29 December 2014
In the last forty years, Aboriginal history has undergone important changes.
Previous to 1970, history was written from a nationalistic viewpoint, leaving little room for interpretation or differing perspectives. Due to this “our knowledge is subjective, open to interpretation, and in a continuous process of revision.” 1 It is through these revisions and expanding consciousness there has been, and will continue to be, significant rewrites of Aboriginal history.
Depending on which lens the historian is using, the accounting will result in a report predisposed to his or her school of thought. An example of this would be information gleaned by anthropologist and ethnographer James Teit and given to Franz
Boaz. For approximately 19 years, between 1898 and 1917, Teit recorded oral history given to him by the Nlaka'pamux people, (and others) from southcentral British
Columbia. Teit was contacted by Boaz, also an anthropologist, who was collecting information on Natives. Teit sent his works to Boaz, who then “highlighted those
(writings) that he believed to be the ancient ancestral stories and he downplayed stories about current events, personal experiences, nineteenthcentury epidemics, explorers, technology and religious ideas.” 2 Previous to the historical revisionism movement, this choice made by Boaz would have gone unchallenged. However, there are now numerous disciplines that question singular perspectives, as well as the motives of the
R.Douglas Francis and others, Origins: Canadian History to Confederation,7th ed. (Toronto:Nelson
Education, 2013), p. xxv 2 Wendy C. Wickwire, “To See Ourselves as the Other’s Other: Nlaka’pamux Contact Narratives,” Readings in Canadian History: PreConfederation, eds. R. Douglas Francis and Donald B. Smith, 7th ed. (Toronto
Nelson Learning, 2007), p. 48
writer. Because of this, we currently have more complete and compelling information available, which allows for comparison and contrast. Indeed, without this, there would only be Simon Fraser’s account of the Native people in Camchin (Lytton), which is given only from his perspective. It seems Fraser suffered with selective memory, as his accounting was slanted and missing information. This becomes clear when studying the oral reports from Indigenous peoples, which have many common threads to
Fraser’s, plus new information. Differing perspectives gift the reader with new outlook and enriches our understanding of history. Without fresh interpretations and new information, the tunnelvision of the nationalistic school of thought would have us believe that there is only ‘their’ truth. If perspectives remained this way, there would be no revision of history and we would be unable to see the bigger, more complete picture.
Historical Revisionism comes from asking questions and gaining new information. This is crucial to understand, and is perhaps said best by Pulitzer Prize winning historian James McPherson. He stated:
... know that revision is the lifeblood of historical scholarship. History is a continuing dialogue between the present and the past. Interpretations of the past are subject to change in response to new evidence, new questions asked of the evidence, new perspectives gained by the passage of time. There is no single, eternal, and immutable "truth" about past events and their meaning. The unending quest of historians for understanding the past—that is,