New Perspective on Ancient Petroglyph Damage
Richard Bartholomew printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sat Oct 07, 2006 at 05:57:33 AM EST
Archaeologist: "Injustice" of accusation against Christian Inuits
A month after news of damage to the Qajartalik petroglyphs in Northern Canada, the archaeologist at the centre of the controversy has written to the Nunatsiaq News. Daniel Gendron was described in the paper in August as suspecting that the vandalism "was a religiously motivated attack by devout Christians from a nearby Inuit community", and as believing that it
follows the pattern of previous attacks by members of what he called "a very strong movement" of conservative Christians in Kangiqsujuaq and several other Inuit communities in northern Quebec

Now, however, Gendron is adamant that he said no such thing when he was interviewed by reporter Randy Boswell:
...we had no clue as to the extent of the damage and who were responsible for it, and we still don't know. I then told him of the history surrounding the discoveries of the site in the 1960s, and the description the Catholic missionary of the time gave of the petroglyphs as reminiscent of "devil" faces.

Other events in the mid-1990s were also documented and published. One of these events, was a message in syllabics and defacing of some of the petroglyphs alerting to the "evilness!" of the place. I also mentioned that some individuals were reluctant to set foot on the island because they were told that the place was "evil."

There was also more mundane damage, such as some graffiti left by teenagers who actually signed their initials on one of the soapstone panels. Soapstone quality testing (where one individual will take away small pieces to verify the quality of the rock) was until recently the most frequent and recurring damage to the site.

So, there was one religiously-motivated attack of unknown origin in the mid 1990s, rather than a "pattern of previous attacks" by members of the latest religious revival, as alleged in Boswell's article. Gendron adds:

...rumours prove nothing, and should remain unpublished until proof is brought forth I do find regrettable that this has come out in this way.

...My intent has never been to blame innocent people, and I do apologize to the entire Nunavik population for this, and especially to the Kangirsujuammiut.

I hope that this note will correct some of the injustice that might have come out of the initial publication of the news, and that these recent discussions on the uncertain future of this site will help in having it officially recognized and protected.

The letter was published on 29 September, and does not appear to be archived on the Nunatsiaq News website; given its importance I have therefore reposted it in its entirety here.

When news of the damage broke, I wrote two pieces that investigated the nature of the religious revival in the area; one on my blog, and one here at Talk to Action (which I have now edited to include this new information). This led to bitter complaints from Mike Somerville and Roger Armbruster, two missionaries who work in the area, that I was "kind of racist" and that I had maligned a whole community through "insinuation" simply because I had repeated and discussed the published accusation which appeared to have come from an authoritative source, and which I did not claim was more than a suspicion that community leaders had rejected. The full exchange can be seen here.

Naturally, had I had reason to believe that Gendron had been misrepresented I would have worded things differently, and I would have considered Pentecostal involvement in the damage to be less likely than I originally indicated. I believe that I provided as fair and as accurate an account by an outsider blogger as could be expected, but it is always regrettable to find that one has been a conduit for inaccurate information. Therefore, in so far as I drew inferences based on Randy Boswell's dubious reporting, I apologise.

(One of the two missionaries, Roger Ambruster, brought the letter to my attention)

My opinion is that they are only covering their asses.  I have gotten to where I dispise most missionaries.  Their goal (in their minds) is bringing Christ to people who don't know him.  That is what they say they do to us.

My tribe's traditional religion KNOWS Christ.  Missionaries come in and try to destroy OUR CHRISTIANITY.  What they don't understand is automatically called devil worship or witchcraft.  I've heard that numerous times!!!

Indiginous christians from other areas have reported the same thing- especially when fundie churches send in missionaries to areas that have been "converted" to, for instance, the Catholic church.

What almost all missionaries bring is destruction of cultures not like their own!!!

The only missionizing I consider Christian is where they go in (keeping their mouths SHUT) to help people.  They should let their actions speak rather than tearing down cultures they don't understand.  Indiginous groups that I know are SICK of missionaries.  They come in and talk talk talk, sowing discord, trouble, and misery.  They also usually TAKE TAKE TAKE, wanting the best land for their churches, the free labor of the people, and so on.

We also have missionaries who come on our campus.  They rant and rave at the young people, calling the young girls "whores" and "sluts".  They condemn us all to hell, and tell us to repent, because we are seeking knowledge rather than blindly following their beliefs.  They accuse us of devil worship and worshipping false gods.

They especially get nasty and hostile towards moslem students (pointedly the girls) and have been known to hound  and point out individuals they sense are hurting or dealing with issues.

They even preached one time (according to a friend) that if you talked to your pets, you were going to hell.

Regarding the destruction of the petroglyphs (actually, they sound more like petrographs- pictures), I've been aware and disgusted by this for a long time.  Part of that tribe's HISTORY AND HERITAGE was erased by the ignorant stupid destructive people who did that!
The destruction fits in perfectly with the known preaching and behavior of missionaries (especially fundamentalist) around the world.

I accept what the archaeologist said, but I strongly suspect the loudly squealing pigs.

(Please excuse the language, I'm only repeating what MISSIONARIES CALL OUR YOUNG WOMEN!)

by ArchaeoBob on Sat Oct 07, 2006 at 10:53:24 AM EST

The end of this story.

Richard, I'm curious now whether or not we'll get a statement from Randy Boswell to clarify the confusion. There is such a gulf between how the Nunutsiaq News story on the Petroglyph defacement presented Daniel Gendron's statements and what Gendron now says he said to Boswell that I'm suspicious there's more to this than we now know.

There also seems to be considerable ambiguity on the petroglyphs themselves.

In a statement that seems far less ambiguous than Gendron's ( corrected ) one, Randy Boswell, in a CanWest News Servicerelease from August 26, 2006, quoted Robert Frechette, on the extent of damage to the petroglyphs :

"This is a world-class site," a despondent Robert Frechette, director of the nearby Pingualuit provincial park in the Nunavik region of northern Quebec, told CanWest News Service on Friday.

"I first visited the island 12 years ago and I can see that every time it's deteriorated," he said, describing how tourist looting and natural erosion of the site's soft soapstone first prompted preservation proposals in the 1990s.

"But this time I was quite amazed. Someone has taken some parts of the rock away. There's graffiti. And someone has been carving with an axe or something sharp in the grooves of the faces. It's pretty bad."

The attribution of the vandalism to local Christians seemed unwarranted, and that - in any case - would be very hard if not impossible to prove even if the charge were true.

by Bruce Wilson on Sat Oct 07, 2006 at 01:39:31 PM EST

I'm with Bruce in thinking the whole story isn't coming out--and I'd even suspect some sort of spin control coming from the dominionist side, but that's on account because of what I've seen before from neopente dominionists (who've told people to dispose of, among other things, carved animal fetish stones or touristy stuff with images of thunderbirds because that's "opening doorways for Satan").

Even if this doesn't turn out to be dominionist-related, though, there IS a pattern of especially the "spiritual warfare" neopente crowd targeting traditional religions and beliefs.  Bob has made a very good point on how traditional religion has been targeted (and what those missionaries do, especially in South America, borders literally on genocide--people have been rounded up at gunpoint and corraled into missions by New Tribes Missions, among others).

Even in the US, where traditional religion is still having a hard time getting recognised legally, there are incidents of neopentecostal groups that have deliberately attempted to interfere with religious ceremonies of First Nation peoples (in California, for instance, the Yurok people have recorded incidents where a nearby neopente church has attempted to disrupt the White Deer Dance--only recently resarted after Native American spirituality was "re-legalised"--amazingly, this is even described in a film at the Museum of the American Indian; other groups have described attempts by "prayer gangs" to disrupt traditional ceremonies).

So, sadly, I wouldn't put it past dominionist groups to try to deface something like this.  I myself know all too well the results of what happens when dominionists get hold of a native group--pretty much the original culture is demonised.  (My sister and I are about the only ones left in our family that are really into researching our heritage--even though half my family looks like they just stepped off the Qualla Boundary and I've literally had "earth mother" types ask me to perform rain dances (!!!) (not like I KNOW any, not like my people ever HAD rain dances, LOL).  My dominionist mom kinda wishes we'd leave the whole thing alone, and I think she'd try to exorcise me if she knew of me venerating things in the old way.)

by dogemperor on Sat Oct 07, 2006 at 08:46:54 PM EST

where the leader has expressed extreme displeasure with the Square Ground being active.  He considers it to be non-Christian and wrong.  There, sadly, is some discord and even a bit of a split in our tribe- although many of us attend church as well as the square ground (without any spiritual conflicts except with the fundies).  You can do both- but I've been burned too many times by the eurocentric churches to be comfortable in them.

Cesvs (Jesus, or Teyose as some of us call Him) is preached on the square.

What is wild is that we actually have problems from both sides- the newagers have actually tried to take over a ceremony to make us do it the way they thought it should be done (I WAS PRESENT AND WITNESSED IT), and the churches try to shut us down.   The people we're farthest from try to claim us, and the people we're closest to in belief reject us.  Go figure!

I've heard tales from other tribes of neopente and AG attempts to disrupt ceremony.  They don't understand what is going on, and especially what they are doing.  They, by their actions, are dishonoring the God they claim to worship.

I'd bet that the White Deer dance started about the time our first "legal" square ground started up- after 1980.  Before then, everything was in hiding.

I'm glad you've seeking your traditions and trying to learn them.  I know there are some good squares on the Cherokee rez (and off as well).  My direct paternal line is Cherokee/Muskogee- direct from David Taylor on the Cherokee rolls.

by ArchaeoBob on Sat Oct 07, 2006 at 11:46:03 PM EST

The fundies convinced a young lady of our tribe that "indian stuff" was heathen and evil, and she destroyed all of her ceremonial dresses and gear.

It had taken her family a long time to make them for her, and they were extremely valuable.  She no longer associates with her own people (in our thinking- HER OWN FAMILY).

Me?  I regularly wore my traditional clothing to church- a Coosa Longshirt, turban, tie belt, mocs, and ceremonial jewelry (VERY comfortable).  I wear a traditionally styled ribbon shirt regularly to school (and to church on less special days).

Some of the more conservative people objected (and tried to force me to conform), but the pastor and others liked it.

by ArchaeoBob on Sat Oct 07, 2006 at 11:53:13 PM EST

by Bruce Wilson on Sun Oct 08, 2006 at 12:20:37 AM EST

This is all interesting stuff. The fact is we'll almost certainly never know who damaged the petroglyphs, or why. The missionaries who contacted me were adamant that the local community would never have damaged property that did not belong to them; I countered that all we're considering is the possibility that someone from the community may have crossed the line, without the endosrement of community leaders. That may still have been what happened, although there has not been the "pattern of attacks" originally claimed, and other suspects (e.g. passing tourists etc) have been brought into the frame. What seemed to be a real probability (due to Randy Boswell's poor reporting) now therefore, in all fairness, has to be downgraded to speculation.

The unhappy experiences the above commentators have related find parallels in the case of Africa. Here's the abstract to an article by Rosalind Hackett:

Discourses of Demonization in Africa and Beyond

Recent theoretical perspectives on religion and violence and on cultural difference are grounded within a discussion of the discourses of demonism and satanism which have become increasingly prevalent in many parts of Africa today. These stem primarily from the popular deliverance-oriented Pentecostal ministries which flourish in countries like Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa. Such movements are prone to violent condemnations of other (competing) religious options, in particular, traditional African religions. The article links these local expressions of 'spiritual warfare' to more globalizing discourses of satanism, and points to the deleterious effects of such religious orientations for civil society, religious pluralism and freedom of religion.

by Richard Bartholomew on Sun Oct 08, 2006 at 03:52:44 AM EST

Richard, this is cheers, alias Roger Armbruster.  I want to confirm my respect for your honesty and objectivity, and willingness to go with the evidence.

Unfortunately, many of the comments on here seem to be quite subjective and speculative.  I agree that missionaries have made many mistakes, and have often sinned against indigenous tribes.  And I am so sorry about that.

However, we are living in a new day, where I believe that God is restoring indigenous language and culture, and that a person's faith not only can but should be expressed within their own ethnicity and language.

This is what is happening among the Inuit.  The churches of the north are self-governing, self-supporting and self-reproducing, and people like myself are in submission to their authority on their territory.  My only role is to try to give them a voice, and make them feel like equals among other people groups and nationalities.

I repent on behalf of those who have misrepresented God in the past, and am really sad to see horror stories about how the church has too often been an instrument of the state to impose policies of paternalism and assimilation.  This is very wrong, as it devalues other humans as less than we are.

Yes, the church has been abusive within the context of much past history.  I will freely admit that.  But let's not forget that within the context of this story, that it is the journalist Randy Boswell who has really abused the Inuit, and has made serious charges against them for which there is no particular reason to point the finger in any one direction.

Let's all just agree that vandalism is a crime.  However, archeologist Daniel Gendron admits that he has "no clue as to the extent of the damage" or "who were responsible it."

So let's not get all paranoid here.  There was one case years ago that may have been religiously motivated, but according to Mayor Mary Pilurtuut of Kangiqsujuaq, the community that was implicated, "recently this has not been the case."

In more recent years, there is evidence of vandalism having taken place, or the removing of stones from the site by tourists on cruise ships, a class of school children from a near-by community, or graffiti left by teenagers who actually signed their initials on some of the soapstone panels.

According to archeologist Gendron, "Soapstone quality testing (where one individual will take away small pieces to verify the quality of the rock) was until recently the most frequent and recurring damage to the site."  This, of course, is in addition to some deterioration that is simply the result of, in the words of Jane George of the Nunatsiaq News, "natural processes such as water and wind erosion."

Jane George has also said, "Researchers returned to the island in the 1970's, but residents of Kangiqsujuaq declared a moratorium on further study after someone removed a block of stone from the island."  These are the residents of the same community that has now been accused of the vandalism.

Jane George has also stated, "Carvers used to take soapstone from the outcrop for carvings; and students on a school day trip from a nearby community damaged the site in 1995."

So damage on the site cannot be attributed to any one source or identifiable group, and the attempt to point the finger at "Christian zealots" was seemingly the fabrication of Randy Boswell of the CanWest News Service.

So Richard, I thank you again for going with the evidence, and I respect your honesty greatly.

by cheers on Sun Oct 08, 2006 at 09:04:33 PM EST

"cheers", the persecution of our cultures is NOT just something that happened in the past- it reached a nadar and seems to be increasing recently.  The driving force is fundamentalism, trying to change what isn't "like them" or that they don't understand.  

Indeed, I would say that discrimination was largely driven underground and became covert instead of de jure and overt (although that is still very much the case in many areas).

I've found that, as I put it, you scratch the surface of a fundamentalist and bigotry tends to ooze out.

by ArchaeoBob on Wed Oct 11, 2006 at 08:03:16 PM EST

With respect, I think it's a bit more complicated than that in this case, whatever appalling events may have taken place elsewhere. According to reports, most of Qajartalik had descended into alcoholism before the Pentecostal revival got underway, so it seems that modernity and capitalism had already corroded a traditional culture. I'm not particularly keen on the political consequences of this religious revival, but I think we have to acknowledge that individuals have agency, and that it's by no means clear that those who have chosen to become Pentecostalists are no more than victims of cultural imperialism.

by Richard Bartholomew on Fri Oct 13, 2006 at 09:06:16 AM EST
Whoops, I meant "Kangiqsujuaq", not "Qajartalik", which is uninhabited

by Richard Bartholomew on Fri Oct 20, 2006 at 07:14:38 PM EST

Richard, in going over your last comment a second time, I find that I am still somewhat confused and puzzled by your remarks.

You say, on the one hand, that even before you knew of Daniel Gendron's letter to the Nunatsiaq News, that you were trying to tell me that "all we're considering is the possibility that someone from the community may have crossed the line, without the endorsement of community leaders."

Surely that is equivalent to saying that all that you ever considered or were trying to say is that this was never anything more than speculation and mere suspicion in your mind.  This was defintely the impression that you left with me.

Yet, now, I am puzzled to see you say in the next breath that before you knew of Gendron's letter, that you considered the involvement of Christian Inuit, not as a mere "possibility" but as "a real probability."

You say, in the next breath, "What seemed like a reall probability (due to Randy Bo0swell's poor reporting) now, therefore, in all fairness, has to be downgraded to speculation."

I had understood you to say that you had thought this to be mere possibility or speculation all along.  Now you are saying that the case you had tried to build has to be "downgraded" to speculation.

How can something be "downgraded" to speculation when it was only speculation to start with?

by cheers on Mon Oct 09, 2006 at 09:28:42 AM EST

My assessment of there being "a real probability" was based on the report of there having been "a pattern of previous attacks" committed by the movement. My subsequent reassessment of the likelihood of a religiously-motivated attack was based on discovering that there had in fact been no such pattern.

by Richard Bartholomew on Fri Oct 13, 2006 at 08:46:31 AM EST

Hi Richard!

The correspondence that I have received from Daniel Gendron goes like this.  It was written in response to a CanWest News Service response that Mr. Gendron had not contacted them.  Well, here is what he wrote to me:

"Mr. Armbruster,

"Thank you for this info. The letter that was published in the Nunatsiaq News was submitted to the CANWEST GROUP but they never acknowledged it.

"The whole issue stems from a hypothetical discussion based on the fact that
in 1995, there was an incident involving one or more individuals of religious leaning that left some minimal damage and a message to the effect that the site was evil. When asked if the supposed new damage may have been
done by a similar group, I answered it was possible because there is a strong religious movement in Nunavik, but it was also possible that it could be anybody else happening to be in the area at the time. In my position, I have to look into all possibilities, and I would not ignore facts. However, in this case there is no fact to talk about.

"The main issue is that from the first moments of the interview, all that was said was hypothetical and should not have been presented in the paper at all since there was only presumption of damage. Boswell himself never said he would publish an article about a hypothetical situation and make it into a reality. Also, if Boswell taped the interview, which he would have done without my knowledge and without asking for permission first, he would have to admit that my first comment after I told him that the site may have been damaged was that this news is unconfirmed, and that, logically,we had no idea who had done it.

"If the editors reponsible for this publication, and Boswell himself stand by what was written, they are standing by a fictitious news. And as a follow-up, I can tell you that the supposed damage to the site appears to
be much less extensive than was first reported to me.

"Thank you again for your interest in this matter.

"Daniel Gendron

by cheers on Fri Oct 20, 2006 at 05:08:31 PM EST

Interesting. I actually got a hit to my blog from the CanWest Group website. It was password-protected, so I couldn't see the content, but I strongly suspect that Gendron's letter was coming under attention from someone there.

by Richard Bartholomew on Fri Oct 20, 2006 at 07:19:15 PM EST

Richard, with respect, "Qajartalik" is an uninhabited island off the coast of northern Quebec.  

So you statement, "Qajartalik had descended into alcoholism before the Pentecostal revival got underway" once again lacks accurate data.

by cheers on Fri Oct 20, 2006 at 05:14:38 PM EST

Thank you Richard for the service you are doing for the public.  In corresponding with the CanWest News Service, I had used your link to Daniel Gendron's letter as the only way I knew to access the letter, since Nunatsiaq News had apparently removed it from their site.

So I am not surpized if they have been checking out your blog.  It would be interesting to get their comment.

So far, CanWest News Services has been unwilling to contact Daniel Gendron directly, and yet they stand by their reporter's article.  I should think if they really believed Randy Boswell's article would stand up to scrutiny, that they would be publicly challenging Daniel Gendron's letters with a vengeance.  But no, they seem to have no interest in pursuing the matter.

It is sad, really.

by cheers on Sun Oct 22, 2006 at 12:30:51 AM EST

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