Presentation Highlighted The Role of Language In Growth of Western Civilization
On the evening of February 28th, noted indigenous peoples scholar Robert Williams, Jr. presented a lecture that both challenged and entertained the audience made up of members of the Gonzaga, Gonzaga Law, and larger Spokane community. The presentation, titled after Williams’ newest book Savage Anxieties: The Invention of Western Civilization traced the path of the idea of a savage from early Greek colonization and forward through history to the modern day.
Tracing the History of Colonizing Language
“It was as early as 500 B.C. when the Odyssey was written that the categories used to define a ‘savage’ were first laid out,” explained Williams. He then moved on to explain that the same language first written down in the works of the Greeks was alter used, almost word for word, by Amerigo Vespuchi, Colombus, Adam Smith, George Washington and other well-known figures of Western Civilization. “In order to define the rational, Greek philosophy had to justify what they saw as not rational or ideal, and so the idea of a savage was created.”
Examining the Modern Impact
Throughout his presentation, Williams also highlighted that this historical language has a real-world, modern-day impact. “This language allows power to be organized around groups seen as outsiders. When Chief Justice Marshall’s opinion in Johnson v McIntosh is still cited today, it shows there is work to be done.” This point was further highlighted by research Williams presented on the psychological and social impacts of the language of the savage on children and teens, and the habituation to images of both the “noble savage” and “fierce savage” in modern pop culture.
An Engaging Lecture On Tough Topics
Though the topic areas Williams discussed are often very difficult, his presentation kept the audience laughing and smiling through out. Jane Korn, Dean of the Law School, commented that “Robert Williams is an excellent speaker, and we were honored to have him speak here at Gonzaga Law this evening. I very much look forward to reading his book.”
The lecture was sponsored by the Gonzaga University School of Law, Gonzaga University Center for American Indian Studies, Gonzaga University Native American Law Students Association, and the Alliance for Social Justice.
Today, Friday, March 1st, Williams is presenting a Continuing Legal Education class entitled “Tribal Jurisdiction and Indigenous Peoples’ Human Rights in a Globalizing 21st Century Legal World Order.” that is sponsored by the Spokane County Bar Association Indian Law Section and Gonzaga University School of Law.