Frances Widdowson says she’s misunderstood.
The co-author of the surprise bestseller Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry, the Deception behind Indigenous Cultural Preservation was in Winnipeg on Friday to defend the book that’s outraged aboriginal groups across the country.
“I’m hoping to clarify some of my positions,” Widdowson said at a lunch sponsored by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, a local conservative think-tank.
“I hope it (the book) won’t be seen as an attack on aboriginal people. It’s an attack on non-aboriginal people who are running the industry, the lawyers and consultants who work for chiefs and councils,” Widdowson said
But outside the Winnipeg Convention Centre on Friday, about 20 aboriginal women sang ceremonial songs to the accompaniment of hand drums. They said they want to celebrate the culture they believe the book attacks in the process of exposing corruption.
“We’re spiritually based people. Whether she calls it mythology and says it can’t be proven scientifically, these are our cultural beliefs, our belief system,” Winnipeg aboriginal elder Mae Louise Campbell said.
“As an academic, she has to come out of her head. We had to at least come and make a protest, a gentle one.”
Campbell said aboriginal people are outraged with the book’s outdated anthropological attitudes. One man said if the author had made anti-Semite remarks, she’d be facing hate charges.
Lunch organizers said they’re just as eager to open debate about the costs of the multibillion industry that’s grown up around aboriginal rights disputes.
It’s too bad corruption is exposed at the expense of the culture, one aboriginal man said.
“I work for the Frontier Centre and there are problems on First Nations, a lot of mismanagement, a lot of people are hired who not qualified to do the job and a lot of nepotism,” said Mervin Key, a member of the Ojibway Key First Nation in Saskatchewan.
The Key First Nation accepted a $21-million land claim settlement based on a 2007 referendum result even though it included votes from 25 deceased band members, Key said.
“It went through (even though) my family hired a lawyer to get an injunction.”
In the end, the injunction failed and the vote stood.
But as an aboriginal Canadian, Key said he draws a marked distinction between the corruption and poverty he sees at home and the culture his ancestors bequeathed.
Before her speech, Widdowson was introduced as a “hot potato.” Afterward, the consensus was she came off as dignified and fair. People who expected to hate her said she impressed them.
The first run of 2,000 copies of the book is sold out, but McGill-Queen’s University Press is printing a second run.