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Canada’s Altruistic Apartheid

Sanctioned racial essentialism for Aboriginals, mandatory multiculturalism for everyone else.

· 9 min read
Canada’s Altruistic Apartheid
Canadian Aboriginals at a pow wow held in honour of the visit of the Duke of Cornwall and York, Calgary, Alta., September 28, 1901. Library and Archives Canada

There’s a charming Norman Rockwell illustration from 1959, Family Tree, of an imagined descent that includes a pirate and a señorita, a prim Puritan couple, a cowboy and a saloon dancer, and a prospector and his Indian bride; the modern inheritor of this ancestry is depicted as an all-American redheaded little boy.

Norman Rockwell's Family Tree (1959), WikiArt

Whatever its artistic merit, the painting reflects the common conceit of distant Native roots held by millions of ostensibly non-Native people. Many North Americans have cited such extraction as a conversation piece, an exotic mark of character, or just an intriguing bit of genealogy: among them are singers Cher and Beyoncé, actor Johnny Depp, rockers Jimi Hendrix and Robbie Robertson, baseball great Johnny Bench, and numerous others.

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