Response to: We began this unit by discussing assumptions and differences that we carry into our class. In “First Contact as Spiritual Performance,” Lutz makes an assumption about his readers (Lutz, “First Contact” 32). He asks us to begin with the assumption that comprehending the performances of the Indigenous participants is “one of the most obvious difficulties.” He explains that this is so because “one must of necessity enter a world that is distant in time and alien in culture, attempting to perceive indigenous performance through their eyes as well as those of the Europeans.” Here, Lutz is assuming either that his readers belong to the European tradition, or he is assuming that it is more difficult for a European to understand Indigenous performances – than the other way around. What do you make of this reading? Am I being fair when I point to this assumption? If so, is Lutz being fair when he makes this assumption? (Paterson)
Lutz’s article makes two basic assumptions about the readers of his work. The first assumption is that the reader finds Indigenous cultures “distant in time and alien in culture” (Lutz 32), and that understanding these cultures is a challenge that can be met, but “only partially” (Lutz 32). The second assumption Lutz makes in this article is that all of his readers come from a European cultural background, and in particular, that none of his readers could come from the “distant world” of Indigenous peoples and cultures.
Because Lutz is an academic, and because his work is accessible through the University of Victoria’s online platform, he is certainly aware that the main audience for his literature is comprised of other individuals in the field of academe, of a which a large percentage are university students. By stating that Indigenous cultures are hard to understand for the European reader, he assumes firstly that his academic audience is of exclusively European heritage, and, by extension, that no one of Indigenous heritage is a part of the academic community.
This assumption, whether or not it was intentional, feeds into a long line of othering Indigenous peoples. Othering is “the process of casting a group, an individual, or an object into the role of the ‘other’ and establishing one’s own identity through opposition to and, frequently, vilification of this Other” (Gabriel). By calling the cultures of Indigenous peoples “alien”, and using vague descriptors such as “the Natives” (Lutz 32), “Indigenous peoples on the northwest coast” (Lutz 35) and “[west coast] native and stranger” (Lutz 42), painting the many different subsets of culture that layer into the Indigenous experience into a one-dimensional group, and furthers to other Indigenous peoples by not differentiating them to his assumed Eurocentric audience.
Unfortunately, though Lutz’s assumption that his reader is not of Aboriginal descent is inherently problematic, it is rooted in fact. According to a study at the University of British Columbia, out of the Aboriginal students who graduated from British Columbia high schools between 2002 and 2006, only 16% transitioned to a British Columbia university, as compared to 37% of their non-Aboriginal peers. Furthermore, only 2% of UBC’s 2013 undergraduate population identified as Aboriginal, whereas 5.4% of British Columbia residents identified as Aboriginal according to a National Household Survey from the same year.
This disparity between the general Aboriginal population and the Aboriginal population in places of higher education is rooted in Canada’s systemically racist society, which can be traced back to the residential school systems and the “first contact” that Lutz’s article describes. Ultimately, this systemic disadvantage is reflected in a variety of aspects of Canada’s culture, from university enrollment to the assumption that to be an academic, you’ve got to be white.
“Infoline Blog: Aboriginal Population.” BC Stats. BC Stats, 16 Sept. 2013. Web. 12 June 2015.
Farrar, David. University of British Columbia 2013 Annual Report on Enrolment: Vancouver Campus. Vancouver: U of British Columbia, 2013. Print.
Gabriel, Yiannis. “The Other and Othering: A Short Introduction.” Yiannis Gabriel. 9 Sept. 2012. Web. 12 June 2015.
Lutz, John. “First Contact as a Spiritual Performance: Aboriginal — Non-Aboriginal Encounters on the North American West Coast.” Myth and Memory: Rethinking Stories of Indigenous-European Contact. Ed. Lutz. Vancouver: U of British Columbia P, 2007. 30-45. Print.