The overemphasis on supposed cultural differences between the “Indian” and the “White man” has contributed to the extreme marginalization of Native peoples. Nevertheless, and in spite of the ever-present millstone of colonization, Native writers continue to record historical and personal invasions, social upheavals, and personal losses with hope and determination. It has become clear that, if we are to escape the spectre of ghettoization, we must push, if not dismantle, the paradigms that restrict our identities to predetermined typologies. To acquiesce to colonial markers is to subordinate ourselves to the colonizer’s model of the world. To illustrate, LaRocque turns to the works of Jeannette Armstrong, Joy Harjo, Arthur Shilling, Thomas King, and Richard Wagamese.
For the Aboriginal storyteller, the politics of story and the act of telling involves mediating the relationship between languages and the world views they produce and represent. As Armstrong explains, for Aboriginal storytellers, this process requires an awareness of how non-linear First Language literature has been transformed by the linear imperatives of the English language and White Western scholarship. Dualities present in original language texts are often compromised when translated into English, and must be recovered, if not re-imagined, by the Aboriginal storyteller whose ability to create “the thread which becomes history” can subvert English literary aesthetics and ensure cultural autonomy. First Language writers and scholars must keep in mind the specific challenges faced by Aboriginal storytellers from various historical periods in order to fully understand the real power and aesthetic of those works. N. Scott Momaday’s The Man Made of Words addresses many of these issues, and explains how we might re-imagine and re-story the things that are of us.
In whispering in shadows, Jeannette Armstrong deftly employs non-standard English phraseology to convey Okanagan perceptions of the world. The author enacts a decolonizing process in her writing, exploring ways to evoke a proximate (but ultimately limited) experience of an Okanagan orality and world view in English. Penny Jackson’s sensibilities, which synthesize perceptions of sound, colour, and linguistic images as organically interrelated, are the primary manifestation of this process. The author's symbiosis of land, language, and community produces a creative well-spring, which encourages community-centered creative practices in keeping with the metaphoric implications of En’owkin, an Okanagan conception rooted in the belief that nurturing voluntary cooperation is essential for everyday living.
Voices of The Plains Cree, compiled and published in 1973, was actually two separate works authored by the Cree Anglican cleric Edward Ahenakew approximately fifty years earlier. While the first section is ethnographic and preserves cultural stories of the past, the second section, entitled “Old Keyam,” is contemporary for its time. The title character, Keyam, is a conflicted personality, allied both to Cree cultural and political rights and to white standards of success. Ahenakew presents these impulses as distinct throughout the text, and does not offer a way to resolve them via the expected means of hybridity, fusion, or creolization. Resistant to typical postcolonial readings of Indigenous subject formation under colonization, “Old Keyam” reflects Ahenakew’s complex position as a colonized subject with an intimate understanding of Cree protocol. Works by critics such as Marie Battiste, Lorraine Brundige, Stan Cuthand, Olive Dickason, and Joel Pfister are useful when exploring Ahenakew’s primary narrative concerns.
No one knows the origins of the ancient story “The Rolling Head.” It has been told in many ways by many bands and in many families. An effort to unravel the story’s philosophy, psychology and spirituality through an exploration of its major symbols leads to more questions than answers. For Halfe, examining the emotional immediacy of Cihicipistikwan, the Rolling Head, the Elders, and boys, and other symbolic elements in the tale reveals its cultural richness but the story ultimately defies explanation. David Suzuki’s The Sacred Balance: Rediscovering Our Place in Nature offers useful insights when considering this ageless and complex narrative.
One of the key themes in Thomas King's Medicine River is the deconstruction of a dichotomy between the dominant aesthetic modes of non-Native versus Aboriginal cultures. The non-Native narrative aesthetic is represented by photography and embodied in the novel’s protagonist, Will Horse Capture. The contrasting Aboriginal narrative aesthetic of talk is embodied in the figure of Harlen Bigbear. King emulates the speech rhythms of Aboriginal talk and oral storytelling to both illustrate and call into question these aesthetic modes. The deconstruction of paradigms is an ever-present subtext of Medicine Hat and other works by King, and, today is central to contemporary Aboriginal studies.
Anthologies and studies published in Aboriginal or Native writing and storytelling in Canada or Quebec generally suggest that First Nations and Métis writings form one and the same literature. While such groupings do not prevent the recognition that a particular writer is Métis, nor do they address the question of a distinct Métis cultural production. This state of affairs is further complicated by the fact that the majority of such volumes are written from an English-language perspective, which has historically overlooked the connections between Métis, French, and Franco-Canadian ancestry. The continued “neglect” of this reality threatens two oral traditions which are the product of these diverse groups, Michif and Michif French. While both of these languages may well be disappearing—despite efforts to conserve and resuscitate them—they have become incontestably rich sources of an emergent creative expression of place and identity that validates peoples and cultures that might otherwise be obscured or forgotten altogether.
Marie Annharte Baker refuses the roles of educator and informant partly through her strategy of scavenging, replacing and exchanging words. As she encourages readers to seek out their own meanings, she promotes agency, diversity and—perhaps most importantly—rediscovery. In poems such as “Bird Clan Mother,” “Raced Out to Write This Up,” and “Coyote Columbus Café,” Baker contextualizes the language of social control to express outrage with the polite Canadian impulse to remain silent and not challenge racist assertions. By mocking the absurdity of racial classifications which occur in everyday conversations and academic discourse, the poet seeks to draw attention to the many barriers that are employed to exclude the ‘Other’ in English.
While Gregory Scofield’s early works dealt largely with his Cree Métis ancestry and his sexuality, his vision now includes the recent discovery of his Jewish roots. Sensitive to the traditions and histories of his multiple heritages, he has carefully woven his disparate identities together by writing to “be himself.” In collections such as The Gathering: Stones from the Medicine Wheel, Love Medicine and One Song, Native Canadiana, and Thunder Through my Veins: Memories of a Métis Childhood, Scofield creates a multidimensional self-portrait that challenges society’s overly simplistic conceptions of the minority personality. He is, as Qwi-Li Driskill explains, a writer “who gives us back our tongues, who dislodges out silences and turns them into sites of resistances.”
With its clever examination of the effects of large corporations, logos, and unfair labour practices upon the lives of urban Native people, Marvin Francis’s City Treaty can be read as a streetwise anti-globalization manifesto for the indigenous world. Francis uses postmodern irony and verbal excess to show how the lives of contemporary Aboriginal people are implicated in complex patterns of symbol, contract, and stereotype that work to keep them in marginal positions. The author’s exploration of what might be called ‘post-corporate’ indigeneity is most readily contextualized in terms of recent currents in visual art, but is also part of a growing trend in Aboriginal literature, as evidenced by recent works by Thomas King and Jeannette Armstrong.