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Canadian Notabilities, Volume 1   By: (1841-1888)

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Few tasks are more difficult of accomplishment than the overturning of the ideas and prejudices which have been conceived in our youth, which have grown up with us to mature age, and which have finally become the settled convictions of our manhood. The overturning process is none the less difficult when, as is not seldom the case, those ideas and convictions are widely at variance with facts. Most of us have grown up with very erroneous notions respecting the Indian character notions which have been chiefly derived from the romances of Cooper and his imitators. We have been accustomed to regard the aboriginal red man as an incarnation of treachery and remorseless ferocity, whose favourite recreation is to butcher defenceless women and children in cold blood. A few of us, led away by the stock anecdotes in worthless missionary and Sunday School books, have gone far into the opposite extreme, and have been wont to regard the Indian as the Noble Savage who never forgets a kindness, who is ever ready to return good for evil, and who is so absurdly credulous as to look upon the pale faces as the natural friends and benefactors of his species. Until within the last few years, no pen has ventured to write impartially of the Indian character, and no one has attempted to separate the wheat from the chaff in the generally received accounts which have come down to us from our forefathers. The fact is that the Indian is very much what his white brother has made him. The red man was the original possessor of this continent, the settlement, of which by Europeans sounded the death knell of his sovereignty. The aboriginal could hardly be expected to receive the intruder with open arms, even if the latter had acted up to his professions of peace and good will. It would have argued a spirit of contemptible abjectness and faintness of heart if the Indian had submitted without a murmur to the gradual encroachments of the foreigner, even if the latter had adopted a uniform policy of mildness and conciliation. But the invader adopted no such policy. Not satisfied with taking forcible possession of the soil, he took the first steps in that long, sickening course of treachery and cruelty which has caused the chronicles of the white conquest in America to be written in characters of blood. The first and most hideous butcheries were committed by the whites. And if the Indians did not tamely submit to the yoke sought to be imposed upon their necks, they only acted as human beings, civilized and uncivilized, have always acted upon like provocation. Those who have characterized the Indian as inhuman and fiendish because he put his prisoners to the torture, seem to have forgotten that the wildest accounts of Indian ferocity pale beside the undoubtedly true accounts of the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition. Christian Spain nay, even Christian England tortured prisoners with a diabolical ingenuity which never entered into the heart of a pagan Indian to conceive. And on this continent, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, men of English stock performed prodigies of cruelty to which parallels can be found in the history of the Inquisition alone. For the terrible records of battle, murder, torture and death, of which the history of the early settlement of this continent is so largely made up, the white man and the Christian must be held chiefly responsible. It must, moreover, be remembered that those records have been written by historians, who have had every motive for distorting the truth. All the accounts that have come down to us have been penned by the aggressors themselves, and their immediate descendants. The Indians have had no chronicler to tell their version of the story. We all know how much weight should be attached to a history written by a violent partisan; for instance, a history of the French Revolution, written by one of the House of Bourbon... Continue reading book >>

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