Opinion Editorial April, 2024: Almost the Same As Us

opinion editorial
Any opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the policies of The Peoples of the World Foundation. Unless otherwise noted, the author and photographer is Dr. Ray Waddington.

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When Richard Beauvais and Eddy Ambrose were accidentally switched at birth almost seventy years ago, it meant that their 'family' was, unknowingly, their foster family. Last month, the Premier of the Canadian province of Manitoba — where the mix up happened — apologized to both men.

According to much of the mainstream media, last month, Ambrose is indigenous and Beauvais is white. Why, then, did both foster families not immediately notice that something was wrong?

The answer lies partly in an article published by Reuters last month. It covers the fascinating story of a group of indigenous Aymara women who soon hope to climb Mount Everest. For the article, Reuters interviewed Elena Quispe Tincutaw who said, of the indigenous Sherpas: "[They] are almost the same as us."

Beauvais and Ambrose did not need to know who was 'white' and who was 'indigenous' to know whether either was "almost the same as" them. Their foster families simply accepted, without question, that they were "the same as us."

Genetic testing has now proven that Beauvais and Ambrose were switched at birth. What is our reaction? That is an interesting question. How would you react, after so long, on discovering that you were switched at birth with a different baby?

That thought experiment leads us to the question: What does it mean today to be indigenous?

Last month, we gained some insight into the answer. In a paper published in Nature Communications, we learned that the ancient ancestors of the Aymara mountain climbers, Beauvais, Ambrose and most of the world's current population lived almost sedentary for thousands of years in the Persian Plateau. If that research is confirmed, it means that the genetic differences between Beauvais and Ambrose had a maximum of around 45,000 years to appear.

Their true genetic diversity is even more limited. Only about a thousand years ago did humans of European origin first travel directly to the Americas; only about two hundred years ago did they begin doing so in large numbers. Still, both Beauvais and Ambrose have recent European heritage in their ancestry.

The girls in this month's photo may not appear to be "almost the same as us" who are reading this. They are Cherokee girls attending an event in Cherokee in North Carolina in the United States. There were people from many indigenous groups present that day. None of them paused to observe that the others were "almost the same as us."

When we look at the world's current conflicts, we see that they are taking place between people who are "almost the same as us." Whether the differences are ones of religion, politics, skin tone, language, culture or other surface characteristics, we seem unable to get beyond the "almost," and we often use that to justify war. Perhaps, if we considered the indigenous aspect of everyone's heritage, we might make that final leap and realize that others are actually "the same as us."

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