The year is 2020 and Indians, as they were known, have been extinct in Canada for a century. Nor are there official provisions for memorial, commemoration, or retrospective, nor even a nation’s momentary reflection. The Indians have been written out of history and out of literature: they are gone, and it is as simple as that.
Robert Bundewerke, an anthropologist of no repute, operates his self-funded Institute of the Lost Indian above a Chinatown green grocer. He dreams of a glass-and-steel museum, monument to his perseverance, where under the benefice of his patronage the long-forgotten Indian will again intrigue, captivate, seduce, and enthral.
“Like King Tut,” he says. “Or the mighty dinosaur.”
“Or aliens from outer space,” says Lucy Vin, his assistant and on-and-off love interest.
“Bunny, you misrepresent me,” he says. “I disinter. I am the resurrection.”
They are spellbound as Bundewerke, intrepid curator of occult knowledge, confects from his holdings the final renunciation. He transports his audience to the late July of 1920, the date culminating a 40-year campaign initiated by Sir John A. Macdonald, father of Confederation as well as of the final solution of the Indian Problem.
“What are these?” asks the journalist Dodo Tuttle.
“These,” says Bundewerke importantly “are the long-lost records of the last Indian.”
There is that word again.
“The last what?” says the room, as one.
He produces the gelatin silver photograph, the ribboned medal, the longhand letter, the official certificate besmottered with foxing, a delaminated volume mysteriously titled DOMINION OF CANADA ANNUAL REPORT OF THE DEPARTMENT OF INDIAN AFFAIRS FOR THE YEAR ENDED MARCH 31 1919.
“Behold,” says Bundewerke. “This is the Indian, and these are the affairs.”
Everyone with whom he is on personal terms has been invited, so that this interned race might at last rise and sally into the world of the quick. Assembled with him at this auspicious moment are the aforementioned co-curator and the journalist, the struggling novelist Lars Petal, Dunderly Rye the high-school teacher, artist Tink Bullruss and minor celebrity Charisma Pardons, the politician Guv Marson, historians Indigo Twilight and Wiley Totem, and Hua Partridge, also of the Institute. The American Gordon S. Broadly has sent his regrets.
He reconstructs a past neither taught in schools nor marked by state holidays. The arrival of our forebears in flight from oppression. The discovery of inhabitants. Cordial relations between the settlers and the Indians. The records, says Bundewerke, speak also of trade and intermarriage and later of war. Then, the determination of the settlers to convert every Indian to Christianity and to absorb them into the body politic. To make them disappear, in other words.
“Dis…appear” says Tink Bullruss, as if in a trance.
“We Canadians,” Bundewerke concludes, “do not even know that something called the Indian once walked upon our soil! Our Government has conspired to make it so.”
“How could we not have learned about this!” says Indigo Twilight.
“This is an outrage,” says Dunderly Rye.
“An actual, for real conspiracy!” says Tink Bullruss.
Bundewerke with arms raised hushes the room.
“You see, the Government convinced all the Indians, down to a man, to embrace the white man’s ways.”
“You mean like a metamorphosis?” says the politician. “From caterpillar to butterfly?”
“Something like that,” says Bundewerke. “And then they folded up the shop.”
“Mission accomplished,” says Dunderly Rye.
“Exactly. Most of the records of what had happened were destroyed, some lost or buried. The country turned its attention to other matters. And—as if this were not enough—the same thing appears to have happened in America!”
Down to the heel they are astonished. Indigo Twilight speaks for the room when she says: But what does this all mean?
It means, says Bundewerke, that our beloved Canada is built upon a half-truth, if not an act of outright deception.
“Deception?” says the politician.
Yes, says Bundewerke. A wilfully incomplete history is an act of intellectual dishonesty, he says.
“You use very strong language,” says the politician. “You might explain what you mean.”
The curator draws a conspicuous breath. “You must appreciate the depths of what I am telling you, Guv. The evidence speaks for itself. We have done the Indian a great disservice, and by letting him fade away we have done ourselves a disservice also.”
This notion of a self-disservice is not readily soluble, thus they are slow to absorb his meaning.
“I mean,” says Bundewerke, “we ought to imagine what our country would be if we had let the Indian be.”
“Let him be?” says Charisma Pardons. “Like, go on being Indians?”
“And why not?” says Bundewerke. “An alternative history, if you will. Not this uneasy Canada, but another, better Canada, with the Indian alive and well in it.”
“A fascinating premise,” says Dunderly Rye.
The curator can see he is winning them over. “Think of the good it could have done us as a nation!”
Collectively they deliberate this novel proposition.
“What exactly was the problem with the Indians again?” says Dodo Tuttle.
“Perceived as an obstruction to progress, plain and simple,” says Bundewerke. “Indifferent to the gospel as well as to accumulation. A wrench in the machinery of industrial state-capitalism. In a word, a nuisance.”
“Marvellous,” says Tink Bullruss. “So good.”
“Tell us more,” says the hitherto reticent Lars Petal, from back-of-room. “This has the makings of a brilliant novel.”
Bundewerke does his best to bring the Indian back to life. He dwells upon the substance of their rich spirituality, which he contrasts to the torpid ennui of post-industrial society. One Indian word, he suggests, might contain the wisdom of a thousand European tongues. Imagine the poetic worlds this could unlock! Imagine also the rich pageantry of culture, the oneness of the Indian with this land we call Canada! Imagine, if you can.
“Good god, what have we done,” says Dodo Tuttle.
“This is exactly the sort of thing our country needs,” says Guv Marson.
“When Canada goes to sleep it dreams of a world without Indians,” says Lars Petal. “And that dream is now our nightmare.” He is pleased with this figure. He jots.
“I suggest we strike a committee immediately,” says the politician. “So as not to lose momentum.”
Robert Bundewerke is chosen as chair with Guv Marson his deputy. Dodo Tuttle the journalist will set to the task of raising public interest in, and support of, their campaign, aided by Indigo Twilight and Wiley Totem and Dunderly Rye. Charisma Pardons will be the face and spokesperson of their efforts, whilst novelist Lars Petal agrees to script her every word.
This is how our story begins.