowledgments: A Cultural Memoir And Other Essays” Canadian columnist Barbara Kay offers an essay called “Pseudo-Learning In Our Universities.” Based on a talk she gave in 2011 (back when wokeism was referred to as “political correctness”), that provides an excellent take on the negative effects the postmodern turn has had on universities of the West.
Barbara Kay observes the fundamental shift that occurred in the 1960s which “drew a bright line between all past understandings and the present understanding of what universities were for.” Over the 70 years that have unfolded since 1960, the Academy has replaced its general telos from one focused on a diversity of viewpoints and pursuing truth through objective means of open and free academic inquiry, to one thoroughly entrenched in postmodern identity politics, effectively shutting down the natural processes of its former guiding principles which included the prioritization of objective (over subjective) truth.
“Universities are diverse in all that touches race, ethnicity and gender. What is lacking is intellectual diversity, virtually proscribed in the academic community. From their ivory towers our leftist ecclesiastics rigorously monitor the four credos from which no dissent is permitted: relativism (each to his own “truth” except the truth of relativism, which is absolute), feminism, postcolonialism and multiculturalism (the rights of cultures trump the achievements of civilization).” -BK
If these ideas were taught alongside all other ideas, there would be no issue. The problem is that postmodern ideologies most often manifest as “grievance,” which inspires and deploys aggressive activism leading to the silencing of criticism, and the destruction of disciplines and schools of thought not prepared to withstand the onslaught of ideological identity politics. Academics like Frances Widdowson, are the arch-nemesis of those who have adopted this postmodern ideological conception of scholarship.
There is a danger in silencing unpopular opinions; Barbara Kay’s essay provides an example in “one of the greatest sociological scandals of the 20th century...the shunning of Daniel Patrick Moynihan.”
“In 1965 he (Moynihan) wrote a forceful essay warning about the disintegration of marriage and the family amongst poor blacks, prophesying (accurately) that single motherhood and reliance on welfare would lead to total dysfunction in poor black communities. He was shunned at Harvard as a racist. Open-minded inquiry into the problems of Blacks trapped in poverty cycles was simply shut down and only in recent years have liberal sociologists grudgingly acknowledged that Moynihan was 100% right.” -BK
Today, Frances Widdowson has been branded a racist (among other things) by similarly intolerant academics who disagree with her. Whereas Widdowson has stated publicly on many occasions that she has no issues with people she disagrees with, and is perfectly happy to go about her academic life attending meetings and asking unpopular questions; her detractors unfortunately do not feel that peacefully co-existing in the same university is possible. This refusal to tolerate or respect opinions or beliefs contrary to their own, provoked Bruce Gilley (professor of political science at Portland State University), to comment in a piece he wrote in Minding The Campus about Widdowson’s case, - “Imagine if scholars who disagreed on the chemical composition of the sun or on the authorship theories of Shakespeare acted in such a censorious fashion.”
“Like all totalitarian movements that have haunted Western civilization, the aboriginal or indigenous movements in former British colonies are in constant rebellion against liberal society, which they disparage as weakening their ethno-nationalist spirit and providing free rein to ideas that challenge their myths, even as they fuel their hatreds using its fruits. Democratic societies deceive themselves if they think that accommodating these indigeno-fascist movements will satiate their demands. So-called “First Nations” activists in Canada are explicit in their desires to tear down liberal society and remake Canada into little more than a rentier state where people who have succeeded in the grubby jostling to be categorized as “natives” live off the fees paid by the majority of hard working Canadians. The self-identification of the movement as composed of permanent and ineluctable victims of the modern Canadian state turns it into a farce of self-absorption and irresponsibility.” - BG
As you can see, Widdowson is not alone in her criticism of Indigenous issues and policies. The accusations of racism she faces have little basis in reality and only distract from what her academic work brings to the discourse on Indigenous issues. Because she asks questions others do not want asked, and because her work contributes to a body of knowledge (despite efforts to delegitimize it), which seek to expose the corrupt mechanisms of the Aboriginal Industry - obfuscated by postmodern ideologies and policies that artificially prop up isolated populations of Indigenous peoples engaged in so-called cultural relativist aspirations - a descent into myth virtually ensures perpetual dependence.
“The Aboriginal Industry is an amalgamation of lawyers, consultants, anthropologists, linguists, accountants and other occupations that thrive on Aboriginal dependence…It is important to point out that the actions of the Aboriginal Industry are not necessarily a case of vulgar opportunism…Many members are not even aware they are part of it. There is no conspiracy being perpetrated by the lawyers, consultants and anthropologists working for Aboriginal organizations. What exists is a natural impulsion to follow material interests, to veer ultimately toward self-interest. It is understandable that Industry members advocate policies that lead to jobs, contracts, and payments to members of their group.” - Frances Widdowson & Albert Howard
It will require quite a few more essays to cover all of the areas of Frances Widdowson’s academic work that illustrate the postmodern woke nonsense guiding the policies supporting the wasteful Aboriginal Industry; the details of her ongoing dispute with Mount Royal University; her plans for future publications; the political economy of neotribal rentierism; her brand new website The Woke Academy; the groups like SAFS, The Rational Space Network, and Lighthouse that Frances organizes with to push back against wokeism; and the overarching implications for the future of academic scholarship and government policy.
This essay is not part one, nor will the next be part two. All essays are designed to stand alone and do not require reading in any particular order. However, the topics I’m interested in are complex and evolving; justice cannot be given (at least by me) in a single essay. This is especially so for the subject of this essay, and of the unapologetic scholarship and activism of Frances Widdowson - The professor who will not be bullied, and will not be silent! On that note…until next time…#IStandWithFrancesWiddowson.
For more on this topic, by this author, try -Postcolonial Theory and Indigenous Traditional Knowledge: Linking Postmodern Identity Politics with Transitional Shifts in Canada’s Political Economy and Media Landscape