“Indian graves and Indian memories will fade as night goes on.
Forgive the wrongs my children did to you,
And we, the redskins, will forgive you too.”
E Pauline Johnson’s “Ode to Brant” illustrates the shift in Canada’s policies towards the assimilation of indigenous culture. Originally dedicated to the death of her Mohawk grandfather, Johnson’s ode adopts a darker tone. This line is a reflection of the growing cultural tension within Canada at the time and the internal tension that existed within Pauline’s mixed upbringing. The Confederation of Canada brought economic and industrial growth that excluded the Six Nations Reserve and Iroquois people. In 1857, the Province of Canada passed the Gradual Civilization Act, which aimed to assimilate native peoples into European society and culture. Canadian identity at the time was strongly loyalist and tied to British identity. Native peoples had to demonstrate their “morality” and loyalty towards British ideals. A series of Indian Acts followed, aiming to speed up settlement within Canada.
Although her work is a direct critique of the patronizing views of the time, her poetry is never particularly pessimistic. Rather, audiences revered her for her ability to strengthen Canadian identity through discussing both her European and indigenous heritage. Pauline pushed for collaboration and reconciliation between natives and European immigrants. Her personal heritage is a microcosm of the patriotism she pushed for; her mother and father created a loving family life in which both European and indigenous culture were equally celebrated.
Nowadays, Canadian culture is moving towards reconciliation. Pauline reflects Canadian values of reconciliation, collaboration, and coexistence with all cultures rather than dramatic power dynamics. Her strength of character exemplifies Canadian honesty and perseverance.
She made a vital discovery: “crowds love uplifting patriotism” (216).
I was intrigued by the abrupt and powerful nature of Pauline’s writing. Her poetry is more renowned for its performance than its written content. With a European mother and Mohawk father, Pauline’s tenacity to showcase her indigenous culture really inspired me. I also like to use creative means to express my own identity and to address issues that are important to me. This quote illustrates a style of writing that is clear, concrete, and poignant. My personal writing goal is to be able to portray whole stories with single lines.
“How could a Canadian poet steeped in British Romantic poetry, in whicn nature is used as a metaphor for both God and the human mind, reconcile this tradition with the vast, untamed landscape of the Great Dominion of the North? Could a former colony establish its own literary culture shaped by its own history and geography?”
In the wake of Confederation, a new era of Canadian literature emerged. Dubbed the “Confederation Poets”, a small group of rising poets were featured in William Lighthall’s anthology, Songs of the Great Dominion. They argued about the challenges facing Canadian expression and cultural identity. Pauline and other notable artists wrote about the role of Canada as a newborn nation which still looked to Britain for its culture. The poets were united by the idea that Canada should have its own unique culture. This quote highlights the struggles and uncertainties of a new nation. Artists tried to tackle an ambiguous cultural identity through Canadian verse and a combination of literature and politics that radiated nationalism. Often times, when we evaluate national identity, we underestimate the impact of poetry and the arts. Historical literature reflects the values and norms of the period it was written in. Writers such as Pauline are the “scribes” of their time, capturing the zeitgeist of Canadian history through powerful words.
Canada’s culture is still debated today. While some argue that a mosaic of cultures defines Canada’s national identity, some also argue that Canada still lacks a clear direction of values or is too dependent on larger powers. Canadians value diversity and a varied population, but is this diluting our own national strength?
This passage is especially complex and significant to Pauline’s narrative. I especially liked its use of a metaphor to represent Canadian geography and its relationship with cultural identity. When we dissect the quote, its message is clear and relatable. The shift from dependency to autonomy relates to many aspects of human life. When we first become adults, we must learn to strengthen our self-identity by establishing our own morals and ideas. As a new nation, Canada struggled to wean itself away from Britain. This quote uses literary devices to make readers feel sympathy towards a nation, and for the artists who tried to capture a new culture still strongly tied to its traditional views.
“The Indian girl we meet in cold type,” Pauline pointed out, “is rarely distressed by having to belong to any tribe, or to reflect any tribal characteristics.”
Pauline is directly commenting on the portrayal of indigenous women within literature. With increasing discriminatory policies and further divide between Europeans and native peoples, very few writers explored the character and origins of indigenous women. Authors such as Mercer Adam portrayed indigenous women as wild, uncivilized, and rife with derogatory clichés. They never had education, character depth, or extensive background stories. Indigenous women in books were the embodiment of stereotypes and images that were written by people who knew absolutely nothing about indigenous culture. Pauline used her platform and status as a performer to educate the public and critique the works of other literary pieces of the time.
Canada is regarded as a progressive country that uses its platforms to interfere with widespread stereotypes and miseducation. Pauline reflects modern Canadian values that place an emphasis on extensive representation of smaller groups and even our own media alongside American media.
In the realm of indigenous rights and discussions surrounding the rights of minority groups, media representation is crucial to shaping the public perception of groups. Pauline’s quote really resonates with me because it is applicable to modern societal issues and optics. Many stereotypes and biases are rooted in exposure to media that is heavily exaggerated or purposely meant to mock or shame certain groups. I admire Pauline’s ability to directly point out ignorances and prejudices in literature in order to change harmful narratives. In our day to day lives, it’s important to be analytical of the art we see in order to promote unbiased media and literary representation.
“If she could switch smoothly from Indian to European dress, couldn’t the rest of Canada’s native peoples?
In order to enhance her performances, Pauline changed into costumes that were both European and indigenous. The author of the biography effectively examines a different viewpoint and points out a flaw in Pauline’s performance. Given the diminishing power of indigenous peoples, Pauline’s performances could have further pushed the sentiment that Canada’s natives could easily adapt to European culture. In fact, her adoption of the native character may have been a ploy to advance her own career. In the pursuit of a nationalistic image that appealed to the Canadian masses, Pauline may have sacrificed her own integrity towards supporting indigenous representation and rights.
Canada prides itself on being viewed as an accepting nation. Politicians talk about our progressive ideals and accepting policies, but Canadian identity in the world today often ignores past atrocities committed by the Canadian government itself. While Canada has a positive reputation, Canada’s past is not entirely positive. The way we portray ourselves today may not be the most honest or effective way to speak about past mistakes.
I always admire authors who aren’t afraid to critique figures who are widely regarded as mainly good people. This quote took a differing viewpoint that interested me. Charlotte Gray effectively questions the legitimacy of Pauline’s performances and allows readers to examine multiple perspectives and possible explanations behind Pauline’s intentions. In activism, while people may begin with good intentions, their messages can distort into harmful rhetoric or performances that may do more harm than good. It’s important to consider the implicit effects of all our actions and the things we do to promote a certain cause.
“She came from the wealthiest, most Europeanized Indian reserve in Canada. She was playing with her Indian heritage; her own identity was firmly rooted in the British traditions passed on by her mother.”
Charlotte Gray questions Pauline’s character and reminds us of her privileged upbringing. Within Canada, disparities also existed within indigenous groups. Many native peoples who were proficient in English, had connections with Europeans, and lived in affluent areas held significant advantages over less fortunate indigenous individuals. Pauline was fortunate enough to be the daughter of a highly esteemed Mohawk who worked as an interpreter and political liaison for the Iroquois council and British leaders. European influence was present everywhere. Pauline was around European people and the constant presence of European education, such as reserve schools that actively sought to teach European ideals, language, and religion. Much of her own individual identity was formed by her British mother, and this is also true for Canada as a whole.
Canada’s external image reflects multiculturalism and considerate indigenous influence, but Canada has a history of suppressing indigenous culture. Pauline, who was only half-indigenous, had the opportunity and privilege to express her ideas. Pauline possibly didn’t even understand the full extent of the struggles unfortunate native peoples had to face. Flint and Feather reminds audiences of the European influence that infiltrates the promotion of indigenous culture and rights as a whole.
While I was reading this book, I was waiting for the author to mention Pauline’s privilege. Not only was she quite wealthy, but she was also half British and mainly raised with British values and beliefs. I admire Gray’s decision to actively point out the limitations of Pauline’s activism and writing. I strongly believe it’s important to point out disparities that exist within disadvantaged groups. WIth a counter perspective, I’m eager to learn more about Pauline and decide if the benefits of her work outweigh the ingenuity of some of her messaging.
Seeking mass acceptance often impacts the integrity of your intentions.
Pauline’s work is famed for its nationalism. It aims to create art that strengthens and unites Canadians, allowing Canada to move away from being a smaller nation dependent on British ideals. On the other hand, many could argue that Pauline’s knack for attention and performance led her astray from her original intentions of promoting indigenous welfare. When individuals start to seek approval from the masses, their messaging and intentions may appear clouded or questionable. This theme is unbiased, universal, and examines E Pauline Johnson from multiple lenses.