Penticton (British Columbia Newspaper Group), Dec. 31
The year 2004 ends with a major story in archaeology, revealed by the use of new DNA technology on ancient bison bones scattered around western North America.
The findings profoundly affect our understanding of how North America was populated by humans, and could have an impact on aboriginal politics as well.
The conventional wisdom, taught to generations in school, speaks of a land bridge connecting Asia with Alaska. This now-submerged bridge was created by lower sea levels in the last ice age, which ended about 8,500 years ago. It was postulated that prehistoric tribes followed herds of migrating big animals down through an ice-free corridor roughly along the Rocky Mountains, eventually reaching all points of the continent and establishing what are now revered as the First Nations.
It is now becoming clear that this conventional wisdom is wrong, or at least woefully incomplete.
Lionel Jackson of the Geological Survey of Canada and Mike Wilson of Douglas College gave a talk on the latest findings Dec. 7 at the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre in Vancouver. Their work relates to DNA findings from an Oxford University team that focused on bison, the most widespread and persistent large animals of the era.
Two big points come out of the Oxford study: Bison were in decline, for reasons not yet clear, as much as 10,000 years before ice and human hunters put pressure on them, and the ice-free corridor was closed at least during the peak of the ice age. Isolated from the rest of the continent by glaciers, the northern bison died out. All of today’s bison are descendants of a small southern group that eventually spread back up north.
It follows that nomadic hunting people may also have populated Western Canada from the south.
Indeed, this south-to-north migration theory has been around for a while, but hasn’t had much media attention. Jon Driver, a researcher at SFU who studied bones and artifacts in Charlie Lake Cave near Fort St. John, reached this conclusion in 1996:
“All of the available evidence suggests that the peopling of the western interior of Canada in the post-glacial period occurred from the south.”
The Oxford DNA result strongly suggests that Driver was right.
Other scientific studies are also poking holes in the accepted patterns of human migration. November’s Smithsonian magazine reports on several discoveries that are too old to be explained by an ice-free corridor that formed only 12,000 years ago, such as the Gault site in central Texas. Elsewhere, high cliffs that would have been above the ice level suggest pockets of life that may have survived through ice ages.
As the Smithsonian article notes, it’s also becoming more popular to look at boats as the means of humanity’s spread. Skin boats used by Inuit whalers suggest the technology has been around for a long time, in reach of stone-age hunters and migrations could thus have come from Europe as well as Asia. The Europeans-first idea is described as “radical” and “heretical” by Smithsonian, but it’s supported by startling similarities in stone-tool technology from Europe and North America.
At the Vancouver lecture, I asked Mike Wilson of Douglas College what he thought of the fuss made over Kennewick Man, the European-looking fellow with a stone spearpoint in his hip who was found on an eroding bank of the Columbia River near Kennewick, Wash. in 1996. Wilson shrugged the story off as mostly media hype, noting that Kennewick Man is a mere 9,000 years old and that Asia wasn’t as genetically homogenous back then as people tend to assume.
So what does all this mean for aboriginal politics in Canada?
Well, today’s cultural preservation dogma demands a rigid system of communal land ownership. This communal system, which is a proven, ongoing disaster, is strictly race-based. The idea of multiple migrations of overlapping races, in an ebb and flow over millennia, doesn’t sit well with the First Nations power structure that reaps the benefit of the status quo.
Canada’s race-based politics are simply wrongheaded. They perpetuate division by awarding more and more special rights to certain people. And these policies are based on a racial occupation theory that is slowly unravelling, as science makes its slow and steady march toward the truth.
(Posted on January 3, 2005)