Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian
Chapter 7 – Forget About It
The Inconvenient Indian is a book by American-Canadian writer Thomas King of the Cherokee nation in which he describes the many issues faced by First Nations throughout their shared history with European settlers and descendants. In chapter seven of The Inconvenient Indian, King discusses this much discussed idea that is for the First Nation people to ignore the past and focus on the present. The general idea would be that the current generation cannot be held accountable for the misdeeds of their forefathers and so Indians should devote their energy to building themselves a better future rather than squabble about the past.
King gives the past a generous cut-off year of 1985; generous because there are certainly people alive not who worked against the welfare of the Native people before 1985. Yet, it is also a good date since no one would argue that 1985 is not modern, nor that actions from 1985 would not have repercussions in the 21st century. The author begins the chapter by listing various events which have in some way left a negative memory in the mind of North American Indians. Some of them were outright traumatizing deeds such as Reservation Schools in Canada, which saw priests and nuns physically, sexually, and mentally abusing multiple generations of young Indians. Accounts of this do not miss, with life stories such as They Called Me Number One (Sellars) and Out of the Depths (Knockwood) reminding us just how terrible Native people were treated at school in Canada until very recent years. The list provided by King is substantial and meant to illustrate just how much would have to be forgotten by the First Nations before they could start to build afresh.
The second part of the chapter deals with those events after 1985 that operated and still operate with prejudice against Natives. King for instance discusses how the “two generation cut-off clause” of Bill C-31, an addition to the Indian Act which notably determines who is legally Indian, will lead to a drought in the Native blood pool. That is, unless legal Indians only marry other legal Indians there will ultimately come a time when, because too many non-Indians joined the Indian blood pool, there will be no Indian as per Canadian law. In the same time frame, the Meech Lake Accord of 1987 reinstated Quebec’s (as well as the other provinces’) powers in choosing its immigrants as well as recognizing Quebec as a distinct society. Compounded, these two points enable Quebec to strengthen the position of its relatively culturally homogenous population. The dichotomy of the treatment received by these two societies is what King finds appalling. “Canada was the confluence of three founding people, Aboriginal, English, and French, but [Bill C-31] acknowledged only the English and French streams” (King).
Most of King’s other examples of post-1985 discrimination against Natives display either the Canadian of the American government favouring non-Natives over Natives. In the United States, laws were voted to take advantage of Native businesses such as casinos. However, Native land in the US is mostly sovereign. As such it is not affected by state laws, only federal ones as well as any law voted by respective councils. Gambling in the United States, however, is regulated by states, meaning that any dollar made from Native casinos would not return a cent to the United States government. Using as an excuse the need to provide standards to Indian gaming, the federal government passed a law which, among other things, levied a fee on Indian casinos based on their individual gross revenue (United States Government Publishing Office).
King’s cynicism toward future Native-government agreements is easily perceived in this chapter of The Inconvenient Indian. Indians have been cheated and exploited in the past in the same way that they are being cheated and exploited now. North American governments have a long history of claiming to do things for the good of the Indians only to cheat them out of their land and culture. When the present is just more of the same resented past, it is easy to understand that Natives cannot simply forget about it.
King, Thomas. “The Inconvenient Indian : A Curious Account of Native People in North America.” Toronto: Anchor Canada, 2013. 159-192.
Knockwood, Isabelle. Out of the Depths : The Experiences of Mi’kmaw Children at the Indian Residential School at Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia. Fourth Edition. Black Point: Fernwood Publishing, 2015.
Sellars, Bev. They Called Me Number One : Secrets and Survival at an Indian Residential School. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 2013.
United States Government Publishing Office. “An Act to regulate gaming on Indian lands.” 17 October 1988. Government Publishing Office. 26 March 2016 <https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/STATUTE-102/pdf/STATUTE-102-Pg2467.pdf>.
Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian:
Chapter 4 “One Name to Rule Them All.”
The chapter begins when the author reminds us of a question too many of us have asked: Why don’t all white North Americans kill off all North American Indians?
He then proceeds to say we simply got bored of it; we found something better to do as time went on.
This might be wrong. It likely is because white North Americans became more civilized and understood that the Natives were just as human as they were. Indigenous people were there first and our ancestors took so much away from Natives while they should instead have treated them with respect.
Next, he talks about the dichotomy between savagism and civilization that we accept too easily as obvious. He uses a play, Waiting for Godot, to make a comparison with real life.
Sadly, most of that is true, when talking about Natives, many people act as if they were talking about savages, though lately we may also find people who talk of them as pitiable beings who were mistreated for too long and that should now be protected in extraordinary ways.
In the history between the Europeans and the North American Indians, there has been a lot of exchange and cultural contact. First, when Europeans were fewer, there was a lot of trade, of commerce, but then the Europeans ended up being much greater in number and wars ensued: the Seven Years’ War, the American Revolutionary War, and the War of 1812. After these, Canada and the United States of America were pretty much two nation states as stated by King.
These two nations split the continent in halves, all north of the 49th parallel was Canada’s while all south of it would belong to the United States of America. This included everything, even the people who were not members of either nations.
While the U.S. did take the lands “legally” within their own system, they took it from the Natives by force instead of consent with the U.S. Articles of Confederation and the 1790 Trade and Intercourse Act. These pieces of paper, signed by no indigenous people at all, basically let the U.S. government do whatever it wanted with Indian lands. While it is true that contracts, treaties, acts, and almost all official papers should be respected, making one without both parties involved and consenting is not something that should have been allowed back then, and still should not be now.
Thomas King next states that he cannot find a joke to make about a few decisions the U.S. Supreme Court took in 1823, 1831, and 1832. These three decisions together made the Natives part of the government’s property, as they could not be considered a foreign nation and had no right over their own lands upon which they had lived for far longer than the European settlers. While this may have been legal for the white North Americans, the Indians should have had a right to be free from these laws, as they already had their own lands, since long before the white North Americans got there.
The same thing happened in Canada in 1876 with the Indian Act. According to the author, the role of these decisions were to allow the countries to organize the Indians, as they were too numerous in the settlers’ opinions. This is also where this Chapter becomes interesting, as it seems to explain the name of the book better than the author himself did in his interviews.
He next explains that the natives had too many different cultures and that imposing European settler culture upon Natives all was too complex due to the sheer number of indigenous cultures. To fix this problem, the “Indian” persona was created and became the representation of all Native tribes. With this, the North American population would easily understand who the law referred to, and the lawyers did not need to think of every different names and cultures while making laws to target Natives.
This is basically a part of the title, the “Indian” was created in this way.
Then what King calls “Plan A” began. This plan was used to make Indians appear as a problem in everyone’s eyes so as to gain the approval of the settler population to push the Indians out of the settlers’ way.
The plan used treaties to make the Indians agree, once a problem showed up, to move off of their lands and be relocated into other areas. These treaties were not always signed freely or by relevant people since Indian cultures were different and sometimes no single person was able to act as the representative of all the tribes, unlike our presidents and our Prime Ministers who represent vast nations.
An important idea the author highlights is that these treaties were likely not supposed to last for long, as the Indians were presumed by settlers to be a “dying race” that would disappear within the next few years to come.
As they were shoved around, as they died of European illnesses, and even when they were no more a real threat, the government still deemed Indians a nuisance, or as King said, they were still an “inconvenience.” In this way, the title of King’s book is explained, but the chapter still has much more to say about these events and treaties.
Back then, one of the reasons that was given for the removal of the Indians was to protect them against settlers. By keeping them further away from settlements, they would not see as many of the bad things we did, which would, supposedly, let them keep their culture clear from our influences and also make sure they would not attack the Europeans simply for the way they acted against nature. It also ensured that North Americans would not hate them since the Indians would be further away in the country.
Another reason for isolating them was that Indians already had more than enough for their survival, too much even, according to the government of the United States at the time.
In 1763, there was a law stating that white settlements should go no further than the Appalachians but Thomas King believes this law was only to let the government wash its hands of the conflict with the Indians at that time, as settlers were not well equipped to deal with such things. It would also help keep the peace while settlers got better equipped because Indians would not be preparing against attacks or raiding the few settlers that were staying put on the coasts.
This kind of law obviously did not last long, as no one running for politics wanted to stop their voters from living wherever they wanted, largely because politicians were afraid they would lose votes and not be re-elected.
The list of tribes removed from their own lands by treaties signed by individual Indians is appalling: “Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, Seminole, Cherokee, Shawnee, Ottawa, Potawatomi, Sauk and Fox, Osage, Kickapoo, Wyandot, Ho-Chunks, Kaskaskia, Peoria, Miami, Delaware, Illinois, Modoc, Oto, Ponca, Seneca, Cayuga, Tsukegee, Quapaw, etc…”
Among these these were at least 17,000 Cherokee, and of those, at least 4,000 died on the way to relocation, but these numbers are approximate and many historians say the numbers may be higher while some say they could be lower. In total, at least 75,000 Indians were relocated during these dark times.
A bit further north, Canadians did not have such a policy of removal, simply because it was named differently and happened a few decades later. The reasons behind it are explained as being worse though, according to King, since the Canadian government wanted to relocate the Indians to destroy their culture and force them to adopt Canadian culture.
Another amusing part of history is how short “forever” seems to be according to precedent actions of the law in Canada. For example, there is Francis Bond Head’s treaties that should have protected a few Indian tribes that were relocated, but after only 20 years they were relocated again, despite the treaties and the signatures.
Some people tried to do better, such as James Douglas from the Hudson’s Bay Company, but he eventually had to retire and whoever replaced him did not care as much for words and papers, these Indians ended up relocated once more.
Despite the fact that the government wanted to deal with Indians as if they were its property, when it came to helping people, they definitely prioritized the white settlers as proven by the 1935 Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Act which served to compensate and relocate farmers from certain lands, but completely ignored the Indians who lived in the same area, because they did not pay taxes.
In 1942, the government tried to relocate 2,000 Mi’kmaq, but this project failed to the point that the Canadian government gave up in 1949, leaving a community on welfare and not relocating the Mi’kmaq back where they could be at home. Despite this blatant failure, they tried relocation again and again, with different tribes and in different regions, during the 50s and 60s.
To summarize, the North American government took rights they did not have and they should not have done so. Our ancestors did terrible things that we should likely want to apologize for, and yet some people still ask questions such as why is it that we did not kill every Indian? Worse, the government still has not righted most of the easily righted wrongs and it still causes more grief to the Indians to this day.
King, Thomas. “Chapter 4 – One Name to Rule Them All.” The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America. Anchor Canada, 2013. 77-98. Print.
History is the stories we tell about the past
“In the end, who really needs the whole of Native History when we can watch the movie?” (King, p. 20)
History: such a simple word with so many meanings. History: one of these words that do not know any time or space limit. In the first chapter of The Inconvenient Indian, Thomas King is both a critic and a defender of History. Thomas King is one of the most famous contemporary Native writers. In the year 2012, he wrote The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America, a non-fiction book about the relation between Natives and Non-Natives in North America. His aim is obvious: re-write and re-teach History through stories. “Forget Columbus” gives us a great idea of the tone and the content of the book as well as King’s opinion on what is History. How does Thomas King explain the misconception of Native history?
I would firstly mention that humour is a key tool in the passing on of his message. The first time I laughed was when he parodies the scene of the arrival of Columbus. It is a sarcastic scene where he denounces the choice of historic facts and what place are given to them in History. In all history books, the North America History begins with the “discovery” of the continent by Columbus. No one can deny it. It has been told and taught for too long for us to question it. The humorous depiction of Columbus’ ships arrival is designed to be conformed to the imaginary vision people have when they talk about the discovery of America. This vision of a “great man (…) flag in hand, a letter of introduction to the Emperor (…) tucked in his tunic” (King, p. 2) is deeply fixed in all minds. Moreover this colonial vision has been reinforced by many stories and movies. Thomas King takes the example of the story of Pocahontas. He meticulously confronts Pocahontas’ myth to the real story based on historical facts. He wonders himself about the reasons that lead people to idealize stories. His answer is clear: to create more “Kodak moments” (King, p. 2). Kodak moments are stories or more precisely images of stories that are worthy of an imaginary world and persist through movies and cultural misrepresentations. The Walt Disney movie Pocahontas produced in 1995 is one among others. Even if it was meant to be a fictional romance rather than a historical documentary, its reception as a “story based on real facts” has carried on what King called “Vanished Indians”, representations along with all the stereotypes non -Natives have of Indians: feather costume, face painting and wilderness.
This representation raises another major qestion: who writes History and for whom? The answer could appear obvious and I would be tempted to say that History is not written by some individuals but lived by everybody. I would be tempted to say that today is already History but you will laugh at it. And you will be right, because reality is quite different. In reality, there are historians who write a chronological History, a succession of dated events, facts, figures and of characters who had been here and there at some point. The answer I would give to the previously raised question is: ethnocentrism. The truth is that History is shaped according to the dominant ideology, and it is not a native one.
I would like to carry on with the concept of “organized forgetting.” It is a key concept in the shaping of History. Organized forgetting is the idea whereby a majority forgets and denies important parts of History. It is mostly unconscious because of the internalization of beliefs by repeated discourses and images. The example the most obvious is the colonial discourse. This discourse rationalizes the fact that America was an empty land, Natives were savages and that settlers brought something to them. In reality this discourse is completely subjective. From a Native point of view, it appears even absurd. Jeanette Armstrong was one of the first Native writers to denounce the one-sided vision of colonization in her poem “History Lesson”. Thomas King begins the chapter “Forget Columbus” with an extract from “History Lesson” (Armstrong) in which Jeannette Armstrong describes the violent arrival of settlers. It gives an upside down image of the settlers who are depicted as savages. By quoting “History Lesson” right at the beginning of his book, King reveals his willingness to lead the same battle. His method consists of telling facts and stories that no one has heard about. The succession of figures, names and dates can make the audience feel dizzy though. I think it is to emphasize the fact that History is much more complex than what we learn in books.
In conclusion, “Forget Columbus” is an appealing chapter which introduces really well Thomas King’s work. Humour, disturbing facts and astonishing stories are used for one unique goal: the duty of collective memory fighting against organized forgetting. This goal is often the same as that of other Native writers who write as defenders of their History, who write not to be forgotten.
Armstrong, Jeanette. «A History Lesson.» s.d. Print.
King, Thomas. «Forget Columbus.» King, Thomas. The Inconvenient Indian, A Curious Account of Native People in North America. USA: Anchor Canada, 2012. 1-20. Print.
Othering and Gender in Joseph Boyden’s Three Day Road.
Three Day Road was well received by Canadian readers. It has even been one of the finalists for the 2006 Canada Reads contest (CBC radio). The former columnist for The Globe and Mail, Bronwyn Drainie, exposes her opinion on Joseph Boyden’s first novel. She discusses the focus of the book and the author’s humanization of “the Other”. I would like to draw specific attention to these two aspects of her book review and provide pieces of evidence supporting Bronwyn’s opinion.
First of all, Bronwyn Drainie claims that the book: “joined an impressive shelf of Canadian fiction centred on the First World War, but it changed the focus on that disastrous conflict radically by telling the story from the point of view of Xavier Bird, […]” (Drainie). It is true that this book focuses more on racism, drug addiction, and many other themes than warfare. Indeed, it is not clearly mentioned if the main characters are aware of the political reasons leading to the war. On their way to the train, they ask themselves questions about what war will be like. Their questions are oriented towards their insertion in the group. Will they be separated? Will other soldiers take them for plain Indians? Will authorities cut their hair (Boyden 59)? They do not ask themselves about the political reasons behind this war. Even in the parts of the narrative taking place on the battlefield, most of the elements of the text are oriented towards their condition as aboriginal soldiers. Hunting skills, racism, drug addiction, brotherhood, cannibalism are the main themes of the book. Moreover, Aunt Niska’s stories have nothing to do with World War 1 directly; however, they have great importance toward the understanding of the main characters’ story. Her storytelling brings the readers away from the war into the aboriginal world.
To consider people less worthy because they are not “one of us” is one of the effects of the “othering” process. (Othering 101: What Is “Othering”?) According to Bronwyn Drainie, Joseph Boyden’s writing: “fully humanize[s] ‘the Other’ and give[s] him his rightful place in the country’s history” (Drainie). By describing the story from aboriginal characters’ perspectives, the author exposes their thoughts and feelings to readers. Therefore, readers can see that aboriginal people are more alike than different.
The squaw is one of the stereotypes treated in this book. According to Professor Emma Larocque: “the dehumanizing portrayal of the squaw and the over-sexualisation of Native females such as Disney’s Pocahontas surely render all Native female persons vulnerable” (Helen Hobbs 274). In Three Day Road, Niska is a victim of the over-sexualised portrayal of Native females. She feels deeply attracted by a white Frenchman. He treats her as a Squaw and uses her sexually. Niska describes a sexual intercourse with a white man who brings her in a church. Even if she does not push back the Frenchman, the vocabulary chosen to describe the scene shows that she was not fully consenting. By showing the sexual scene from Niska’s perspective, the author makes readers feel anger towards the way the white man treats the aboriginal woman. The words used by the Frenchman also depict the way white men used to perceive and treat aboriginal females: “You are nothing special, just another squaw whore. I took your power away in this place and sent it to burn in hell where it belongs” (Boyden 174). Describing the scene from the aboriginal female perspective counters the dehumanizing portrayal of indigenous women. It makes readers empathize with her situation.
Elijah and Xavier are also considered as “Others” and are dehumanized. Instead of recognizing that they are skilled, white soldiers explain their talents with stereotypes. For instance, Elijah and Xavier are excelling on finding their way in the dark and instead of acknowledging that they are more skilled as hunters than the other soldiers, they compare them to animals: “Elijah tells me Breech says that it is our Indian blood, that our blood is closer to that of an animal than that of a man” (Boyden 101). This excerpt is a good example of how white people dehumanized the aboriginal soldiers. Since the book includes chapters on the main characters’ life before the war, readers are aware that their ability to hunt and to orient themselves in the wild are due to their life experiences and have nothing to do with blood animals. Elijah and Xavier strive to fit in and want to prove their value to the other soldiers. There is a wonderful scene encapsulating Xavier’s desire to be accepted: “If I can do this I will no longer be so much the outsider. I will gain respect” (Boyden 109). Indeed, by winning the shooting contest he earns his fellows’ respect: “It strikes me then. None of these who are here today can call me a useless bush Indian ever again (Boyden 109). The desire to fit in is a feeling that all human beings experience in their life. To depict aboriginal soldiers who do everything to be accepted makes them look more human. Finally, the fact that Elijah and Xavier willingly enroll in the army and are excellent snipers gives them their rightful place in the country’s history.
In conclusion, I agree with Bronwyn Drainie’s opinion on Joseph Boyden’s Three Day Road. Emphasis upon the main characters’ issues and the importance of their life before war changes the focus on the conflict involved in their personal struggles. Also, describing racism from the victims’ perspective fully humanizes the characters and makes readers empathize with them. Now that the focus of the book and the “Othering” aspects have been discussed, it would be interesting to look at other elements of the book in a further analysis.
Boyden, Joseph. Three Day Road. Toronto: Penguin Group, 2008.
Drainie, Bronwyn. Literary Review of Canada . n.d. 24 March 2016.
Helen Hobbs, Margaret. Gender and Women’s Studies in Canada: Critical Terrain. Canadian Scholars’ Press, 2013 .
Othering 101: What Is “Othering”? 28 December 2011. 27 March 2016.
Chapter 8! The Real Dilemma!
It is a well-known fact that the indigenous people of North America are not the population that has the best living conditions. These conditions are explained and enounced in certain literary works. Thomas King is a Metis author who decided to bring to light these hard living conditions and injustices in a non-fiction account titled The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America. Each chapter concern a specific matter that indigenous people have faced. In this essay, I will focus on Chapter Eight which explains how making some things different between the government and the indigenous people might not really help that much. I will summarize, comment on, and contest what King says in this Chapter and also make some things clearer than they are.
To begin with, Chapter Eight is about indigenous rights, sovereignty, and having control over their land, budget, and life. It is not like most of the other chapters in which King uses humour and emotions in his writing. It is a lot about real facts and current problems that this population is going through. To summarize the Chapter, it really explains how Indians of North America remain handcuffed in terms of taking care of their own people, their own budget, their own territory, and their own lives. The present situation is due to the fact that all the laws, treaties, and agreements that were made in the past, up to a hundred and fifty years ago, have to be complied with. Even though things have changed over all these years, the indigenous people of Canada and the United States still have to comply with what was decided by a government that was not theirs.
To continue, the chapter starts with this quote “What we need is a cultural leave-us-alone agreement in spirit and in fact” (Kings. 193). He uses this quote to grab the attention of readers and it works. It also tells us what he is going to talk about. King explains what North American Indian people have wanted for many years; to be free from the colonial governments that control them and to make their own decisions. Many factors prevent this from happening. First of all, the aboriginals wanted to have their sovereignty. To help the understanding of what sovereignty could do for them here is a definition: sovereignty is a country’s independent authority and the right to govern itself (Meriam-Webster). According to what King says, Indians already have their sovereignty, but it is not real. Here is why, according to King: “When the population of a ‘nation’ is a few hundred people, or even a few thousand, we are kidding ourselves, aboriginals or non-aboriginals, if we think that sovereignty can be anything more than partial” (194). What it means is that the sovereignty that indigenous people have is only fictive or symbolic, and they cannot do anything with it. The outcome of this is that they no not really have real power over their fate. Also, the author gives us an example of something that the United States Indians did in order to have a control over their lives. They created and owned casinos and made money with it. They used the casinos’ outcome to buy lands and make as much as possible the American dream possible for them. This attempt failed because some municipalities went against this and old treaties that were created, were used to what they were doing (page 213). It is not the only think that the United States did with the indigenous population. They decided to use many of the indigenous territories like the ones in near San Diego, Oklahoma, and Washington as a garbage dump (King.207). The population of this territory did not say a word about it because it gave them an employment and they badly needed one. It is unfair that the only opportunity for work that they had the chance to get is to work in a rubbish dump. Finally, this is only the major part of what Thomas King explains in chapter eight, but there is much to talk about.
On another note, Thomas King provided much information about the living conditions that are controlled by governments from either Canada or United States. The major problem is that the indigenous population are not able to get the right to take their decisions because of all the laws, decrees, and treaties created in the past years. Even if this chapter is interesting in the way that it makes readers aware of why Indians of North America are having a difficult time, there are no solutions given. King argues that there is no hope for Natives to govern themselves because every attempt they had, did not end well. King is not mentioning any possible solutions. Even the ending is not so optimistic “What do Indians want? The good news is that you could choose from any of the above and be right. And you’d be wrong.” (King. 214). Yes, it is an ending that makes the readers want to know what they want, but it is also pessimistic because it sounds as if the indigenous people themselves do not know what they want. Luckily, readers can realise that the faith of indigenous people is not so dark when they continue reading the following chapters. To finish, I think that Thomas King informs people a lot about what happened in the past few years concerning the living conditions and the desires of Indians of North America, even though I felt that he seems quite pessimistic about this throughout his book.
To conclude, Chapter Eight is full of information about what the indigenous population of Canada and the United States want and about what they did to get nearer their goal of governing themselves. This chapter is quite dark because everything that is mentioned ends with a negative result, but that gives the readers the will to continue their reading. This book is really unique and interesting because I was able to learn more about the Indian people of North America than I did in all my years of study.
King, Thomas. The Inconvenient Indian a Curious Account of Native People in North America. Canada. Anchor Canada. 2013. Print.
Meriam-Webster. Sovereignty. Web. [http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sovereignty]
Eden Robinson on Sharing Sacred Knowledge
Eden Robinson is a Haisla woman, born in 1968, who grew up near Kitamaat in British Columbia. She is the first Indigenous woman in Canada to become internationally well-kown. This Indigenous woman published her first novel Monkey Beach in 2000. It begins with news that Lisa’s brother, Jimmy, is missing at sea. Then it travels back through a series of flashbacks as Lisa-marie Michelle Hill tells us her story and her extended family’s story before this event. Lisa takes us on a supernatural journey. Indeed she has supernatural abilities; sacred knowledge, beliefs, her people, all are depicted in the novel in such a way that we can feel the struggle between a certain cultural identity and mainstream settler society.
First, Indigenous people have a different culture, one that is much more oral than scriptocentric. They tell stories and all through the book we can feel that Lisa loves the stories that the Elder, her grand mother, Ma-ma-oo tells her. Oral tradition is really important for the natives: « If someone’s speaking, you have to listen, Ma-ma-oo said. » Lisa and Ma-ma-oo believe in stories such as the one of th B’gwus. However, her mother and father say that they are just fairy tales, that they are not real « It’s just a story. » There we are, a gap between their cultural knowledge and the mainstream society is developing. Indeed Lisa’s parents seem to have forgotten their tradition;they have adapted to the new age while Lisa is closer to Ma-ma-oo and traditional indigenous culture.
Lisa is depicted as a resistant child, acting like her Uncle Mick who refuses to be silenced : « He wore his message t-shirts : Free Leonard Peltier ! Or Columbus : 500 Years of Genocide and Counting ».Mick was also in the American Indian Movement and sang « Fuck the Opressors » while Lisa’s father has a conservative worker and a passive Indian « ‘This whole country was built on exploiting Indians for-‘ ‘Mick,’ Dad pleaded ». Mick is depicted as irresponsible as a child whereas Lisa’s father is depicted as an adult, a responsible man.
Popular culture seems to have been adopted into their way of life, Ma-ma-oo watches soap operas, they smoke like it is candy but traditionally it lifted prayers to the gods, and Elvis. What a story with Elvis Presley ! Indeed Lisamarie is named after Elvis’s daughter and her uncle Mike is keen on Elvis Presley’s music « Dad told me Mick was very happy I’d been named after the King’s daughter ». or «’Elvis is dead’ […]Mick took off for almost a month and we later learned he’d driven to Graceland. »
There is one thing that Indigenous people had to deal with and that left major consequences: Residential school. As a matter of fact it destroyed many people, made them lose their identity and their traditions, and it caused many to drinking heavily while others committed suicide: « Just Mick and my mom went and it fucked them up ». Lisa’s people are halfway through their Indigenous traditions, that is endangered while the mainstream society is more and more present in their lives.
Traditionally, Indigenous people have a particular faith; they believe in certain things that are not necessarily true from a European point of view. For instance nature is for indigenous people very important; they are very respectful towards nature. The ocean and fishing are essential to the Haisla people on the Westcoast. Jimmy trusts the ocean, but he is taken away by it: « He was never afraid of water » or « […] Jimmy’s implicit trust that the water would hold him safely. » Mick ,who resists to keep his cultural identity, is close to the ocean and is a fisherman.
An other particular relationship that Indigenous people have is with spirits. Lisa has a particular relationship with the other world.Through Lisa we can discover the beliefs of Indigenous concerning ghosts, spirits, legends, and soul. Once she said « To contact the spirit world, you must control the way you enter this state of being that is somewhere between waking and sleeping. » But in the end, there is a struggle between the old, traditional ways and the new ways imposed by society. Sometimes native beliefs are demystified like when Lisa and Jimmie thought they had seen a sasquatch, but in the end it was a grizzly « The sasquatch turned out out be a grizzly ». Also the fact that the spirits are dismissed as being just imagination: « It’s your overactive imagination ». That’s it « Old ways don’t matter anymore ».
To conclude throughout all the novel there is a fight between the Haisla world, the beliefs that Ma-ma-oo shares with Lisa, and the ‘colonized’ world, the beliefs of her parents. By sharing these traditional beliefs with Lisa, they are shared with us at the same time. Therefore we can learn a lot about Haisla people’s beliefs, but perhaps these mysterious beliefs should stay a mystery and not be shared with people other than the Haisla people.
Kiss of the Fur Queen by Tomson Highway: A Creey for Change
It is not every day that someone will get the chance to learn more about our Canadian Native communities through a first-hand account. The relationship between the population and native and non-native communities is so strained that interactions are limited and Native people are less inclined to talk, while Non-natives have often refused to listen. This silence is reinforced by the fact that the past for indigenous people is filled with difficult and delicate experiences under colonialism, experiences they had to go through with their fellow countrymen. In his novel, Kiss of the Fur Queen, Tomson Highway details the lives of two young Crees, representing him and his brother, who were forced to go to residential school. One interesting aspect of this novel is that it gives us very interesting information about the Crees and their way of life. Also, although some parts of the story were romanticized, Highway gives a very forthright and eye-opening account of what young Native children had to go through when going to a residential school. He gives the reader a clear picture of what the everyday life in this type of school was like, as well as a broader understanding of what Cree people were giving up culturally by being exposed to this school system. Finally, Highway takes us through the two young men’s post residential school lives, explaining the coping mechanisms used by Native people and the negative effects residential schools had on them.
First of all, reading this book is a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the way of life of the Cree people and their culture. Interestingly enough, the story starts through the lens of a Native dog racer, a musher, who is also a caribou hunter. This is probably one of the general images that people have regarding Cree and Native people. After winning the important race, the sled driver is welcomed home in his village by a cheering community that is tight-knit, which is very typical of traditional indigenous communities. The importance in the passage of traditions is also highlighted when Abraham Okimasis, the father of Champion, expresses his pride in knowing that his son would carry the family legacy in music: “For wasn’t it the greatest pride to have finally sired a child with the gift of making music, one to whom he could pass on his father’s, his grandfather’s, and his great-grandfather’s legacy? (27) “. Religion first inserts itself in the story when the priest suggests that Ooneemeetoo be baptized in the name of Gabriel, thus changing his name. When the children are old enough for school, the question of sending them to “that school [that] is so far away” (40), the residential school, is brought up. It is quickly evident that the idea is somewhat frowned upon, with the mother saying: “What Father Bouchard wants, I guess” (40).
Secondly, Highway allows the reader to dig deep into the daily life of a residential school and to find out what it meant to live there. Unfortunately, this straightforward approach exposes the reader to very cruel moments that would leave no human indifferent. Champion’s stay at the residential school starts with his hair being chopped off, as for all the other boarders. Other cultural elements from where he came from, including his name, are erased in the residential school, as the fathers call him “Jeremiah” instead of Champion. The boys’ language is also taken away from them, as they are strictly forbidden to speak their native Cree language. A contest where the boys can win tokens for catching someone else speaking their former language is even organized. Although too numerous to mention all of them here, a lot of scenes explain how Father Lafleur pleasured himself and took advantage of the children sexually. In one of the scenes, Gabriel explains how “he could see the motion of the priest’s hand gave him immense pleasure” and “he was about to open his mouth and swallow whole the living flesh” (78). This type of behaviour seemed normal for the principal of the residential school as well. He beat children with his belt when they behaved badly. For example, when Gabriel sang in his native language, he was force to bend over with his pants down, receiving lashes until he bled.
Finally, Highway details the aftermath of their residential school time, how the boys integrated into the so called White society and how they dealt with their troubling and heavy past. It is worth mentioning that there is a light and funny moment where Jeremiah and Gabriel are reunited in the city, with the older brother taking his little brother for his first shopping trip. It highlights the bond between them and shows the discrepancy between the way of life in their Cree community and the way of life in an urban city. At first, when both brothers are engaged in their passions, dance and music, their past abuse in the residential schools does not seem like a problem. One important moment discussed in the book is when Gabriel has what seems to be his first gay sexual experience: “everywhere he looked, naked limb met naked limb met naked limb, an unceasing domino effect of human flesh, smell, fluid (168). Jeremiah’s loneliness in the big city is also discussed, even to the point where he thought about suicide. The effects of going to residential school is also highlighted when the brothers go back to their native village and can barely speak their native language: “Semen-airy, grinned Gabriel, the closest he could get, in his native tongue” (191). Jeremiah is using alcohol heavily to cope, especially after his father’s death. Gabriel, on the other hand, is using drugs as well as alcohol and we learn at the end of the story that he has contracted AIDS.
In conclusion, Kiss of the Fur Queen by Tomson Highway is a great opportunity to learn more about the Cree culture and some of the difficult times they had to go through. The author delivers an open and direct account of the abuse suffered by native children in the residential schools. Through the story based on Highway’s own and his real-life brother’s experiences, Highway highlights how difficult it is to live as a native person in today’s society. The tale of the two brothers, mainly their difficulties to cope with their past, as well as the use of drugs and alcohol, is sadly representative of how a lot of Native people live today. This is something that I witnessed personally when I visited a Cree community and an Atikamekw community. This part of the story is certainly not romanticized.
Highway, Tomson. Kiss of the Fur Queen. N.p.: Anchor Canada, 1998. Print.