Autopoetics

Autopoetics: Autobiographical Representations of the Indian and the Making of the Self [the following is an introduction to my Ph.D. Thesis. See also the entries on this site for Eleanor Brass, Maria Campbell, and James Tyman.]

AUTOBIOGRAPHY, BIOGRAPHY AND THE DEATH OF THE SUBJECT

Philippe Lejeune has called the discourse of subjectivity “the myth of our civilization.” The demise of this discourse, among a number of academics at least, seems all but complete. The work of Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault has determined that the death of the subject is a matter almost of common sense among many (see, for instance, Foucault, “What is an Author?”, Roland Barthes, Roland Barthes par Roland Barthes, Derrida “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences”, Jacques Lacan, “The Agency of the Letter in the Unconscious or Reason Since Freud”.) However, there are theorists who are critical of postructuralist proclamations that the subject is dead, or that human agency is a fiction discursively produced. Leigh Gilmore reminds us that “it has been a crucial insight of many feminisms that it is a good deal easier to abandon yourself to disappearance and Nietzschean death if you already dominate all you survey. This insight is instructive, and yet among theorists of autobiography and biography, feminist or otherwise, there is no agreement over the question Does the “myth of our civilization” bear any political utility? Leigh Gilmore asserts that “writing an autobiography can be a political act because it asserts a right to speak rather than be spoken for,” and argues also that “politics is conceivable without a foundational subject”:

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Remembering Who You Are: The Synecdochic Self in Maria Campbell’s “Half-Breed”

[This is an extract from my 1998 doctoral thesis. You can also read my thesis chapters on Eleanor Brass and James Tyman. The introductory, “Autopoetics,” chapter is here.]

Maria Campbell

Maria Campbell’s Half-Breed constitutes a Metis-centred history of the Metis and conceives history itself as an energising mythos in which both critiques of present social realities and radical hopes for the future subsist

REMEMBERING WHO YOU ARE: The Synecdochic Self in Maria Campbell’s “Half-Breed”, by Maria Campbell (Halifax, Nova Scotia: Goodread Biographies, 1973).

“Surely history consists primarily in speaking and being answered, in crying and being heard. If that is true it means there can be no history in the empire because the cries are never heard and the speaking is never answered. ” -Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination.

Maria Campbell’s 1973 autobiography Halfbreed constitutes a rebirth of the Native biographical genre, and hers is a text to which many who have followed refer. This work is striking for its breadth, beginning as it does with a summary narrative of Metis history, a history which frames the narrative of Campbell’s life. The autobiography begins, “In the 1860s, when Saskatchewan was part of what was then called the Northwest Territories and was a land free of towns, barbed-wire fences and farmhouses” (3). Campbell’s story is presented as a chapter, or rather 22 chapters, of Metis history beginning with the first white/native interactions and culminating in the 1869 Red River Rebellion and the 1884 battle at Batoche (following which Louis Riel was hanged, having been found guilty of high treason). Campbell summarises these and other key events, detailing the conditions within which they occurred and presenting the contemporary Metis grievances. Chapter One concludes with the outcomes of the 1884 battle, in the form of a list (6). Campbell establishes a perspective on this period of history (1869-1885) in a list recounting the events and ironically ending with the comment, “The history books say that the Halfbreeds were defeated at Batoche in 1884.” Such however is not the view either of Halfbreed or of Cheechum, a central figure of the narrative who “never surrendered at Batoche” (183). Halfbreed establishes Metis history as the contested ground of subjectivity and derives from its reconstitution of that history a synecdochic conception of the self. Halfbreed thus culminates in an expansive vision of solidarity which in many ways recapitulates the political struggles of Riel.

“Synecdochic self” is a phrase adopted by Arnold Krupat. According to the synecdochic model of selfhood, the individual is a part of the unfolding narrative of a people, and can thus be understood only in relation to the whole; “where narration of personal history is more nearly marked by the individual’s sense of himself in relation to collective social units and groupings, one might speak of a synecdochic sense of self” (Eakin 176). Here the collective social units and groupings under consideration are primarily the Metis people, but Halfbreed takes into consideration also class and gender groupings, and in the end a broad social community of those who seek justice. Indeed, at the heart of the autobiography’s “synecdochic vision” is a developing awareness of the complex inter-relations of gender, class, and race groupings which render solidarity both a logical and practical conclusion of the narrative:

I believe that one day, very soon, people will set aside their differences and come together as one. Maybe not because we love one another, but because we will need each other to survive. Then together we will fight our common enemies. (184)

In order then to understand more fully the workings of Campbell’s Halfbreed I shall attempt to analyse the constituents of this synecdochic vision, giving especial attention to the text’s dynamic representations of gender, class, Metis subjectivity, and history. As in the case in my investigations of Eleanor Brass and James Tyman, I hope to establish the structural-thematic principles according to which the text is organised and to describe the dictions and contradictions which articulate the discourse of the self. In short, I am attempting to elucidate particular instances of autopoetics, or self-making.

Cheechum serves both as the conveyor of the corporate past and the prophet of the future. Campbell’s synecdochic model of selfhood depends upon Cheechum for its substance, for Cheechum’s dual awareness of the crimes of the past and the promise of the future enables her to engage in a radical critique of the present. Maria’s analysis of the Metis condition is framed within Cheechum’s judgement that the state has “taught children to be ashamed” (159) and that governments were not made by the people; “it only looks like that from the outside, my girl” (159). Cheechum well understands the class economic interests which inform social reality, observing for example that war is “white business…between rich and greedy people who wanted power” (22). Cheechum notes further that the Catholic God “took more money from us than the Hudson’s Bay store,” an observation which integrates the religious institution into the project of cultural-economic imperialism (30). Maria’s experiences later confirm Cheechum’s class-based analysis:

I realize now that poor people, both white and Native, who are trapped within a certain kind of life, can never look to the business and political leaders of this country for help. Regardless of what they promise, they’ll never change things, because they are involved in and perpetuate in private the very things that they condemn in public. (137)

Significantly when the colonisation of Maria’s subjectivity reaches its zenith (in other words, when she is reduced to a “cold, rich, and unreal” sexual commodity and drug-addict) she finds herself in the presence of “politics and big business” (136). This convergence is perversely the fulfilment of Maria’s dream of material wealth as well as the disintegration of her “soul” (133) and even to a degree her body. Maria’s status as a commodity imposes upon her the requirement that she “forget about yesterday and tomorrow” (136), for the emptiness of her dream has become intolerable. The commodification of human relations, in which mere economic rationalism determines social reality, is exposed in all its ugliness. Maria performs her role as consort for a “wealthy and influential” unnamed partner. Her function is to “be damned beautiful and happy and entertaining” (137) in exchange for class-based privileges. In fulfilment of Cheechum’s sad prediction (134) Maria gets the “symbols of white ideals of success” she wants, exchanging for these symbols the substance of her “soul.” Cheechum, along with the Metis people, recedes from view as Maria becomes increasingly concerned not with the “tomorrow” of which Cheechum has spoken, but rather with the tomorrow of economic worries and the “next fix” (138).

The colonisation of Maria’s subjectivity is facilitated, if not driven, by the imposition of economic necessity. There is “no worse sin in this country than to be poor” (61), according to Maria. It is this sin of poverty that drives her to seek expiation in marriage, exile, and prostitution. The economic system of behaviour management complements and reinforces gender and class roles, interpolating Maria’s subjectivity into the contradictions of ideology. She subsists in the low- or non-paying gendered labour of the housewife and finds herself unable escape poverty. The contradictions of ideology inform her labour experiences as well as her subjectivity, for economic survival depends upon Maria’s ability to be the kind of women men like (97): “It made me feel that I might as well give up right then as there was no way I could ever be the combination of saint, angel, devil and lady that was required” (97). Maria’s work experiences consistently reproduce the contradictions of gender ideology. Gender ideology invariably domesticates her social and economic roles while introducing the notion of a threat to domestic stability. Thus, Maria’s employers rely upon her domestic skills while anticipating sexual indiscretions. Maria is a potential whore in the household whose presence necessarily elicits surveillance. Race ideology reinforces the notion of a whore-housewife, as demonstrated by an employer’s claim that Indians are “only good for two things – working and fucking.”(108). In short, the gender ideology which requires Maria to be a domestic labourer also renders her labour of dubious utility. As in other contexts, the accusation of “whore” is never far away.

First let us consider the matter of the writing of history. To write a Metis history is to practice radicalism (radix), for the Metis of the popular imagination is a creature whose essential characteristic is that he dwells outside history, history here understood as a people’s evolving self-realisation through purposeful agency. To write a Metis-centred history is thus to contradict officialdom’s most cherished rationalisation, that the Metis are not a people. The term “Metis” however properly refers to a distinct group, those whose origin can be traced back to the Red River in the early 1800s. These are the people, now located mainly in the prairie provinces and in the north, who joined together to fight the Hudson’s Bay Company and who in 1869 formed a government to negotiate their entry into the Canadian federation. Theirs is a unique culture with unique languages, among them patois and Michif (Purich 10-11). Campbell distinguishes “three main clans” of Metis in three settlements, and then contrasts the Metis to Indians, not only on cultural and linguistic grounds, but also on the grounds of character traits:

There was never much love lost between Indians and Halfbreeds. They were completely different from us – quiet when we were noisy, dignified even at dances and get-togethers. Indians were very passive – they would get angry at things done to them but would never fight back, whereas Halfbreeds were quick-tempered – quick to fight, but quick to forgive and forget (25).

The narrative is informed throughout by its implicit reference to the history leading up to and following from the Rebellion, a history which, as I have already suggested, serves as the mythic centre of Halfbreed.

Like the writing of history, the writing of an autobiography conveys phenomenal ownership of the productive means of one’s life-narrative, in contrast to the historical determinism which is an implicit (and at times explicit) theme of Halfbreed. In other words, autobiographical production appears to confirm the notion of the “self-authorising I” but does not and can not obliviate the material conditions of native lives, which are typically far from “self-authorised.” In this lies one of the many contradictions of “Indian autobiography” and hence Indian subjectivity. A subject-producing institution, autobiography is rooted both in liberal ideology’s notions of rational self-mastery as well as in the ideologies of class, gender, and race from which institutionally-mediated formulations of identity must borrow. This contradiction, of a self-mastered subjectivity and subjection, is furthermore subsumed in the dynamics of state-capitalism itself, which call forth active, autonomous, individualist “economic man” while constituting a complex class-based social order. One is constituted by ideology both as a subject and an agent, both as passive and active. Autobiography, as a culturally-mediated object, discloses the many ideological contradictions of liberal state-capitalism. A negotiation of the contradictions of state-capitalist ideology, whether consciously pursued or not, is thus necessary for the author of autobiographical narrative.

Each of the texts under discussion discloses (with varying degrees of self-consciousness) a negotiation of ideological contradictions. The challenge for analysis is to articulate coherently the particular features of the negotiation. I have claimed earlier that the contradictions of autobiographical narrative are rooted in the economic and political institutions designed to “solve the Indian problem” (see Introduction). These institutions are themselves historically rooted in the dynamics of state control, which constitute the material foundation both of social relations and of ideological constructs. The analysis of autobiography here undertaken involves a search for the textualised configurations of subjectivity according to the historical, cultural, economic and ideological substance of state subjects. Recall that particular incidences of autobiography and biography are ritualised recreations of the cultural myth of subjectivity, and that it is therefore with the performance of this “ritualised recreation” that we are concerned – with how the text operates rather than what it “means.” Under these conditions we may turn to Campbell’s text and to the contradictions inherent within its performance.

Campbell’s Halfbreed roots the autobiographical “I” in a corporate identity: the Metis people, but also as the narrative develops the collective social groupings of women and the poor. Historical narrative facilitates a mode of autopoetics which is at once critical and energising, a mode which situates the cultural and ideological contradictions of the self within a broader project of collective agency. Maria’s personal story is relational, posited among and extrapolated from the struggles, frustrations, and dreams of the oppressed. The reader is presented with two chapters of cultural history and genealogy before arriving at the phrase “I was born” (16). Structurally the autobiography implies that the “beginning” of the autobiography’s “I” precedes its explicit narrative introduction. The story of the “I” begins before the “I” is born (a point exploited to humorous effect in the autobiography parody Tristam Shandy.) By the time of Maria’s birth we have encountered not only the Riel Rebellion, but also the failed attempts of the Halfbreeds at farming, the conditions endured by the “Road Allowance People” (8), and descriptions of Saskatchewan life in the 1920s. At the centre of this corporate history is the role of the land in the unfolding story of Campbell’s ancestors, for the social, legal, political and cultural dynamics represented in her people’s history are literally grounded, rooted in the struggle to occupy and to live from the land. Campbell alludes to the land in an introduction, and notes that “like me the land had changed, my people were gone, and if I was to know peace I would have to search within myself. That is when I decided to write about my life” (2).

The notion of looking inside the self is illustrated on page 171, where Maria is given a painting “of a burnt-out forest, all black, bleak and dismal” with “little green shoots” representing hope. Land thematically integrates the political struggle over physical resources with the narrative struggle for the factors of self-production, an integration which literalises the apparent pathetic fallacy of the autobiography’s introduction. Land and history are the principal sites of struggle between state and Metis for the control of critical resources. This struggle informs Half-breed’s conceptions of Metis identity and discloses the ideological contradictions of the colonised self.

The text’s contradictions involve the ideological substance of the concept “Indian.” As the Welfare Office bureaucrat remarks on page 155, “I can’t see the difference – part Indian, all Indian. You’re all the same.” For him, Halfbreed, Metis, Indian, and presumably a score of other terms circulate interchangeably within a verbal economy of the Indian. While Campbell certainly knows the difference between Indians and Metis (differences which are legal, linguistic, cultural, and historical), this verbal economy informs her articulations of the self. The signified “Indian” is never far from the text’s multiple signifiers of Native identity, even in the case of illocutionary efforts to speak beyond or against the verbal economy of the Indian. The Metis is always-already an Indian, entailing the concept’s pejorative declinations. While the term “white” appears to be taken for granted as a proper and plainly descriptive signifier in Native autobiography, the terms Indian, Metis, and Native (to cite only three of many) are rife with ambiguities and negative connotations. The Native writer’s relation to the signifiers which speak her is an uncomfortable one, bound as the signifiers are by the ideological horizon of the signified.

Campbell construes her discomforting engagement with the signified as a love-hate relationship (103, 117). In these terms the autobiography thematises the bounding of its verbal economy. The power of the signified is acknowledged by Sophie, who according to Campbell comments that “she had let herself believe she was merely a ‘no good Halfbreed’” (103). Alex Vandal, the village joker, decides in what could be variously interpreted as an act of resistance or a capitulation to racial prejudice (or both) “to act retarded because the whites thought we were anyway.” Maria too, in a passage reminiscent of Edward Ahenakew’s Old Keyam (“I Do Not Care”) comments, “What’s the use? – people believed I was bad anyway, so I might as well give them real things to talk about” (129). The signified has precisely this force, as Cheechum’s comment, “They make you hate what you are,” suggests (103). The “proper” subject-positions of the Indian/Halfbreed are only too well-known, and being known they are at times self-consciously enacted by Native and Halfbreed agents. (James Tyman’s autobiography is a good example of just such self-conscious enactments, as I shall attempt to show.) Racism thus becomes literally a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Considerations of racism and identity are introduced into the narrative alongside the themes of imperialism and colonisation. Recalling a love of books from her childhood, Campbell writes of her fascination with the stories of Cleopatra which she had then known. Her imagination having been “stirred,” the juvenile Campbell enacts, with the help of her cousins, “plays” derived from the familiar stories:

In good weather my brothers and sisters and I gathered our cousins behind the house and organized plays. The house was our Roman Empire, the two pine trees were the gates of Rome. I was Julius Caesar and would be wrapped in a long sheet with a willow branch on my head. My brother Jamie was Mark Anthony, and shouts of “Hail Caesar!” would ring throughout out settlement. (14 sic)

One of the ironies of this Metis reconstitution of imperial Rome consists in the careful attention to racial representation in an otherwise naïve performance of roles. Young Maria wants to play Cleopatra but is instead cast as Julius Caesar, for she is “too black” and her hair is “like a nigger’s” (14). A “white-skinned, red-haired cousin” is instead pressed into the role, assuming her place aboard a raft, her slaves at her side. Cleopatra’s status (she clearly occupies the central place in this play) calls unequivocally for an Aryan representation. Race, class, and gender are each assigned their proper roles and places in this miniature rehearsal of historical imperialism’s social determinations. The Empire, in other words, arrogates to itself the exclusive right to constitute subjects according to its dominant interests. The word “nigger” suggests the virulent racism which subsists below the conscious awareness of the actors, and though the white neighbours perceive the irony of “Caesar, Rome and Cleopatra among Halfbreeds in the backwoods of northern Saskatchewan” (14) a greater irony may perhaps be the thematic appropriateness of this scene. The irony lies in the fact that matters of imperialism, colonisation, and racism may be abundantly clear in a representation of ancient Roman history while being indiscernible to the witnesses of the affairs of the modern and contemporary state. Imperialism nonetheless both produces and reproduces its conquests in the constitution of Indian subjects, an idea enacted not only within this scene but within the autobiography as a whole. Metis history and subjectivity are obliterated and in their place are put the White Man’s Indian.

The Cleopatra motif reappears in Chapter 22, perhaps the bleakest section of the narrative. Maria, institutionalised subsequent to her breakdown, revisits the world of make-believe:

They would be all right until a nurse or doctor came along, and then they would feign insanity. Sometimes they were moved to another ward, and eventually some received shock treatments. One attractive lady in her late forties had been there for over seven years. She believed she was Cleopatra, and spent hours sitting on a chesterfield. Sometimes one of us would feed her and pretend to be her slave.

Here play takes on a sinister aspect not at all like the play in which Maria has previously engaged. This Cleopatra is ironically described as an “attractive lady” (ironic because in the brutality and bleakness of her environment an attractive lady is incongruous), and the slaves at her side vividly depict the theme of power and powerlessness which is only suggested in the Cleopatra scene on page 14. The Alberta Hospital Cleopatra undercuts Maria’s earlier glamorous conception (“Oh, how I wanted to be Cleopatra”) and raises disturbing considerations of gender, class, and institutionalisation. An attractive lady would not likely find herself in such circumstances, though a woman of modest means like Maria may. In the female environment of the hospital powerlessness is graphically presented, the only “exception” being the mock pregnancies of a “fairly stout woman, with the most enormous belly” (163). I designate this an “exception” because there is an apparent and ironic appropriation of the female power of reproduction, an equivocal power, rooted as it is in patriarchal social and economic relations.

Awareness of patriarchal values shapes a number of Campbell’s reflections upon gender. Her father, we are told, is “disappointed” by the arrival of a daughter (16) and remarks disparagingly to his sons, “Dammit you boys! Maria can do it and she’s a girl!” (34). His conception of women is determined by a decent girl/whore dichotomy (111-112) which Campbell construes in the following terms:

On our way home Dad and I talked about babies, men, women and love. I asked him what kind of women men liked – I have to laugh now at his description. It made me feel that I might as well give up right then and there as there was no way I could ever be the combination of saint, angel, devil and lady that was required (97).

Campbell identifies the sexism of Native political organisations which “women were not encouraged to attend unless a secretary was needed” (182). She discerns in this attitude both general systemic determinants – what she calls “the system” – and the particular influence of missionaries who “had impressed upon us the feeling that women were a source of evil. This belief, combined with the ancient Indian recognition of the power of women, is still holding back the progress of our people today” (168). This account proposes an interesting case of ideological syncretism as well as a surprising manner in which ideologies can intersect and reinforce one another.

Representations of gender in Halfbreed comment variously upon gender roles and norms. Female beauty is a recurring motif of the narrative, whether the beauty of the Alberta Hospital Cleopatra or the beauty imposed upon the corpse of Maria’s mother and washed away by the horrified witnesses (78). Campbell notes the beauty which attends Lil’s prostitutes (137) as well as Darrel’s materialist sister, appropriately named “Bonny.” The description of her as “beautiful…and also very cold” (125) is a formula we meet in both instances, as well as in the description of the immigrants (27) and the transformed Maria, who we are told is “cold and unreal, rich and expensive” – and I presume beautiful in the manner expected of a prostitute (134). One insight to be drawn from this last episode is the relation of these depictions of beauty to agency and the self. The beauty of a prostitute, for example, is an instrumental value which serves economic necessity. Hence the intersection of beauty, money, and coldness, “cold” suggesting an absence of humanity. Indeed, in a world dominated by money relations all human interaction risks becoming predominantly instrumental in character:

I thought to myself, “Love! They all love you if they are on the gravy train. He can afford to love me. I made him good money.” I neither hated nor loved him. He was a means to an end, and I didn’t feel I owed him anything. (141)

We have already encountered Eleanor Brass’s comment upon the importance of money in the white man’s world (Brass 47). Maria’s conception of wealth and beauty involves at least in part a failure of logic, for these things begin as symbols of the good life but eventually become substitutes. In other words, the instrumental value becomes itself an end value, with disastrous results. Maria’s dream of wealth and beauty, innocent in itself, is co-opted by social relations which define the female subject as a commodity.

There are of course alternative models both of the self and of social relations. The commodified self rooted in instrumental social relations however is a subject position assumed by Maria in her dream to live in “a beautiful world full of beautiful people with no feelings of guilt or shame” (137). The dream of her materially-impoverished youth in this case is fulfilled only at the expense of agency and the self:

Dreams are so important in one’s life, yet when followed blindly they can lead to the disintegration of one’s soul. Take for example the driving ambition and dream of a little girl telling her Cheechum, “Someday my brothers and sisters will each have a toothbrush and they’ll brush their teeth every day and we’ll have a bowl of fruit on the table all the time…. Cheechum would look at her and see the toothbrushes, fruit and all those other symbols of white ideals of success and say sadly, “You’ll have them, my girl, you’ll have them.” (134)

These ideals of success, which are class-specific (Maria having associated them with wealth) as much as they are “white,” manifest themselves to Maria as a relation of the self to objective signifiers of status, as in the case of the business suit (67-68). “To own a suit and hat was a real status symbol,” Campbell writes, reflecting that in later years her awe is transformed into sorrow by the absurd pictures of men in ill-fitting clothes (68). Ironically the “holy” suits only underscore Metis poverty, for the pathetic attempt to look the part invariably fails. Toothbrushes and fruit further substantiate the theme of self-objectification, that is, of rendering the self an agent-less object of social relations. Cheechum “sadly” tells Maria she will have the “symbols of white ideals of success,” a prediction whose fulfilment clarifies Maria’s quest for her identity. Cheechum’s critique of the “white ideals” is implicit on page 98, where she says “Go out there and find what you want and take it, but always remember who you are and why you want it.” Cheechum here makes the distinction between material wealth as an instrumental value and an end value, and the word “remember” further suggests the critical function of memory in the constitution of the self. Maria’s failure is to render who you are equal to what you have, an understanding which abstracts the self from memory and history and posits it among object relations.

Prostitution fulfils the logic of the self-as-object, as commodity. Maria is taken to a “fashionable” dress shop and afterward to a beauty parlour. Having become the glamorous woman of her dreams, she is given an opportunity to contemplate the transformation:

When I was finally pushed in front of a mirror, I hardly recognized the woman staring back at me. She looked cold and unreal, rich and expensive. “Dear God,” I thought, “this is how I’ve always wanted to look, but do the women who look like this ever feel like I do inside?” (134)

The mirror image graphically imposes upon Maria the contradictions of her subject-position. She confronts herself as object – as simply another symbol, like a toothbrush or a bowl of fruit. The contradiction forces her to evaluate the conventional image of success which she has cultivated, for clearly inner does not correspond with outer. The contradiction of inner and outer initiates a critique of the material signifiers of success, a critique which will be evident in later sections of the text. At this point in the narrative, however, there is merely a recognition on Campbell’s part that the dream of success pursued thus far is empty. Campbell writes, “I lost something that afternoon. Something inside of me died” (134).

The death of one dream does not immediately bring about the birth of another. Structurally, chapter seventeen constitutes a negative space between the commodified subjectivity which has been the dominant (but not exclusive) concern of the early chapters and the synecdochic subject which shall dominate later. The term “negative” is employed because the subject-position adopted in chapter seventeen is “no self”; Maria recognises the perversity of a “self-as-object” model but finds the demands of agency insupportable:

Most of the girls at Lil’s used pills, and once I discovered them the world became a great deal more bearable. I took them like they were going out of style. They helped me to sleep, they kept me happy, and most of all, I could forget about yesterday and tomorrow. (136)

Forgetting is the means by which the self rooted in a historical narrative is negated. History, to borrow from James Joyce, is a nightmare from which Maria wishes to escape. Profoundly informed by history, Halfbreed conveys the horror of a history-less existence. Severed from an energising past and future (which the narrative derives from the story of Riel and the Metis people), the present is static and deathly. Campbell describes herself then as “numb,” (136) which is another way of saying, as she has earlier stated, that something inside of her died (134). What has “died” at this point is human agency. This death manifests itself not only in an absence of memories of the past and imaginings of the future but also in the absence of a critique of the present. The death of the Chinese girl, for instance, is met with a resolute attempt on Maria’s part to pull herself together lest she “fall apart and be finished” (135). Maria herself attempts suicide and ends up in a hospital among women whose “greatest fear was being released,” that is, of becoming agents actively involved in the mess of existence (163). Smoky speaks for them also when he expresses his efforts “to forget we exist” (174). Cheechum’s admonition, “always remember who you are,” is here appropriate, for the hospital scene suggests a link between the institutionally-coopted subject and forgetting. Cheechum herself suggests such a link when she claims that the state offers blankets but steals souls (159). The subject subjected to the state in this way is emptied of agency and ceases to be fully human.

Campbell first relates Cheechum’s story of the blanket during the restaurant scene. Two Indian boys are mocked by a group of “drunk and noisy” white men, who yell, “Watch it! The bow and arrows are coming” (158). Narrative details lead the reader to associate this scene with an earlier incident from Maria’s life. The older child stops, puts his arm around his younger brother and, “with his head up,” continues walking (159). The resemblance of this scene to the town scene of page 37 is clear. In both scenes, the Indians are objects of a white gaze, which imparts to them the shame Cheechum traces back to state apparatuses, church and school in particular. The very concept “Indian” issues implicitly from this white gaze, a gaze which the church, the school, the welfare system and the paternalistic state as a whole constitute in an institutionalised form. We have seen this for instance in Maria’s encounter with the welfare office, where she is stripped of dignity and pride and is called by the state to recognise herself as an “Indian” subject. As a reward for her subjection, she receives a small amount of money: a “blanket,” to use Cheechum’s term.

Cheechum’s insight discloses what might be termed the politics of identity. Halfbreed examines power in its manifestations as instruments which name, for as Cheechum understands, the dominant culture sustains its privileges by fashioning the world in its image. Against Halfbreed’s energising Riel mythos, the dominant ideology pits a cinematic farce (111), thereby discrediting the call for justice at the heart of Metis history. The cinema screen functions as a state apparatus, for it calls its Metis audience to a recognition of itself in the image. In this context, the political function of Halfbreed is clear. As Leigh Gilmore argues, in the “transformative process of naming” lies the allure of autobiography. An autobiography empowers the writing subject to speak, as opposed to being spoken for. Having been “spoken” by the ideology of the coloniser, Maria sees her destiny as determined by a choice between failure and assimilation. This choice rests on the assumption that to be Metis is to be poor and dirty, whereas success (in the form of toothbrushes and bowls of fruit) comes to those who become white. The only other “respectable” identity left to the Metis in the present order is a parodic one: the Calgary Stampede Indian, for example. The Indian is an anachronism; white history dictates that the present belongs entirely to the whites. Autobiography offers Campbell a recourse to the discursive production of an alternative reality, and enables her to reconstitute both Metis history and a synecdochic model of selfhood. Thus Halfbreed ends both with an affirmation of solidarity and the words “I no longer need my blanket to survive.”

Solidarity subsists in the common historical grounding of various subject-positions presented in Halfbreed. Metis and non-Metis poor, for example, share comparable experiences, while Metis women in their experiences of work have more in common with other women than with Metis men. The subject-positions of Metis, women, and the poor are represented in a narrative which grounds oppression and poverty in the history which has yielded Canada:

So began a miserable life of poverty which held no hope for the future. That generation of my people was completely beaten. Their fathers had failed during the Rebellion to make a dream come true; they failed as farmers; now there was nothing left. Their way of life was a part of Canada’s past and they saw no place in the world around them, for they believed they had nothing to offer. (8)

The Rebellion was, as the “official” account on page 6 suggests, the final impediment to the dream of a nation stretching “from sea to shining sea.” Those defeated at Batoche disappear as agents from this history. Poverty, which discloses their (non)relation to the prevailing modes of production, forecloses the future and hence renders dreaming futile. The marginalised share in common a present in which they see for themselves “no place in the world around them” as well as a past which is irrelevant and a future which is impossible. Human agency in such conditions becomes an intollerable burden, and a people forced to endure the burden end up “merely existing,” a phrase employed by Campbell in the Introduction. Mere existence is the antipode of historical existence, and Halfbreed implicitly attempts to reconstitute the latter within a narrative informed both by remembering and hope.

Memory and hope merge in the failed effort of the Rebellion, which Campbell recapitulates ironically. Following a disappointing encounter with the CCF, Campbell’s father becomes involved in Native politics, becoming a strong supporter of Jim Brady. This chapter is an ironic repetition, in miniature, of the disappointments following the defeat of Riel. The arrival of Jim Brady is attended by hope and excitement, both of which find their expression through Campbell’s father. Although Jim Brady is clearly the driving force of the political agenda, the narrative construes politics as domestic drama, casting the father in the role of hero. The Campbell family becomes a part of the Riel struggle, just as the meaning of Campbell’s individual life is itself synechdochically related to the corporate history of the opening chapters. The Riel mythos provides both a set of compelling symbols and an explanatory framework for the past, present, and future. In Riel, the terms of the struggle are articulated and the people find an energising narrative of origin and destiny. The domestic drama is therefore cast in the symbolic terms of the Riel mythos:

Daddy went to meetings all that year. He didn’t go trapping and so we were very poor. He was gone nearly all the time, and when he was home he would be very moody, either so happy that he was singing, or else very quiet. We all suffered these times with him. It seemed the Mounties and wardens were always at our house now. We were treated badly at school, even our teacher would make jokes about Dad, like, “Saskatchewan has a new Riel. Campbells have quit poaching to take up the new rebellion.” (74)

The irony of the invocation of Riel is clear enough. It is intended by the whites as a form of derision. Furthermore, it is true that neither the victories nor the defeats of Campbell’s father can claim the historical significance that the life of Riel can claim. Structurally, however, the invocation is a serious one, for in this chapter ( Chapter Eight) Campbell first becomes politically-conscious, and the perennial struggles of the Metis are first given expression:

Jim [Brady] said almost word for word what I have heard our leaders discuss today: the poverty, the death of trapping as our livelihood, the education of our children, the loss of land, and the attitude of both governments towards out plight. He talked about a strong united voice that would demand justice for our people – an organization that government couldn’t ignore. He said many people were poor, not just us, and maybe someday we could put all our differences aside and walk together and build a better country for all our children. (73)

The narrative is simultaneously mindful of past, present and future. The conditions of the past are linked to those of the present, and the subjunctive mood (“maybe someday we could”) projects the narrative into the future. Here the point being advanced is not merely that history is presented as repeating itself, which is apparent enough. Rather, a particular relation of structure and meaning is proposed. Through repetition, events take on their full significance. This relation takes us to a central implicit concern of the book, historical determinism. The repetitions that make the narrative meaningful also constitute a central problem for Maria: are her people doomed to repeat history? Again, we may think in this context of James Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus, for whom history is a nightmare to be escaped. Dedalus’s decision to “forge in the smithy of his soul the uncreated conscience of his race” proposes the transformation of personal and collective history in an act of literary re-creation. Campbell’s task is comparable: “Like me the land had changed, my people were gone, and if I was to know peace I would have to search within myself. That is when I decided to write about my life”(2).

Further observations could be made in relation to Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, particularly regarding the significance of imperialism both to Irish history and to Stephen Dedalus’s project of self-creation. Dedalus speaks of his alienation from the English language (182) and from the Christian religion (241), both of which he correctly views as imperial impositions, and rejects the offers of state institutions (principally the church) to affiliate himself with the empire through allegiance to its symbols and narratives. Dedalus’s assertion of non serviam [“I will not serve”] manifests itself in the “silence, exile and cunning” (238) whose mythic representation is Odysseus. It is especially fitting in this context that among Odysseus’s epithets are the terms metis (“cunning”) and polymetis (resourceful); clearly also exile is a central element not only of Campbell’s autobiography, but of the life of Riel himself (4). The suggestion here being made is not that Campbell is by virtue of a fortuitous pun an “Odyssean” author, whatever such an assertion may mean; rather, this brief interpolation of Joyce’s work is intended to suggest ways in which both autobiographical narratives (or in the case of the Künstlerroman, pseudo-autobiographical narrative) provoke a consideration of the constitution of subjects and subjectivities. Cunning is a practical necessity if the state production of subject-positions is to be challenged (For a discussion of Joyce and imperialism, see Vincent J. Cheng, Joyce, race, and empire. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1997.) Halfbreed presents the multifarious state apparatuses involved in the production and reproduction of Indian subjects while constituting the terms of its self-determination of subject-positions, that is, historical agency.

One apparatus considered is the motion picture. The representation of history in a movie recalled by Campbell effects a successful appelation of subjects. The Metis apparently consent to the appropriation of their history and, in so doing, forego the opportunity to remember who they are, the task of historical agents:

One show I remember was about the Northwest Rebellion. People came from miles around and the theatre was packed. They were sitting in the aisles and on the floor. Riel and Dumont were our heroes. The movie was a comedy and it was awful: the Halfbreeds were made to look like such fools that it left you wondering how they ever organized a rebellion.

Here the very notion of a rebellion (which may raise the troubling question Why did people rebel?) is obliviated and replaced by a depoliticised comic vision of the Metis, complete with a “filthy and gross” Dumont and a Riel who is a “real lunatic who believed he was god” (111). History, with its troubling themes of imperialism and injustice, is displaced by triumphalism and the gratifying resolutions of comedy. The followers of Riel are appropriated to the prevailing cultural symbols of the day, emerging from this version of the Rebellion as “‘three stooges’ types” devoid of serious interest. Not surprisingly, the representatives of the state, in particular the NWMP, are recreated as heroic. Campbell notes the “hysterical laughter” of the Halfbreeds, who apparently are unaware that an ideological assault is underway. Cheechum however walks out in disgust.

The ideological assault on the Metis, and its concomitant production of subject-positions, manifests itself in a number of conventional assumptions. On page 8 we find the ethnocentric and essentialist notion advanced also by Eleanor Brass that Metis “just did not have the kind of thing inside them that makes farmers,” an assertion contradicted by the example of her father. This ontological assertion is particularly striking coming as it does after a lengthy materialist accounting of the barriers faced by the would-be Native and Metis farmer:

Due to the depression and shortage of fur there was no money to buy the implements to break the land. A few families could have scraped up the money to hire outside help but no one would risk expensive equipment on a land so covered with rocks and muskeg. Some tried with horse and plough but were defeated in the end. Fearless men who could brave sub-zero weather and all the dangers associated with living in the bush gave up, frustrated and discouraged (8).

I considered earlier the self-interest invested by whites in the notion that Indians were incapable of cultivating the land, a notion that Sarah Carter has argued to be false. Donald Purich furthermore has analysed the diverse legal and economic arrangements which rigged the system of property distribution in favour of white settlers and speculators, virtually guaranteeing that Indian and Metis farmers would be unable to take possession of the land. The result of government policies was that most of the land given to the Metis ended up in the possession of eastern speculators, whose predation was tolerated by the state, if not actively assisted. Campbell acknowledges the consistency of government efforts to undermine Metis organisation, but underestimates the role of the government policy in the expropriation of Metis land, relying instead on a ready cultural explanation.

The “failure” of the Metis is construed as a historical failure, part of the inevitable if poignant displacement of barbarism by civilisation. The Metis, in other words, failed to meet the challenge of history. Thus the Metis way of life is conceived to be “a part of Canada’s past,” an inference whose complement is (as I have suggested) the triumphalism of the empire. Campbell notes “there are some who even after a hundred years continue to struggle for equality and justice for their people,” a statement which recasts history in differing terms. History thus conceived is the product of human effort and inescapably subject to a moral accounting. The “white” version of history apportions only dehistoricised and static subject-positions to the Metis; only as commodity does the Indian serve a legitimate function. Business is “good in Calgary for Indians,” Marion notes (155), for the commodified Indian reproduces an ideological discourse which regards the Indian as a historical (that is dead) artefact. The Indian-as-antique manifests itself in the “gaudy feather and costumes” which Campbell equates with the “welfare coat” put on to get government money. In both cases it is a white man’s Indian devoid of humanity and historical agency, the same Indian who appears on the movie screen at page 111. Campbell deduces the source of her personal shame from these representations and from the subject-positions imposed upon her by political, economic, and cultural institutions.

Guilt and shame are emotions that Metis and Indians alike have acquired as a result of colonisation. These are a feature of the Indian subject. “Indianness” has been defined by the dominant (white) culture at the same time that Native and Metis traditions have been weakened or even supplanted; the result is that as the material conditions of Native people have been destroyed, the destroyers have rationalised the matter by redefining the Indian subject, paradoxically, as the agent of his own undoing. Such is the case in the official judgements regarding the Indian as a farmer, which tended to render as just the usurpation of land by whites. Campbell depicts the power inherent in this relationship, of coloniser and colonised, in a representation of what may be termed the anthropological gaze:

[The Metis] were happy and proud until we drove into town, then everyone became quiet and looked different. The men walked in front, looking straight ahead, their wives behind, and, I can never forget this, they had their heads down and never looked up. We kids trailed behind with our grannies in much the same manner. (37)

The transition from “happy and proud” to shameful suggests the implicit function of the “white gaze” (recall that Brass uses the term gaze in her depiction of the trip into town). The gaze interpolates the Indian subject, and in this instance even the children respond with the “proper” subject-position. The encounter of the white townspeople and the Metis discloses the intersubjectivity at the base of this shame-filled Indian subject; even Maria’s dream of escaping the shame of poverty is a mere reciprocation of the gaze. She respects (respectare) the “symbols of white ideals of success” (134) and in so doing recognizes herself as the Metis subject of the gaze. The response depicted on page 37 is elicited by the encounter of Maria and the Welfare agent, for whom Campbell acts “timid and ignorant” as she’s been instructed to do by Marion (157). This suggests that the welfare department, and presumably other state apparatuses, institutionalise the gaze, that is, the power of interpolating subjects. Notably an Indian child frustrates what may be construed as an interpolation on page 158 (“Watch it! The bow and arrows are coming”), walking “with his head up.” Cheechum already has exhorted Maria always to do the same (37), an exhortation which challenges directly interpolative strategies and the power inherent within them.

Poverty and the institutional arrangements deployed in its management are mediated by subjects, which is another manner of articulating the point that the ideologies of the welfare state constitute subjects for welfare state apparatuses. The Poor as such is an abstraction, rationalised in the fictive subject-positions where the state renders poverty subject to its own institutional and instrumental logics. This mediation-function of the subject is indeed what we encounter on pages 36-37:

I went to the [Welfare] office in a ten-year-old threadbare red coat, with old boots and a scarf. I looked like a Whitefish Lake squaw, and that’s exactly what the social worker thought. He insisted that I go to the Department of Indian Affairs, and when I said I was not a Treaty Indian but a Halfbreed, he said if that was the case I was eligible, but added, “I can’t see the difference – part Indian, all Indian. You’re all the same.” (155)

Maria has been instructed by a friend to perform for the Welfare agency: “Act ignorant, timid and grateful” (155). Here performance designates the simulation of a specific subject-position appropriate to the ideological assumptions of the welfare office worker, assumptions clearly articulated in this passage. Indians and Metis are “all the same” insofar as they together are interpolated by welfare-state apparatuses. The simulation of poverty involves a concomitant simulation of ignorance and timidity, what one may term following Cheechum the “blanketed subject” for which the state stands ready, arms filled with more blankets. Maria’s request for assistance is co-opted by the state and thus becomes an institutional encounter where agency is undermined and a passive subject constituted. Identity is objectified and reified in order to satisfy bureaucratic ends. The bureaucratic demands of the state furthermore resemble the economic demands of capitalism. As Maria notes, “To me [dancing in the Calgary Stampede] was the same as putting on a welfare coat to get government money” (156). In either case, she become merely “a white man’s Indian,” a subject amenable to institutional expedience.

The pervasiveness of institutions is a striking feature of Native autobiographies, especially those autobiographies written since World War II. In text after text, the protagonists are taken captive by one institution after another; relief agencies, welfare offices, prisons, the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, psychiatric hospitals, and countless other entities make regular appearances. An Indian autobiography is, whatever else it may be, a reflection upon the multiple and contradictory modes of production of subjects in the paternalistic state of modern and contemporary times. Cheechum, as we have seen, puts the matter this way:

…when the government gives you something, they take all that you have in return – your pride, your dignity, all the things that make you a living soul. When they are sure they have everything, they give you a blanket to cover your shame. (159)

Cheechum includes in the category “government” the churches and schools, recognising their subject-producing function as state apparatuses. Significantly Cheechum emphasises the negative character of their operations; what they may impart (Christian religion, literacy, etc.) is apparently less important to Cheechum than what they negate – “all the things that make you a living soul.” The two, giving and taking, are regardless complementary, for the exchange constitutes an agent-less, soul-less subject. This is one of the lessons of Maria’s experience. Cheechum here describes not only the schools and the churches, but the tactics of treaty negotiations by means of which the Canadian government asserted its control. The treaty negotiations proposed an institutionalised rationalisation of imperialism, offering to Native peoples the opportunity to become subjects, on the Empire’s terms. Doubtless the offers of blankets were seen for what they were and met appropriate responses. In any case Cheechum’s characterisation of giving and taking succinctly captures the subtle (and at times not so subtle) operations of institutionalised encounters, where the state bids for subjects and the agent risks her soul.

The narrative’s contradictions, between individual and institution and self and other, are manifested both in the mirror scene (134) and the welfare-office exchange. In the former scene Maria regards the subject she has wanted to become and in the latter she becomes the subject she has wanted to avoid. Both subject-positions alienate Maria from “the things that make her a living soul,” principal among them being history and a synecdochic relation to others. The autobiography, in keeping with the narrative convention of closure, ends with a synechdochic vision (“I believe that one day, very soon, people will set aside their differences and come together as one” [184]); Cambell’s personal story is a part for the whole, and both together are an effort of “brothers and sisters all over the country” who seek together to throw away their blankets, and in so doing to ensure that “the whole world would change” (159). This is not a claim that the text resolves all conflicts and contradictions. Campbell, having derived from history a synechdochic understanding of her personal struggle, projects the struggle into an unspecified future: “one day, very soon, people will set aside their differences and come together as one.” Maria’s searching, loneliness, and pain are over because she has been restored to her brothers and sisters, but for Native people change will come only when together they fight their common enemies. This hopeful denouement is rooted in Metis history, particularly in the history of resistance and rebellion and in the refusal to surrender associated with Cheechum (183). Maria emerges from her “numbness” to find solidarity among “people like herself” (167), a reminder that it is not only Halfbreeds who have reasons to do so but, as in the days of Riel, “white settlers and Indians as well” (4). In short, while the synecodochic vision of Halfbreed’s closing pages extends to all peoples, it is nonetheless a vision which is profoundly Metis, derived from the promise of the Riel-centred Metis mythos by which Halfbreed is informed.

Campbell prefaces the introduction of her people with the words, “The history books say that the Halfbreeds were defeated at Batoche in 1884” (6). Following this is a list of events which constitutes the orthodox, white version of Metis history. This is the history which the white history books have spoken into existence: it is a history ending in defeat and death. Maria, however, says that “My Cheechum never surrendered at Batoche: she only accepted what she considered an honourable truce” (184). These two statements occupy the beginning and end of the narrative, and stand in opposition to one another. History as it is presented in the opening pages is “objective” and cast in the tragic mode. It looks dispassionately at the facts of the matter, which are beyond dispute, and finds poignant the inevitable deaths, which were in any case necessary to produce the present order. Halfbreed, on the other hand, articulates an alternative understanding of Batoche and its aftermath. It is an instance of constitutive rhetoric which, by its very existence, refutes the textbook proposition that the Metis were defeated in 1884, and thereafter disappeared as historical agents. Halfbreed constitutes a Metis-centred history of the Metis and conceives “history” itself as an energising mythos in which both critiques of present social realities and radical hopes for the future subsist.

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Authenticating the Subject: Inside Out, An Autobiography of a Native Canadian, by James Tyman

[This is an extract from my 1998 doctoral thesis. You can also read my thesis chapters on Maria Campbell and Eleanor Brass. The introductory, “Autopoetics,” chapter is here.]

AUTHENTICATING THE SUBJECT: ROLE-PLAYING AND THE SELF.
Inside Out: An Autobiography of a Native Canadian, by James Tyman (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Fifth House Publishers, 1989).

(Excerpt from a Ph.D. Thesis.)

James Tyman’s 1989 autobiography brings us to the present and details the contemporary conditions of a number of Native lives. We are given Tyman’s assertion in a brief note, inserted presumably by an editor in the back pages, that Inside Out “was not written to seek pity nor was it done to ask forgiveness. I wrote this book to simply ask for understanding and acceptance for myself and all Native people.” This statement suggests the “synecdochic mode” of identity discussed earlier, in relation to Maria Campbell’s Halfbreed. James Tyman writes for himself and for “all Native people,” structuring his search for identity within the larger quest for an understanding of what it means to be Indian. His autobiography differs from Maria Campbell’s in the degree to which it concerns itself explicitly with racism, but in both Campbell’s and Tyman’s cases, the authenticity of the self is a preoccupation. Both Campbell and Tyman present their textual selves as role players who enact a conventional Indian identity. Tyman’s fictional self is a paradox, a character whose quest for authenticity renders him precisely the “typical Indian” he is determined not to become. The effort of the autobiography is toward an “Indianness” beyond white ideology, and therefore makes explicit the classism, sexism, and racism which are inherent in the presentation of Indian subjectivity. Tyman’s text discloses the ideological ground on which the contemporary Indian is founded. His protagonist’s quest for authenticity is therefore also a critique of culturally-determined modes of self-understanding, and understanding of others.

Inside Out is divided into 3 sections: Racism, Crime, and Recovery. Appendages to the text proper include a brief epilogue, added for the 1995 Fifth House edition, and a note “About the Author and the Book,” into which has been inserted a quotation from the author. The principal function of the notes, apparently added by an editor, assure the reader that despite “incredible odds,” there is cause to be optimistic: James Tyman has “taken on the job of rebuilding his life.” The book itself ends positively, with the protagonists assertion that his “gut feelings” tell him he is going to “make it” (226). Given the overwhelming evidence of the text, this conclusion seems unlikely; it is arguable the structure of the narrative, rooted in textual convention, gives rise to this outcome. It is principally to the structural character of Tyman’s narrative that I will turn, in order to substantiate the claim that specific narrative conventions guide both the telling of the story and the tale. In conducting the investigation in this manner, I hope to demonstrate that the text enacts, at the structural level, the very logic which at the level of narrative it attempts to dispel.

The observations thus far, regarding the “optimism” of the narrative’s conclusion, are not offered in order to suggest that there is no grounds for them whatsoever. Nor are narrative conventions invoked as evidence of “false consciousness” or disingenuity on the part of the author. These initial comments are given to suggest that textual presentations of the self can be, and are, informed by textual concerns. Among these “textual concerns” are the literary conventions with which every author must come to terms, as well as the less-commonly considered concerns of the audience: particularly, the white audience. In any consideration of “Indian Autobiography” it is of use as well to reflect upon the politics of textual production and consumption. Books “about” Indians have a social function which cannot fully be understood without reference to the media industry in particular, and state capitalism in general. A textualized James Tyman is, among other things, a commodity inseparable from the social, political, and cultural conditions of the marketplace. Textual conventions are informed by these conditions, as well as by more strictly “literary” concerns.

What I shall call the book’s market-oriented “machinery” clarifies the matter of the conditions of the marketplace. Our attention having been caught by the bold design of the book’s spine (or the bold design of the cover, if the publisher has arranged the all-important frontal display), we open the cover to find a series of quotations from the media. The assertion of quotation after quotation is that Inside Out is a “book for all Canadians” (Toronto Star) that provides “an opportunity for white society to look at the larger issue of the place of Native people in Canada” (The Daily News). Having established this assertion in the opening quotations, the following series drive home the point that Tyman’s narrative is “violent,” “raw,” “graphically detailed,” “gritty, sharp and quick” (Maclean’s and Vancouver Sun) There are less sensational accounts, but it is perhaps significant that these appear on the folio’s obverse face. Only after these initial impressions have been registered do we learn that Tyman’s story is “an engaging narrative by an intelligent, sensitive young man” (Books in Canada). The closing series of quotations present to the potential consumer a book which is “thought-provoking, especially for anyone willing to suspend old prejudices and listen with an open mind to a young Native” (The Edmonton Journal). Some comments and qualifications of my argument are in order.

It is not my contention that an industry conspiracy is at work in the deployment of these quotations. I am merely advancing a claim that books exist as commodities, and that this status produces significant observable results. One observable result is the choice of the publisher to exhibit the sensational character of the commodity, making it appear at once violent, disturbing, exotic (“Inside Out is a clear and dramatic account of what it’s like to be raised in an alien culture” – TheDaily News), and “a book for all Canadians.” (“Exotic” is defined by Chamber’s dictionary as follows “introduced from a foreign country: alien.” The Greek root is exotikos – exo, outside) It is relevant to note the logic of several quotations, which associate drama, violence, and crisis with the lives of Native Canadians, while arrogating to “mainstream Canada” the “disturbing question” about the place of Natives. (Not all the quotations function in this manner, and some are very far from sensationalism. However, the more sensational quotations are more prominently exhibited.) In the words of one reviewer, Tyman’s autobiography is an “opportunity for white society to look at the larger issue of the place of Native people in Canada.” The precise meaning of this last statement is unclear. From a marketplace point of view it is clearly preferable that a book appeal to “mainstream” Canada (whatever this might be). From the point of view of race ideology, however, the quotation is ambiguous. Does it assert that it is (or should be) up to “white people” to settle the issue of the place of Native people in Canada? Does it, on the other hand, propose that the social utility of the book lies in its opportune appearance – as an occasion for whites at last to see and understand the “larger issue” of the oppression and exploitation of Native people in Canada? Either interpretation is plausible; evidence for a conclusion of any sort is lacking. What matters in the present argument is the intertextuality constituted by the quotations. They provide a useful and appropriate counterpart to the text proper, raising the very issues of race that are the primary concern of Tyman’s narrative.

Tyman’s narrative is arranged into 3 sections, “Racism,” “Crime,” and “Recovery.” The logic of this structure is readily apparent, and is made explicit throughout the text. Racism is the foundation of the narrative; furthermore, within the concept of “racism” lies the interpretive tools we will need to understand Tyman’s fictional self and the incidents of plot. “Crime” and “Recovery” succeed racism, both chronologically and logically. As we will see, racism also informs the pressing concern of “authenticity” which the autobiography exhibits, for race ideology imposes an inauthentic identity upon the self. This “inauthentic identity” however becomes ironically authentic. Tyman internalizes ideology so effectively that his identity is paradoxical, in the manner of an authentic forgery. The roles assumed by Tyman’s protagonist are racism’s self-fulfilling prophecies, a fact which does not escape the self-awareness of the protagonist himself. Indeed, this very self-consciousness constitutes much of the autobiography’s complexity and interest.

The distance between the author and protagonist, on the one hand, and the protagonist and the reader on the other, is carefully managed and shifts throughout the text. The narrative begins in the second person, addressing a “you” who is simultaneously the reader, the protagonist and the impersonal “you,” as in the French on. An effect of immediacy is sought in the use of point of view. The first paragraph of Inside Out is written in the second person, the second paragraph in the third, and the third in the first. Tyman does not immediately address his fictional self as “I,” and indeed does not at first address himself at all. He first addresses the reader (“But if you had lived there”), and in so doing disrupts the inside/outside relationship upon which autobiographical narrative point of view depends. The reader of autobiography is posited outside the narrative, whereas the protagonist, narrator, and author are “inside” the narrative, identifiable by the first person “I.” However, the reader’s presence inside the narrative is momentarily and subjunctively posited. The reader confronts the “smell of spilled wine, whisky, beer and unwashed bodies.” This smell is contrasted to the “odor of frying bacon [common] to thousands of other households across Canada.” In these phrases the opening paragraph both establishes and complicates the inside/outside dichotomy on which autobiography rests. The inside perspective of Tyman’s autobiography rests not upon ontological grounds, but upon habituation and circumstance. The reader is forced for a moment to regard the outside from inside: “But if you had lived there long enough the smell was natural.” The inside, we are reminded, is an outside we have come to no longer recognize as such.

In a narrative concerned with race, adoption and identity, the disruption of an inside/outside structure lies at the heart of the protagonist’s condition. Alienation is an apt description of the protagonist’s plight. Tyman first refers to his fictional self in the third person: “He threw the boy to the couch, pressing one knee on his chest.” The use of a proper name fails to clarify matters, for there is yet no firmly established relation of author, narrator and protagonist (in an autobiography, these three share the same identity). “Kenny” does not identify James Tyman, though they refer to the same person. Only at the end of the second paragraph does the narrator place himself inside the text by adopting, as it were, a first-person perspective: “But my father was too drunk to realize I was still unconscious.” This abrupt shift of perspective establishes the generic textual conditions we recognize as autobiography (i.e. the textual convergence of author, narrator and protagonist in the pronoun “I”). However, it is the textual complexities of the two opening paragraphs which establish the thematic concerns of the book. The shifting narrative perspective and the destabilization of the inside/outside dichotomy assert that we cannot take for granted the linguistic conventions which underlie the narrative presentation of an identity. What can be said of identity in Inside Out, given that “James Tyman” makes his autobiographical appearance in the third person, in the guise of an unconscious boy named “Kenny”? This question emerges from the opening scene of the book and informs the use of narrative conventions which follows.

According to Tyman, “the story really begins” the day he arrives at his new home in Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan (8). The details of the autobiography’s opening section are reconstructed from an account given by Tyman’s mother in a downtown bar. Tyman himself, we are told, has no memories of the beatings and abuse. The first paragraphs, then, are not personal recollections, as Tyman himself reports: “I imagined this scene countless times as I tried to picture what horrible things had happened to cause my mother to let the Saskatchewan Social Services Department take me away.” The logic of autobiography dictates that one start at the beginning, but Tyman’s autobiography recalls Philipe Lejeune’s observation that the beginning is inaccesible. One cannot recollect from memory the circumstances of one’s birth and infancy. Beyond this observation there is the further point that the beginning of James Tyman’s life does not correspond to the beginning of the narrative. The fictional self of the opening pages, represented by the name Kenny Howard Martin, is of a dubious status, for it lies beyond the memory of the author. The “real” beginning comes when the protagonist is adopted into a white family and is given his new identity. The heading for the autobiography’s beginning proper is “September 1967” and the first paragraph of this beginning ironically concerns endings:

Who is this woman? Where is she taking me? Am I going to die? Somebody said I would do the world a favour if I died. Death is where you go to sleep and have peace forever. It sounds inviting. It’s got to be better than what I feel.

These are perhaps atypical thoughts of a four year old, but they are appropriate thematically. James Tyman’s beginning can be characterized as the obliviation of the Indian identity which is invested in the name Kenny Howard Martin and in the intersubjectivity of Martin and his family. Of course, racial characteristics obtain across the sea change of this reconstituted self. Kenny Martin does not die without leaving behind evidence that he has lived.

The young Martin arrives at his adoptive home without name, family or history. He finds a photo album and looks inside for his family, but it occurs to him that he doesn’t know who he is looking for (10). He is called “Jimmy,” eliciting the following unspoken response: “My name isn’t Jimmy. I want to tell her my name is…I don’t know”(8). Having arrived at the Tyman house, Martin’s identity is suspended in a confusing and disruptive introduction as well as over the confusing relation of himself to the others: “I’m standing in the porch. The huge brown table is full of white people. They look different. They stare at me like I’m different.” The difference represented by white people is not grasped in racial terms, but merely in the literal terms of a four year-old’s sensibility. The people are “white” in the same, literal sense that the table is brown. Since the protagonist is “brown” also, the physical details of the paragraph emphasize the boy’s objectification. He has more in common with the brown table than with the white people. He is an object of their gaze and speech, and he interprets their comments about him in instrumental terms. A “nice-looking lady” says, “he’ll do fine,” in response to which the boy concludes, “I think she means I’m okay. What am I okay for?” The attention of the narrative turns to the boy’s objectified body, which we are told “feels sick and lonely, and awfully scared”(9). We know the boy has been an object of physical abuse, and it comes as little surprise when the primary source of this fear is identified: “I’m afraid of these men.” Tyman begins his autobiographical journey as an objectified Indian without a place of belonging.

Indians inhabit the fringes of the narrative. Tyman first mentions them on page 10:

I noticed other Indian kids on these excursions. We’d stare at each other in fascination – I the nicely dressed young native with this white woman, and they with their stringy hair and worn clothes. Their parents looked just the same. Some of the men were loud and obnoxious. I studied them closely. There was something there I could almost remember.

He stares at the Indians in “fascination,” in the manner of an anthropologist. The difference between himself and them is immediately clear, for he is now a “nicely dressed young native,” adopted into the ways of white people. The Indians are dirty, loud, and obnoxious. There is however something almost remembered in the abusiveness of the men, and Tyman begins “to understand what [he is]” (10) from his encounters with these Indians: “They were dark skinned, and so was I.” The whites all around him do not fail to notice the difference. They ask, “You’re Indian, aren’t you?” The young Tyman answers “Yeah,” though his understanding of what it means to be Indian is confused. With his friend, Anita, he jokes about “the stupid Indians with their dirty clothes and hair, sleeping in the tall weeds behind the hotel on Main Street” (11). His dark skin reminds him he is in some sense Indian, but the meaning of this eludes him.

James does not fail however to gather the meaning of the “white man’s Indian.” While at school in Lebret, James’s outlook toward Indians is “molded” by the conversations of white children. The white children show by their statements that they have learned Indians are stupid, lazy, and dirty, and that Indians are thieves as well (12). James sees “only a few” Indians in church, and deduces from his understanding of religious dogma that, since only good people go to church, Indians are bad people who are going to hell. As strange as it is, this logic nicely complements and justifies the social conditions which James encounters. Racism becomes common sense when the badness of Indians is disclosed: “No wonder my friends didn’t like [Indians]. They were going to hell!”(13). This logic is apparently supported by church propaganda given to the children for the purposes of religious indoctrination:

We were given books about the biblical days. I would turn the brightly illustrated pages in fascination. Jesus could fly! Not only that, but anyone who died could fly. They floated around up in the clouds. Some were playing harps. They were always dressed in white. Another fascinating thing was that there were no Indians floating around in the clouds. In fact, there were no Indians at all in these books! Yes sirree, Indians were evil. (13)

Inside Out arrived some years after the priestly debate over the question Do Indians have souls? was concluded. Nevertheless, the observation that the blessed souls “were always dressed in white” discloses in symbolic terms racism’s gospel. The function of “the biblical days” is less moral and didactic than authoritarian, “biblical days” signifying a mythical past when God directly spoke His will to men. The social vision of narratives “about the biblical days” is, of course, a vision prescribed by contemporary authors. The past is a fiction in which the present forever reconstitutes itself. There are no blessed Indians in the heaven of biblical days because there shall be none today. (“Authoritarian” is best understood in the multiple sense of “auctoritee,” a term used throughout Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The Wife of Bath plays with the term “auctoritee” to convey the relation of authority, authors, and authorization. Her memorable question “Who painted the lion?” draws upon an Aesop fable to make the point that representations differ according to the interests of the one who makes the representation. She argues that women are best suited to write about women, and that the monopolization of authorship must be attacked head-on.)

If Indians do not belong in heaven, neither do they belong in polite white society. Tyman writes often of “belonging” and comments that his mother frequented a downtown bar “because it was where she was accepted for what she was – an Indian, like most of the other patrons”(8). To be accepted within the dominant culture “for what he is – an Indian” appears to be impossible for James. He feels he does not “belong.” Racism alienates James from both himself and others; he learns to hate Indians, to hate himself, and to hate whites. Through crime and violence he attempts to find community and an identity, though ironically his acts of violence are undertaken to gain the respect of the respectable (i.e. whites). The respectable however cannot tolerate difference, and as a result of his need to assimilate, neither can James. His efforts, whether violent or not, are directed toward the futile task of becoming white. He laughs along with others at Indian jokes, reminds his peers that his family is white, and scrubs his hands, “hoping to wash the darkness off” (15). He learns of Indians from whites, in the schoolyard, in books, and from television. These Indians are the blood-thirsty savages of myth, and when they do not accord with the image of Indians he sees around town, James is left wondering, “I knew I was an Indian, but according to my friends I didn’t act like other Indians. What was an Indian supposed to act like?” The answer to this is implicit in the question. Indians act as whites say that they do.

The dominant white culture controls the means of representation and thereby sets the limits and terms of discourse. James’s friends exchange ideological dogma in the forms of jokes, legends, and rumours. James’s options are to participate, resist, or be silent; he is not however able to seize the means of representation, and hence to alter the terms of discourse. Discourse thus comprises James’s strategic response to racism – crime – a response which reinforces racist assumptions and which is therefore self-defeating. James attempts through crime to earn the respect of whites. Although it is ultimately self-defeating, the choice to undertake a life of crime is driven by a need for authenticity. The ideological Indian of James’s white peers is presented as the authentic Indian, but an authentic Indian identity must by definition seek an alternative grounding. The search for this “alternative grounding” constitutes one of the principal challenges of the Indian autobiography, for as already mentioned, representation of the Indian has long been controlled by the dominant white culture.

Racism engenders hate, and James comes to hate the white man’s Indian that he apparently is and the whites who inflict this hate upon him. James attempts to assimilate to white culture but finds assimilation to be an impossible goal, and instead flirts with the idea of suicide. This pattern of behaviour has been described well in Jeannette Armstrong’s Slash, in which the Indian protagonist’s dilemma is either “to assimilate or get lost.” (See also Noel Elizabeth Currie’s article, “Jeannette Armstrong & the Colonial Legacy”). These options, determined by the logic of racism, are articulated again and again in the autobiography:

I hate these people, I thought. They’re all wrong about me. I’m just like them. I think like them. I eat like them. I have feelings like them. I can’t help being who I am. I want to die. It came back to me: dying is where you go and have peace forever. (19)

This passage recapitulates the themes and language of the opening pages, in which difference is foregrounded and identity is rendered ambiguous. With this recapitulation however there is a transformation, for hate has entered the narrative. The protagonist asserts his social membership only to underscore his difference from others (“I’m just like them … I can’t help being who I am”). The recognition of difference no longer derives solely from appearances, but from the hateful logic of racism. The recourse of the alienated self is once again death, but death is now invested with further meanings. Death is the place “where you go and have peace forever,” but also a capitulation to racism’s demand, “assimilate or get lost.” In accordance with his tough-guy role, James must make his death look like an accident. His school mates must not know “they’d won” (20), although the demand to “get lost” would have been fully met.

At the centre of Inside Out is a quest for authenticity. James comments that his adoptive family “seemed artificial, it wasn’t real” (19); he does not know his “real name” or his real parents (21). James finds the adoption papers, which refer to him as “the subject,” and his response is alienation and “a mixture of love and hate” (25). Tyman represents the discovery of his birth name and has his protagonist respond, “That was it! Now I know who I am.” (25). He has come however from Ile-à-la-Crosse, “the end of civilization”(25) and is further alienated from the Tymans and “their relatives,” as he puts it. James is called an “apple” by Indians (a term designating an assimilated Indian, i.e. red on the outside and white on the inside), and yet he is alienated from white society as well as from Indians. Tyman multiplies the ironies and contradictions of this confused identity. In a refrain reminiscent of Edward Ahenekew’s Old Keyam, James asserts, “No one cares about me! … So I don’t care about anyone!” (26). “Who cares” is a phrase that captures the attitude of James’s “tough guy” role (18), but it serves only to alienate James further from his conflicting emotions, which “[eat] him up like a cancer” (27). Cancer introduces death and its associated theme alienation of the self into the narrative, but the “real name” functions in contrast as a focal point for the countermovement of the self, toward authenticity and life. James’s authenticity quest embodies itself as a search for his past and is initiated by the discovery of his real name, for the name is a vestige of the past which will take him eventually to the “end of civilization,” where his unremembered, subliminal self awaits recollection.

James’s recollection of his forgotten past is only one-half of the narrative’s concern. The other half addresses racism’s effective distortion of the present, and the self-loathing and self-alienation which results. The reserve Indians disclose the profound ignorance and racism of James, and the ideologically-determined manner in which he conceives Indian identity:

“You Indians scalp anyone on the reserve lately!”
He knew I was joking, but he was visibly upset by it. “We don’t scalp
people. How do you think we learned to scalp?”
“Skinning beavers and gophers,” I shot back.
“You don’t know much, do you?”

Not only is James ignorant, but the means of production of his “knowledge” of Indians differ decisively from those of the reserve Indian. The reserve Indian alludes to the historical record (“How do you think we learned to scalp?”), thereby exposing the fundamental flaw in James’s conception of Indians. The discussion between James and the reserve Indian continues,

I quit smiling. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, you’re no Indian. You grew up with whiteys all your life. They taught you that we scalped people, right?”
“Well, that’s the truth … isn’t it?”
He snickered lightly. “Pile of bullshit. Get some Indian bros. Quit hanging around with honkies. Maybe you’ll see what the truth really is.” (27)

The reserve Indian equates “being Indian” with knowing the truth, thus underscoring the narrative’s logic that the lies of racism distort the self and lead potentially to alienation, violence, and destruction. Authenticity of the self demands a truthful account of history and social and racial relations. Thus, a good part of the burden of Tyman’s autobiography is to restore authenticity of the self by presenting a truthful account. Racism serves the double function of keeping James from true knowledge of Indians as well as from the knowledge that he does not know. Truth, in the view of the reserve Indian, issues from solidarity with one’s own; history issues from group identity.
The matter of identity is further complicated by the introduction of the term Metis, which Lorne must explain to an ignorant James: “A Métis is a half-breed, half Indian and half French”(28). The term properly refers to a distinct cultural (and not merely racial) identity, a fact Lorne acknowledges in his historical grounding of Metis identity:

“…You heard of Riel?”
“Riel was a honky,” I exclaimed.
“He looked like a honky, but he was the same as you. You’re just the darker
version.”
“Darker version, hey.” I felt a sense of relief then, not because I was actually sitting down talking to an Indian, but because I realized I was half white. (28)

Lorne makes the essential point, that the Metis are best understood in relation to Riel and the historical context in which he was situated; he is however wrong that Riel is the same as James. James’s understanding of Riel (“Riel was a honky”) discloses the ahistorical sensibility which is the psychological condition not only of the protagonist, but of his society. Deprived of a history, James is forced to reproduce his cultural and personal identity through the medium of a racist ideology’s anti-history. Riel is thus an ironic presence in this context, the symbol of a Metis identity which has been obliviated.

James is compelled by a racist society to assume roles. Lorne puts the matter this way: “You act like a clown, entertaining your honky friends all day. That’s not really you. You’re just acting that way to get their approval” (28). Racism dictates to the Indian that he must “assimilate or get lost,” and consequently two common themes of Native autobiographies are suicide and the role-playing Indians are compelled to undertake in their quest for acceptance. The principal thematic tension of many Native autobiographies is constituted by the competing psychological demands for acceptance and authenticity. This psychological condition, referred to by Wilfred Pelletier as a “double life” is a nearly universal feature of Indian autobiography, at the core of which is typically a critique of the dominant modes of social relations and the ideological and institutional instruments by which they are formed. Thus, Wilfred Pelletier’s collaborative No Foreign Land is a critique of, among other things, capitalism; Maria Campbell’s Halfbreed is especially concerned with welfare ideology; and Eleanor Brass critiques the logic of the Indian Acts. In each case, there is a keen awareness of the double lives of Native peoples, and of the historical, ideological, and institutional conditions from which these double lives issue.

Assimilation is presented as a choice between being a “good Indian” and a “bad Indian.” James, to his pleasure, is seen by some as belonging to the former category (34). He infers from the court briefs of the newspaper that there are “a lot” of bad Indians, and decides he does not want others to think he is one of them. In the next paragraph, however, we see James planning his first of many crimes, at the instigation of two Indian friends who share his rage (34). The implication is that James is in fact “one of them,” a conclusion against which he directs considerable psychological and physical efforts:

I was working hard all right, trying to show everyone that I wasn’t like those “lazy Indians” who littered the town, drunk and crude, every time they got their welfare checks. I was a hard-working white man: that was what I was trying to prove to my family, my friends, and anyone else who saw me. I was fighting myself (37).

The “lazy Indian” is a long-standing figure of ethnography and a sharp contrast to the hard¬working white man of the Protestant work ethic. The battle between the two rival identities is a matter of personal psychology, James having internalized the assumptions which inform them. “Inevitably,” Tyman writes, his “two lives crashed together”(37). He is unable to sustain the illusion, and enters fully into the category of “bad Indian”:

All my work to show my white friends that I was a “good Indian” had gone wrong. All my inner turmoil to show myself that I wasn’t like the rest of the Indian race who drank, fought, and went to jail had gone wrong. (47)

James’s “new notoriety” as a burglar confirms his identity. Despite his efforts to the contrary, he becomes racism’s “typical Indian.” As has always been the case in Canada, institutions are in place to manage the bad Indian. Indeed, most of the autobiography depicts James’s serial encounters with these institutions.

We have seen already the omnipresence of institutions in Native lives. In the earliest phases of colonial rule, the Indian department and the treaty systems constituted the primary instruments of cultural, social, and economic domination. These instruments were deeply embedded in the institutions of British empire, and derived their self-justification from ethnology’s evolutionary model of racial development (See the discussion of Lewis Henry Morgan in Chapter 2). Inside Out occupies a historical period during which the court system has become a preponderant instrument of law and order. Within the court system, James reaps “pity and scorn” (66), and he finds that the so-called correctional institutions worsen his condition: “Now I was on probation for two years and my outlook on life was distorted. I had no identity. My experiences with the court system just added fuel to my anger (67). As his friend Carl points out, the good Indian disappears, whether through assimilation, the reservation system, the correctional system, or by occupying the margins of society: “…if you stay on welfare, stay on the reserve, or stay in poverty in the city, then you’ll be treated better. But as soon as you start making noise about being discriminated against, they’ll turn it back in your face. They’ll call you the bigot. They’ll say you’re not appreciative of what the whitey is doing for us”(68). James construes his life of crime as a means to achieve”respect and fear” (66) and to avoid being “a token” (69). Assimilation is compelling, but increasingly James comes to see his condition in the historical and political terms of his “tutor” Lorne and his friend Carl. Tyman introduces contemporary land-rights court cases as a contrast to the self-defeating encounters of James with the court system (69). Ironically however James is fighting in his own manner the battle which is going on in the culture at large. The criminal sub-culture offers James an illusory community, identity, and respect, offerings which appeal to James’s generalized longing for an alternative to “work, honkies, and authority” – that is, to the dominant institutions of economic, social, and political hegemony (70). Yet in the absence of a coherent and compelling strategy, rooted in history and a collective identity, James’s efforts are doomed to failure.

When seen from the outside, the life of crime appears to be glamorous. However, the outer is inauthentic. James experiences the notoriety of crime which he has previously only witnessed, and comes to understand from the inside the irony of criminal “success.” His growing notoriety makes him feel “like a celebrity” (79) and gains him a place among local Indians. Terry sums up James’s public identity: “You’re a bad influence. You have a bad attitude, and you’re rowdy, rank, motherfuckin’ Indian who’s selling drugs to school kids. That’s how the cops will portray you in court.” James achieves his objective; he is no longer an object of pity, but rather a pariah. Tyman however undermines the achievement in a brief passage which exposes the contradiction of the inner and outer: “I sat handcuffed with a police officer on either side of me. I had watched men sitting like this. I thought they were murderers, or criminal masterminds. I felt stupid getting all this attention for a $24 window”(84). The chapter “Racism” concludes having acknowledged James’s failed efforts:

I decided to move to the city when I got out of jail. “Who knows, I might get rich,” I told myself. I used to have dreams of getting rich, just to show everyone that I wasn’t a typical Indian, content to stay in the shadows and collect welfare when he realizes white society doesn’t want him. I wasn’t going to let them do that to me. I would make them want me. I would make them notice me, and respect me. They would know who I was. But now it all seemed worthless. I was going to jail. I was just another typical Indian. (89)

James’s efforts are informed by culturally determined roles. He becomes a clichéd “bad Indian” and “tough guy,” while dreaming of his public transformation into a rich man. All the while the “typical Indian” lurks in the background as the negation of all that has worth. Inside Out documents the paradoxical effort to present to the world a simulation of authenticity. This is not however a mere intellectual game, but rather an acknowledgement of the economic and social power invested in the marketplace of identities. For James, success in every sense of the term depends upon satisfying the demands of the social market.

Chapter 2, “Crime,” recapitulates the autobiography’s opening paragraphs. James awakes on the floor of his friend Dale’s house, among a group of passed-out friends who clutch “half-full bottles or burnt-out cigarettes”(99). This is the life Kenny Martin had known, but which has now been forgotten. Tyman however recalls the culture of the “undesirables” in which the Tyman’s lived, and employs it as the setting for the opening paragraph of chapter 2. The tripartite structure of the autobiography proper (there is a concluding note about the author and the book, as well as an epilogue) suggests that the principal themes will be introduced in the first section, and that a transition will occur in the middle section, leading to the resolutions of the final chapter, “Recovery.” Indeed, this is the case. “Crime” depicts the culture of the undesirables and the racism of which this culture is an outcome. The recapitulation of the autobiography’s opening imagery lends thematic integrity to the narrative and underscores the social reproduction of crime and violence which are racism’s legacy.

The Regina Correctional Institute is the setting for the novel’s first turning point, which comes precisely at the centre of the autobiography (page 109 of 219 pages). Here we encounter the following passage, which concerns James’s friendship with an Indian fellow-prisoner, Herbie:

My first impression was that he was a hardcore racist, but after talking to him for a while I learned that I was the one who really was not informed. It was like meeting Lorne all over again, the Indian back at Bert Fox Composite High School who’d told me to get some Indian bros and quit hanging around with honkies. “Maybe you’ll see what the truth really is,” Lorne had said, and now, finally, I was ready to hear it. I had learned about Indians from white people. I hadn’t bothered to question their analysis because I was afraid of rejection. After talking to Herbie about Indian people and their beliefs, I found that I was myself a hardcore racist. I felt disgusted with myself, remembering all the snide remarks I had made over the years about Indian people. They weren’t a bunch of bloodthirsty savages. They were my own people. I hated my own people. My own people hated white people. I didn’t know who I was or where I was going. (109).

Much can be said of this passage. First, Tyman structures the representation of his personal development through thematic and character repetition. Just as James occupies roles throughout the narrative, so too do his acquaintances. Herbie fulfils the function first presented through Lorne. Herbie’s success in his tutorial role depends upon the institutional context, which itself fulfils a role not unlike what Bahktin termed a “carnival.” The prison culture not only represents the broader culture from which the prisoners have been drawn, it inverts it, with interesting results. In the prison, “the honkies are the oppressed minority” (103), and as such they occupy “the bottom of the social ladder”(103). Racism is blatant inside the prison but differs qualitatively from the racism of the outside world, a result of the inverted relations of power in prison society. Tyman employs the theme of inside versus outside in a series of inversions which culminate in James’s realization that he is himself a hardcore racist who hates his own people. Inside Out, having indicted the racism of the “outer” world, climaxes in the revelation that James is himself a racist. Herbie is quick to point out that James is an “apple,” an observation which corroborates the narrative’s increasing interest in the internalization of ideology. James’s insight that white “analysis” of Indians has obliviated their subjectivity (or “beliefs,” as Tyman writes) is an outcome of his immersion in an Indian-dominated prison culture. Inside the prison James learns about Indians “from the inside,” as it were. (See the chapter on E. Brass. It has been noted by a number of commentators that white institutions designed to subdue and assimilate Indians, such as residential schools, often have the paradoxical effect of politicizing them. Brought together into large groups within white institutions, Indians learned of their culture from other Indians even as whites attempted to assimilate them.)

The mention of “apple” prompts James to speculate about the Martins and his lost self: “I thought that could be what I was looking for – the past I couldn’t recall, a sense of identity, of who I really was. You can’t take someone’s past away and expect him not to miss it, not to look for it.” (109-110). This wording conflates the personal and collective past. James is in search not only of himself, but of a narrative of Indian identity not integrated into the economic, social, and political interests of the dominant (white) elite. The setting of this chapter, a prison, should remind us that it is not an identity which James lacks, but rather the control over the terms in which that identity is constituted. James is literally imprisoned in and by social constructs. The inmates, composed of individuals drawn from specific class and race categories, play the ideologically-prescribed and culturally-mediated roles of the con. They are, as Tyman notes, “role playing inmates,” in accordance with the class and race ideology of their captors (120). James too plays the role by setting himself in oppositional terms against the “straight johns.” “I’m not like you guys,” he says, “I’m a con” (117). In his con role, James is a “phony” who participates fully in race and class ideology. The question “Who are you,” the concern proper of autobiography, illicits competing and contradictory narrative “answers.” Who James “is” depends largely upon who has set the terms of discourse. The autobiography presents two contradictory positions. James may form his identity around an inauthentic core (and thus become an apple), or he may seek an authentic identity through a reconstitution of his “lost self.” James’s search for the Martin family derives from the latter option. The Martin family serves a function akin to Metis history in Maria Campbell’s Halfbreed, for it is posited as a lost but authentic history from which the “real” self may emerge.

James’s enactment of a “con” identity constitutes an oppositional mode of the self. He is set apart from the “straight arrows” (128) of society and is relegated to the criminal culture of violence. Violence is directed not only toward others but toward the self, a fact disclosed in numerous references to self-mutilation. James attempts both to explain and legitimize his relegation to a criminal culture through the authorizing discourses of individualism which are at the core of autobiographical discourse itself. The dominant culture thus affords him ample opportunities to engage in what Marx has termed “false consciousness.” James asserts that his entry into the criminal culture is both “natural,” because it is innate (“I was born a criminal, I guess” 129) and willed, because it is an assertion of his autonomy (“I’m just going to be me. No one holds me. No one controls me. If someone gets in my way, chances are one of us is going to die.” 128). The “false authenticity” of these assertions, rooted as they are in class-based ideologies, is a manifestation of the narrative structure’s implicit logic. False authenticity is the paradoxical outcome of racism and the precursor of the “recovery” of the self. (Thus the division of the narrative into Racism, Crime, and Recovery.) Tyman, in other words, posits racism as an “autopoetic” ideology from which an autobiographical outcome (the “con” identity) follows. Inside Out displays the assumptions of autobiographical discourses they intersect among ideologies of race and class. The intersection of these ideologies discloses the relationship of identity, power, class, and consciousness. False consciousness serves to legitimize contemporary domestic imperialism by narrating the self merely in the ideological terms of autobiography. James’s specious assertions of volitional and genetic self-determination displace the appropriate considerations of class, race, and history which underlie the conditions of his life. According to the logic of false consciousness, James is a “born criminal”; neither history nor ideology are matters of concern. The abstracted “con” identity therefore is an autobiographical fiction in which dominant interests have an enormous stake. False consciousness is a contemporary concomitant of the historical evolution of colonization. So long as James is a mere born criminal, more plainly ideological matters need not be raised. It is the competing models of the self, one based on an autobiographical critique and the other on a historical-ideological critique, which contest one another throughout Inside Out. The former concerns itself with depicting the events of a life with reference principally to the self, whereas the latter considers the relation of the self to history and ideology, as well as to a collective identity (Arnold Krupat’s “synecdochic self”).

The reclamation of a collective historical and cultural “Indian” identity is complicated however by a number of conditions. “Indian” is an ideologically loaded abstraction. There is no universal “Indian” identity, excepting perhaps the white man’s Indian. There are common historical experiences, but in an autobiography such as Inside Out, it is precisely the historical dimension of Indian identity which has been rendered inaccessible. Urban Natives typically suffer from a form of amnesia, unaware as they are of the historical conditions which inform Indian identities. Tyman illustrates this cultural amnesia throughout the narrative and displays the dysfunctional forms of solidarity to which it is prone:

“Hey, bro, tansi,” a smiling Indian said from three stools down.
“Sorry pal, I don’t speak Indian. But how the fuck are you?” The rye
was already making me feel good.
“You’re not Sioux?”
“I’m Métis.”
“Well, bonjour monsieur.” His laughter sounded like cackling.
“Ah, oui monsieur.” I laughed along with him.
“What’s your name, brother?”
“James Tyman.”
“Well hello, Jimmy Tyman. My name is Ivan Blackfeather.”
“I’d be more pleased to meet you if you bought me another rye and
Coke. But if you want my undivided attention, buy me a double.” (126).

The ironies of this passage are several. James, misidentified as a Sioux, presents himself as a “Métis” (this spelling, a textualized case of misidentification, is yet another irony) and is thereafter addressed in again foreign language. The rhetorical solidarity of this passage, conveyed in the terms “bro” and “brother,” is undermined by language itself. For James and Ivan, there is no language within which to speak of Indian identity and a cultural solidarity; there are only the familiar languages of the dominant culture and the alien language of the Indian. This passage reveals the respective limitations of languages and the problems for identity which these limitations imply. Ivan Blackfeather attempts through a speech act to assert brotherhood, receiving the vulgar and comical English response, “how the fuck are you.” The tone of the passage is debased: James exploits a “cackling” Ivan, who is seen merely as an opportunity for personal gain. They speak of “politics, religion, white people, black people, Indian people, all types of people and things” (126), but the encounter ends pathetically when James is invited to Ivan’s house, where a family composed of a “lost-looking” woman, huddled children, and a debilitated auntie drink Lysol. James’s encounter with Ivan Blackfeather succinctly represents a range of conditions which militate against a number of Canada’s Native people.

The now-familiar themes of violence, racism, alcoholism, drug abuse, and Indian identity surface often throughout the Crime chapter. New themes are introduced and woven into the emerging patterns. One additional theme is James’s ignorance of the living conditions endured by a large number of Native people. James begins to meet and associate with Natives and is provided as a result with a more accurate understanding of reserve life. Devonne, a prostitute and drug-addict, explains the meaning of the word “tansi” and tells James that many reserve Native children are starving “because the rest of the family is drunk” (133). Donna Nighttraveller, James’s eventual partner, portrays the “filth and disease” of reserve life. Tyman recalls her testimony: “There was no running water in most [reserve] households. That shocked me. Didn’t every household in Canada have running water?” (160). James’s, like many white Canadians, is as ignorant of contemporary Native life as he is of Native history. Colonization, through its attendant ideological self-justification, racism, has rendered James a self-loathing “apple.” Tyman alternatively pieces together encounters with Native people and thereby weaves a narrative that is both historically and culturally critical of colonization.

James’s relationships with Devonne and Donna are of special significance. In his relationship to Devonne, James contradicts the racism and sexism which underlie the culture of crime and violence, and which ultimately are employed to justify economic and cultural dominance. A conversation with a white ex-con (referred to only as Joey Longfeather) presents the thematic relationship of domination and ideology:

“You going to get a bitch working for you?”
“I don’t know. If they want.”
”No, Tyman. Grab the bitch and make her work. That’s the way you
do it.”
I thought of Devonne. “You figure that’s the way to handle them? Beat
them and dominate them?”
His voice rose with excitement. “Yeah! Beat, beat, beat them into a new
understanding of the way it is!”
“That’s not the way it is, pal.” (138)

The racial ambiguity of Joey Longfeather, a white portrayed throughout the narrative as an Indian, serves to blur racial distinctions. His attitudes are transcultural, being rooted, as he says, in “the way that it is” (138). Calvin, a Native acquaintance, puts the matter in more eloquent terms: “It’s the society we live in that makes [whites] that way. They have a lack of understanding toward Indian people and their ways” (148). One may further conclude that the systemically-derived ignorance of whites could extend to Native peoples also. Indeed, Calvin himself draws this very conclusion: “But I think you know what I mean, eh apple?” In passages such as these, Tyman presents the need to move beyond a racially-based analysis of crime, violence, and identity, and toward a more “systemic” crtique. Racism in itself is an inadequate explanation of social reality; a more perceptive mode of analysis becomes necessary. In his relation to Devonne and Donna, James begins to ask a differing set of questions, which correspond to his emerging understanding of the dynamics of the criminal culture and of its resulting false consciousness. Tyman employs dramatic irony to foreshadow the displacement of false consciousness:

I sighed. “Wherever I lay my head is home for the day.”
“Me too. Great life, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, it’s freedom. I heard Tony got stabbed in Vancouver.” (138).

The non-sequitur of the ultimate line is jarring, but implicit in the grammatical disjunction of the line is a profound insight: this life of “freedom” is an illusion which can at any moment come to a violent and abrupt ending. Freedom in this context is defined according to the “con” ethic articulated by James on page 128: “I’m just going to be me. No one holds me. No one controls me. If someone gets in my way, chances are one of us is going to die.” This is what Joey Longfeather designates “the way it is.” Devoid of any notion of democracy, community, or responsibility, this conception of freedom is informed instead by an ethic of power and domination. Only by entering consciously into a caring human relationship does James’s begin to comprehend the severe distortions (that is, racism and sexism) of this ethic.

The terms of a narrative resolution are suggested on page 142. The false consciousness of the Crime chapter begins to give way to a consciousness of an alternative set of human circumstances:

Cons always talked about other cities and the romping good times they’d had there. I wanted some of that, but I was also looking for a sense of security like Devonne had. She had a nicely furnished place, the bills were paid, there was food in the house. I wanted that stability. My sleeping friend reminded me of the cons who wanted to go like gangbusters till they got caught or killed. I didn’t want that. (142)

Despite this development, James continues to look for stability and community within the con culture and to adhere to its notion of “coolness” (147).The con culture is a coherent and ordered set of social arrangements in which every individual occupies his or her station. Considering Tyman’s representation of the con culture, one is struck neither by a chaotic or dysfunctional absence of community so much as by a cultural space which is highly organized and which serves a number of important functions. Cons perform prescribed roles and act as economic agents within a criminal economy. Tyman takes great care to explain the system of etiquette by which con culture is regulated. Con culture is hierarchical, mirroring and at times parodying the behavioural regimes which inform the middle class’s professional culture. Indeed, con culture complements professional culture, both in its convenient absorption of dominant society’s “undesirables” and in structuring of underclass violence in a mostly self-directed form. James’s longing for “security” discloses the limitations of his convict persona and the false ideological articulation of freedom in which it is invested. The autobiography’s dramatic irony (constituted by the contradiction between James’s acts and dialogue and his inner thoughts) thus offers an implicit critique of the model of selfhood with which James has affiliated himself. An alternative set of interests, oriented in relation to “security and stability,” foreshadows the eventual narrative terms of resolution according to which James may extricate himself from his violent conditions of life in order to redefine his subjectivity.

At Donna’s suggestion, James pursues his past by phoning a government social service department and asking for information. He is told that his family background is “privileged government information,” yet another case of both literal and figurative state appropriation. James decries the rules made by governments “to frustrate you,” asking “why can’t they show you the way once in a while, instead of always trying to divert you?” (191). Though the question is ostensibly rhetorical, the autobiography itself is an implicit reply: James’s life has indeed been a “diversion” in which the state-maintained privileges of the dominant classes are deeply interested. The state, as we have witnessed in relation to the work of both Brass and Campbell, figures prominently in the constitution and regulation of Indian subjects, as well as subjectivities. State-sponsored colonialism in the service of dominant economic interests is at the core of modern and contemporary Native reality, a fact to which Native autobiographies themselves give ample historical testimony. Inside Out up-dates the Native autobiographical genre, representing the colonial Indian subjectivity of the late twentieth-century. The autobiography’s rhetorical resources and textual strategies however differ from those of Brass and Campbell, as I have tried to demonstrate. In other words, the “autopoetics” of Tyman’s text involves a differing set of strategies than that of other authors, according to the differing social, cultural, historical, and economic conditions under which the text were produced.

Tyman does however share with Campbell and Brass a concern for occluded histories – for the Indians’ past which has been distorted, hidden, reconstituted, or appropriated on behalf of the interests of social, cultural, and economic domination. Thus, James’s “real beginning” is always on his mind (152). This beginning is represented to James by the Martins, his “real” family and thus the putative source of a subjective authenticity. James begins to pursue his origins in earnest, illiciting from Randy Crow an accounting of the Ile-ˆ-la-Crosse Martins, with whom Crow is acquainted (153). Having left Crow for the downtown bars, James meets his future partner, Donna Nighttraveller, thus introducing the final element in the autobiography’s denouement. The search for James’s “real” parents and his search for “stability and security” are established as principal motive forces of the narrative, in relation to which the reader witnesses the vicissitudes of James’s life, informed as it is by persistent manifestations of colonization and racism. Authenticity is pitted against all that is “phony,” as James comes to structure his subjectivity in relation to the claims of intersubjectivity (that is, his relation to his birth family and his desire for intimacy with Donna) as well as in relation to the inauthentic individualism of the criminal culture. Authenticity and phoniness are the autobiography’s moral antipodes and the touchstones which guide Tyman’s highly self-conscious autopoetics, as is manifested in the narrative’s ironic interrelation of the protagonist’s “real” identity (Kenny Martin) and the identities he “in reality” lives. Both mimetic and constitutive, Inside Out questions the autobiographical foundation upon which its generic identity is based. James’s “real beginning was always on [his] mind.” What does this statement mean, coming as it does at page 152 of an autobiography? The reader may infer that this is a literary device, deployed to arouse suspenseful anticipation of the “real beginning.” There is however a further inference to be drawn. The concern with the “real” – that is, with authenticity – derives from an implicit distinction between the autos and the bios of autobiography, and a consideration of the manners in which the two, life and self, interrelate. As the narrative’s theatrical metaphors disclose, much of James’s life consists in the appropriation of roles. Thus the content of the life calls into question the status of the self rather than confirming it. The claims of authenticity and the search for a “real beginning” push the autobiography toward consideration of the fundamental matter of selfhood.

The third element of autobiography, the graphos or representation, both mediates and structures the other two elements. The autobiographical mode of representation enables Tyman to construe his life as a challenge to colonialism’s appropriation of the discursive production of Indian subjectivities. Tyman recollects the roles of his life (“I’d been a good Indian, a scummy Indian, and apple, and now a racist Indian” [177]) within a generic mode that implicitly re-appropriates the means of production of one’s subjectivity. The closing section of the autobiography, “Recovery,” constitutes both at the structural and narrative levels this re¬appropriation:

I was aware now of who was really my real mom: Cecile Tyman, the one who raised me, fed me, and loved me. It was wrong to think Alice [Martin] was going to take over. I’d been lost all my life, but finding my biological mother wasn’t going to change the way I lived. (221)

Tyman names his real mother and thus grounds the autobiography in a hitherto missing authenticity. The closing fragment, “Christmas 1986,” is introduced by a recapitulation; once more James’s childhood is invoked, this time mediated by a cultural narrative whose thematic elements are birth, redemption, and hope. Tyman recalls his childhood Christmases and thereby structurally integrates the thematics of the nativity with his own autopoetic thematics of recovery and re-invention. The appropriative gesture inherent in this integration discloses the subtle shift of the narrative, from a passive and reactionary mode of representation to one that is active and self-determining. James meets his “real” mother but discovers “it wasn’t the meeting it was supposed to be” (220). The functional psychological utility of the Martin family evaporates with James’s discovery of his “forgotten past” (221) and his effort to learn how to live with himself (221).

The narrative closes with James imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. The irony of the closing-page phrase “Justice has been done” (226) re-affirms the ironic consciousness at the heart of the autobiography and discloses the perhaps greatest irony of all – the ironic distance between appearance and reality, articulated also as “phoniness” versus “authenticity.” James has undertaken a personal transformation, but his social role (at least in relation to the criminal system) obtains. This irony should come as no surprise, for the structural demands of autobiography are not easily resolved with the conditions of social life. In acknowledgement of this, Tyman foregrounds narrative ironies while affirming a nonetheless genuine personal transfiguration:

The jail is the same: skinners and stool pigeons are given VIP status, hardcore inmates are shunned and ignored. I have a new attitude this time, though. The hatred is gone. The shame of being Indian is not there. The thought of living by crime once I get out isn’t there. I make contact with the Tymans more often. Donna is glad for me. She can see the difference on our visits. Instead of me talking about stabbing and robbing people, I talk about schools and careers.

Tyman reiterates the inside/outside dichotomy; “the jail is the same,” but he himself has changed. The structural logic and cultural ideology of autobiography constitute the functional basis of this dichotomy. James’s “gut feelings” tell him he is going to re-invent himself, an assertion well legitimized by the generic conditions of autobiography. The autobiographical mode of representation, “writing the life of the self,” conveys a great deal of social-cultural authority. Autobiographical representation derives its cultural authority from the dominant Western ideologies of individualism and authenticity, and Tyman co-opts this cultural authority to contest the colonial appropriation of the means of production of Indian subjects/subjectivity. Inside Out is thus a double-edged sword of a sort, for it both participates in and contests cultural modes of oppression and dominance from which it must inevitably borrow for its own purposes. The narrative discloses in a highly self-consciousness manner both the presence and character of this struggle, thereby achieving a good degree of thematic complexity. Doubtless such complexity is a characteristic feature of Native writing in general, derived as it invariably is from the social, cultural, and ideological dynamics of colonialism.

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Eleanor Brass: I Walk In Two Worlds

[This is an extract from my 1998 doctoral thesis. You can also read my thesis chapters on Maria Campbell and James Tyman. The introductory, “Autopoetics,” chapter is here.]

The Interested Subject: Irony in Eleanor Brass’s “I Walk In Two Worlds” (Calgary, Alberta: Glenbow-Alberta Institute, 1987).

Eleanor Brass begins her 1987 autobiography, I Walk in Two Worlds, with a foreword that briefly rehearses the stages of her life. Her life spans a historical period which begins with the homestead policy and matures during the years of renewed organised Indian political activity. During Brass’s “early years” (as the first chapter is titled), the Canadian government aggressively pursued the surrender of Indian reserve lands while officially promoting segregation and agriculture as solutions to the “Indian problem.” The File Hills Colony (Brass’s title for the second chapter) was an internationally-recognized Indian farm. Like many Native people of her generation, Brass attended an Indian boarding school; “Boarding School Days” recounts her experiences during this period. The chapters “Early Married Years,” “Colony Life,” and “Integration” recount a period of cultural alienation during which Brass walks between the “two worlds” of white and Native. As I hope to show in this chapter, the text discloses a number of ironies regarding, among other things, the narrative’s Indian subject (that is, Brass’s life as an “Indian”). Here the two world metaphor is instructive. The text works explicitly toward integration (of the Indian and white worlds), a goal made difficult by historical conditions well-articulated elsewhere, in the biography of John Tootoosis:

…when an Indian comes out of these places [i.e. Indian schools] it is like being put between two walls in a room and left hanging in the middle. On one side are all the things he learned from his people and their way of life that was being wiped out, and on the other side are the whiteman’s ways which he could never fully understand since he never had the right amount of education and could not be part of it. There he is, hanging in the middle of two cultures and he is not a whiteman and he is not an Indian (Goodwill and Sluman 106)

Here the Indian, to borrow from Brass, walks between two worlds. While Brass employs an inclusive preposition, her text discloses the alienation identified in the Tootoosis text. This should come as no surprise, given the general circumstances of Native lives for Brass’s generation. Pat Deiter-McArthur has reproduced these circumstances in her article “Saskatchewan’s Indian People — Five Generations”:

The laws which served to oppress the second generation [1867-1910: the absolute rule of an Indian agent; denial of political, religious and personal rights through the Indian Act; the pass and permit systems, which regulated personal movement and agriculture; residential school system] were in place until the early 1950s. The Third Generation (1910-1945) was greatly affected by these laws and schooling. This generation can be described as the lost generation. These people were psychologically oppressed. They rejected their Indianness but found that because of the laws for treaty Indians they could not enjoy the privileges accorded to whites. This third generation was our grandfather’s generation. Many Indians at this time could speak their language but would not because of shame of their Indianness. They were still required by law to send their children to residential schools, to send their sick to Indian hospitals, and to abide by the Indian agent. They rarely had a sense of control over their own lives. This generation was considered wards of the government and denied citizenship. (Writing the Circle 32-34).

In this chapter I will consider Brass’s text, I Walk in Two Worlds, in relation to the conditions presented above. I shall maintain that Brass, writing in the late-1980s, contends with the early-to-mid-century ideological and social circumstances which have informed her notions of Indian subjects. The two worlds go largely unresolved, though Brass does posit the means by which intergration is theoretically possible. The subjective conditions articulated in the Tootoosis text are disclosed by Brass in the form of apparently unintended ironies. In short, I Walk in Two Worlds offers insight into the character of a “two world” Indian subject as well as the efforts of a Native agent to syncretise cultures.

“Syncretic” well describes the character of Plains cultures at the time of first contact between Europeans and Natives. Metis culture, in particular, is syncretic. It is a blend of European and Native elements, from which evolved unique Metis customs. Syncretism denotes the active appropriation of cultural elements and is to be distinguished from cultural imperialism, the latter designating an imposition of socio-cultural practices and ideologies on a dominated people. This of course is an analytical distinction between co-existing material phenomena; the cultures of actually-existing colonised peoples are both syncretic and colonial. By this I mean their socio-cultural arrangements are organised according to the conflicting agendas of the internal population and the imperial centre. Our interest here is principally with conflicts concerning the production and organisation of “subjects” and “subjectivity.” Brass’s autobiography undertakes syncretism yet draws upon the ideological resources of imperialist discourse. The result is an ironic text which discloses the ambiguous relation of Native agents to the project of “civilisation.”

“Protection, civilization, and assimilation have always been the goals of Canada’s Indian policy,” as John Tobias has pointed out. (“Protection, Civilization, Assimilation: An Outline History of Canada’s Indian Policy” in J.R. Miller’s Sweet Promises) These priorities are explicit in the Qu’Appelle Treaty, to which Brass refers in the opening chapter of her autobiography. “Protection, civilization, and assimilation” were pursued in a sometimes formal, sometimes informal co-ordination of school, church and state. These three instruments (school, church, and state) achieved their unified expression in the residential school, which “typified the totalitarian and assimilative spirit of Canada’s Indian policy in the later Victorian era and the first half of the twentieth century” (J.R. Miller “Owen Glendower, Hotspur, and Canadian Indian Policy” 332) The File Hills Colony served as an extension of the residential school system; it provided a destination point for the graduate, one that could be as carefully regulated by a white overseer as the schools themselves were. The rules that applied to the residential school applied to the colony as well. A steady engagement in the industrial arts was encouraged, while any manifestation of Indian culture was forbidden. In general, the Indian agent arrogated to himself the authority of a residential school principal, and the Indians themselves were supervised in a manner befitting residential school children. The continuity of residential school and colony life is noted by Edward Ahenekew, in his 1923 book Voices of the Plains Cree. Ahenakew’s fictional elder, Old Keyam, puts the matter this way:

I’ve read about the colony at File Hills, made up of graduates from boarding school. They are said to be doing well. I have boasted about them myself when I had nothing better to do. But they are under the guidance of an official who has more authority than most, and he is an able man whose authority these young people accept in the way to which they become accustomed in boarding school. He is the ‘crank’ that makes the machine start and go. (131)

The ambivalence of this passage is noteworthy, for it approaches not only the tone but the diction of a number of Brass’s evaluations of state institutions. Brass asserts that “according to reports…progress was rapid,” a statement which resembles the articulation, “I’ve read about the colony…they are said to be doing well.” Both Brass and Old Keyam, a figure to whom I shall return in a later chapter, furthermore note the continuity of boarding school and colony. What Old Keyam conveys in the metaphor of an engine, Brass conveys in the term “initiative.” It is the rules of the colony, according to Brass, which hinder agency. The rules do not allow women “to visit with one another very frequently” (11), and they forbid the exercise of Native culture: fiddle dances, pow-wows and tribal ceremonies are forbidden. Brass adds that “Mr. Graham [the Indian agent] considered them a hindrance to progress,” a statement which lays bare the contradiction of state-dictated and -enforced personal development, or agency. At the heart of the Indian subject, and the formal arrangments of “civilisation” which summon it forth, is precisely this contradiction. The Native autobiography, concerned as it is with the subject, is invariably involved in the contradictions of the dominant socio-cultural rules that seek to govern the subject.

These rules are embedded in material institutions and social arrangements. In the case of Brass, the File Hills colony experiment constituted the social context of her encounter with the ideology of the subject. Sarah Carter has described the ideological assumptions underlying the colony in this way:

Agriculture was seen as the solution to the at-best peculiar and at-worst deplorable characteristics and idiosyncrasies which the Indian tenaciously and perversely cherished. The Indian had to be taught to make a living from the soil. No other occupation could so assuredly dispossess the Indian of his nomadic habits and the uncertainties of the chase, and fix upon him the values of a permanent abode and the security of a margin of surplus. Agriculture would teach an appreciation of private property and impart a will to own and master nature. (Lost Harvests 18)

In addition to the contradiction that “the will to master” should be imparted via the paternalistic structures of the regulated Indian farming colony, there is much to be drawn from this observation. One conclusion to be drawn is that the colony constituted a profound re-engineering of Indian life, a re-engineering which eroded traditional, tribal values and substituted in their place the bourgeois ideology of Victorian Canada. An Indian woman would become a wife and mistress of her home, judged by her domestic abilities: cleaning, cooking, and the raising of children. Significantly, “she was an immaculate housekeeper” is Brass’s repeated epithet of approval (5, 10, 60). An Indian man would become the head of a household, judged according to the cardinal bourgeois virtues: sobriety, self-mastery and deferral of gratification. The assimilated Indian would embrace two essential concepts of the capitalist notion of civilization; he would be a believer in the gospel of private property and individualism.

As a result of colonisation, Native peoples increasingly came to see themselves in relation to the ideological subject “Indian.” This point is substantiated by the testimony of Native peoples themselves, in autobiographies written throughout the twentieth century. With the formalisation of colonial social relations, in the Indian treaties and in the schools and government institutions for which the treaties called, “Indian” came to be a signifier whose content was inseparable from state institutions. The Indian was an ongoing re-creation which reflected white interests. This argument however should not be misconstrued as a claim that Natives were passive victims. The claim being made is that the identity of individual Native persons became inextricable from the institutionally-mediated discourse of the Indian. This explains the key features of Brass’s autobiography: the structuring of the bios according to the institutional settings of the autos, and the ironic relation of the author to the designation “Indian.”

Eleanor Brass’s life in many ways reflects the historical developments of the prairies in the early part of the twentieth century. Her autobiography’s ambivalence furthermore reflects the complexities of that history. Ambivalence can be discerned throughout her work despite, or perhaps because of, her explicit commitment to the principles of (white) “civilisation” and progress. These could not have been mere abstractions for Brass, who, as a member of the File Hills band, was part of a unique historical experiment. File Hills was a showpiece of Indian farming, a “model farm to which visiting dignitaries, officials, journalists and just the curious were taken.” (Sarah Carter 239). By 1914 there were 33 farmers in the colony of 134 people, and 2,000 acres of wheat and oats were under cultivation. The colony was considered a successful experiment, designed to meet the primary end of all government policies in relation to the Indian: assimilation. The colonists were graduates of Indian industrial and residential schools, and as such were products of the instituted efforts toward assimilation constituted by the church and the state.

A good deal of ideological investment was involved in the File Hills experiment. Brass herself, writing long after the fact, advances the notion that the purpose of the experiment was the progress of the Indian. Indeed “progress” is a word Brass employs frequently, as she does for instance in this description of the Regina Industrial school: “According to reports, during the nineteen years it was an Indian school, progress was rapid and the larger percentage of its pupils were outstanding” (6). Precisely what constitutes “rapid progress” is left unspoken, a convenience perhaps indulged by the reports from which Brass draws her assurances. The dubious benefits of the school however may be inferred from this description: “…the Mounted Police were of great assistance to the school. They donated time to go out to drill the students, making them quite proficient in precision drilling” (8). Brass reports this judgment as a matter of fact, yet the irony of such mechanical and militarist exercises somehow yielding “many qualified graduates” (6), to say nothing of “rapid progress,” baffles. Here the ideological rationalisations of the schools stand uncomfortably beside the historical data.

Brass’s representation of history is also noteworthy. We shall see, in the case of Maria Campbell’s Halfbreed, the critical role into which representations of history may be pressed. Campbell’s text is unequivocally “Metis” in the sense that it undertakes a representation of history from a Metis point of view. Brass’s text however is not thus engaged with the “politics” of history and yields passages such as the following:

While father was going to school he was sent out each summer to work on a farm in the Wide Awake district near Indian Head. The farmer there got his start through buying up half-breed or Metis scrips for next to nothing. In this way he accumulated quite a few sections of good land. Dad learned a lot about farming and raising stock from this man. At graduation, the farmer wanted to adopt dad and start him out on a farm of his own, but dad preferred going back to the reserve to live among his own people. (7)

We may note the absence of identification with the Metis which as we shall see contrasts with Campbell’s narrative. The farmer’s scrips, purchased for “next to nothing,” are part of a harsh chapter of Metis history in which the halfbreeds were systematically exploited through the concerted actions of the federal government, settlers, and land speculators. Brass is evidently aware of the fact that the halfbreeds were duped. Nonetheless the history embedded in this passage is for Brass a mere series of events without moral implications for the present: it is history as wholly past. The phrase “he accumulated quite a few sections of good land” is particularly striking language and suggests a tacit admiration of and identification with the farmer. In a sense, he has been vindicated by history, as his success attests.

Brass relates a short description of the 1885 Saskatchewan rebellion. Her ancestors, we are told, “promised the queen they would not participate in any warfare and so they fled to Dakota to avoid being forced into a fight (6). When the rebellion was over they returned. This passage, like the above, is indicative of the allegiance which informs Brass’s narrative. Brass’s identity is deeply informed by the values and objectives of the white culture with which she identifies. One symptom of this identification is Brass’s reluctance to criticize and her general (but not invariable) posture of approval regarding the aims and practices of white authority. Consider her description of W.M. Graham, the Indian agent:

The File Hills Colony made rapid progress during its first twenty years. Its success may be attributed to the initiative of the colonists, who were allowed to conduct their own affairs, and to the constant encouragement by officials, missionaries, and other interested parties. … So keen was the desire for the success of this scheme that Mr. Graham made his own plans which were felt to be quite strict at times. (11)

The initiative of the colonists and the “constant encouragement by officials” were often at odds, a fact which was not generally conducive to “rapid progress.” Having affirmed the success of the colony and the encouragement of its officials, Brass goes on to describe the many rules imposed on the colonists by the paternalistic authorities —in the name of progress and self-reliance, as always. Brass’s reticence in relation to Graham is particularly remarkable. Consider her description on page 17, where she relates an agreement made between Graham and the colonists. Here is her account:

On or about 1911 an agreement was made between Mr. Graham and the colonists that they would allow, if necessary, a total of fifty graduates into the colony over a period of twenty years. From what we have observed, Mr. Graham assumed the right to select graduates from any Indian school, regardless of legal status or religion.

This is a generous description of what was in fact a heated conflict. Joe Ironquil led the Peepeekisis band’s opposition to Graham’s desire to admit the graduates. Brass omits unpleasant details which put white authority in an unpleasant light. She largely obfuscates the character of Graham himself, whose career, according to Daniel Francis, “was a clear indication that the way to succeed in the Indian service was to show initiative in subverting the rights of Indians” (Francis 208). Indeed, Graham eagerly pursued the surrender of Indian lands, as documented by Stewart Raby. (Note: “Indian Land Surrenders in Southern Saskatchewan.” The Canadian Geographer 17 no. 1 (1973): 36-52) Yet Brass’s only comment on the File Hills dispute over the use and development of Indian lands comes in the single line, “From what we have observed, Mr. Graham assumed the right to select graduates from any Indian school, regardless of legal status or religion” (17).

It would be incorrect to suggest that Brass simply identifies with something called “white culture” to the detriment of an implicit Indian identity. Her representation of events doubtless has several determinations which lie beyond this reductive formulation. The point I wish to establish and substantiate is that, in the formation of her subjectivity, Brass has drawn on complex ideological resources and that the arrangement of these resources into an integrated self are of paramount concern. Brass’s representations of whites —ambivalent, ironic, or otherwise— is symptomatic of a larger project itself concerned with representation of the self. I Walk in Two Worlds is unable to resolve fundamental issues introduced into the narrative by ideological assumptions. This inability, I am arguing, results in identifiable textual ironies and contradictions regarding the successes of white culture, the virtues of assimilation, and the progress of Indians.

We have already briefly considered the success of the Regina industrial school and the “rapid progress” of the File Hills Colony under W.M. Graham. In these instances Brass endorses the official appraisement of these institutions and reproduces commonplace attitudes regarding the upward development of white civilisation. The complement of these “evolutionary” attitudes consists in Brass’s representations of the Indian, which disclose the logic of ethnocentric anthropology:

It has never ceased to be interesting to be an Indian and to walk in two worlds, watching, learning, and trying to understand the many cultures and the thinking of the various races of people. While I know that my Indian culture is one of the noblest in the world, I feel that other cultures have affected my life in various ways. (14)

Brass’s interest in relation to the Indian, here as elsewhere, approaches exoticism, as her use of the term “noble” suggests. We should note also the implicit exclusion of the narrator in the phrase “watching, learning, and trying to understand the many cultures and the thinking of the various races of people,” among them Indians. Here we see the subtle ambivalent relation of Brass to her text, particularly to signifiers of belonging such as we and our, as well as categories like “Indian.” The workings of the two worlds have “never ceased to be interesting” to Brass largely because she herself is interested (inter est), suspended between the irresolvable conditions which her relation to the two worlds proposes.

“Our childhood days were interesting,” Brass writes, recalling her introduction into Indian culture:

Our parents took us to Indian feasts and sometimes to funerals. We liked the feasts but the funerals used to scare us. We didn’t understand the rituals where the women seemed to do a lot of wailing. After attending them I would get nightmares, so my parents stopped taking us. (13)

The young Brass’s apprehension of the Indian is mediated by fear and alienation as well as by fascination. Such appear to be the nuances of the bland term “interesting.” Brass does not however immediately recognise herself as an “Indian,” a fact we learn several lines later. How she does conceive of her affiliations is a complex matter, complicated by her references to race itself, such as in these two passages from pages 26 and 46 respectively:

One of the matrons said that the girls from the [File Hills] colony were the worst children in the school. They were always getting into things that the other children wouldn’t think of doing. I came to the conclusion that it was because of our European background. We must have inherited some aggressive characteristics which contributed to our curiosity and animation (26).

We must have inherited traits from our nomadic background that made us so adventuresome. We both wanted to get acquainted with the outside world and relate our findings to our own people. I know for myself, I was always curious; I always had to see what was around the next corner. (46)

Brass’s affiliations are informed by the dubious ethnographic assumptions popularised in the nineteenth century. As a result, her self-conception according to supposed “natural inherited traits” (a phrase Brass employs on page 26) is arbitrary and yields simultaneously untenable claims. Indians are described as “passive” but also as “adventuresome,” while “curiosity” is associated first with European aggression and later with the erstwhile “passive” Indian’s nomadism. Nor does any principle appear to guide these designations; rather, Brass’s relation to these ethnographic categories is fluid.

Another indication of the ironies at work in the narrative can be found on page 28. Here stereotypes of the Indian are both invoked and frustrated by the conditions of Brass’s life. Having arrived at the boarding school, Brass is asked by a fellow pupil, “Is it cold living in a tent in the winter time?” The boys see Brass sitting in a “shiny new Ford” and call out, “Get out of that car, you dirty Indian!” Brass notes the irony: “my father, who was a good farmer and did well financially well on the reserve, was one of the first people in the district to have a new Ford car.” The “poor” white people who look down on the comfortably middle-class Brass are her social inferiors. The mistaken assumptions of these Indian stereotypes are reiterated at page 36, in an exchange between Brass and an Indian agent:

“Sir,” I said. “I would like some of our money to buy groceries.”
“What’s the matter with that good for nothing husband of yours?” he answered. “Why doesn’t he get out and earn something, he’s so damn lazy.”
“Just a minute, sir,” I replied, “he’s busy working on his summer fallow and if it wasn’t done you’d be bawling us out, and furthermore, my husband is an honest man. He’d never think of stealing money from anyone and he’s never been in the penitentiary.”
You would think I had struck the Indian agent; he just sat down and held his head. His son was doing time in the penitentiary after being convicted of stealing funds from farmers… (36)

Indian subjects, in the agent’s stereotypical view, are lazy. Brass, doubtless familiar with the litany of supposed Indian failings, goes beyond the agent’s accusations and defends her husband against unspoken but anticipated charges. Her assertion that he is neither dishonest nor a thief exposes the appropriateness of the stereotype to the agent’s own son, who in a fitting inversion of the dramatic situation is imprisoned for stealing from farmers. In this scene, an instance of dramatic irony, the ideological script from which the agent reads is subverted and the roles are reversed.

Elsewhere however Brass reinforces stereotypes of the Indian. She imports into her narrative a passage from an article of hers entitled “Teepee Tidings,” in which she adopts the anachronistic persona of a “noble savage”:

It is interesting to watch from the sidelines, so to speak, the movements of the country, and its forms of government with the various political parties for legislation.
Watching from the wigwam door makes us wonder at all the complications our white brothers subject themselves to. We know the affairs of the country must be taken care of and many problems arise. But we feel it could be simpler if they would adopt from us the ceremony of smoking the pipe of peace together, and perhaps conclusions would be reached with better understanding.
We also look with amazement at the wonderful scientific discoveries in the medical field, of the new drugs with their marvellous results. The atomic energy, while used right is also wonderful so they tell us, but otherwise we prefer our bow and arrow (44).

I Walk in Two Worlds is, to its credit, not so crude as this. The affectations of this article are exceptional, and the question is begged how “better understanding” may result from writing so preponderant with Indianisms like “watching from the wigwam door makes us wonder.” In this small passage we find Indians associated with teepees, simplicity, peace pipes, wonder, and amazement at white scientific discoveries and technologies; it is here as if Native people had managed to live through the past 100 years without alteration. White people on the contrary are associated with complexity, social evolution (“the movements of the country”), discovery, science, medicine, drugs, and all manners of technology. Nor are these stereotypes restricted to this passage, which I have chosen only for its rhetoric excess. Elsewhere similar assumptions less overtly inform Brass’s conception of her Indianness.

One striking example of Brass’s cultural assumptions regarding the Indian lies in her assertion of the historical significance of her father’s life, an assertion informed by the notions of progress and civilization prevalent at the time:

My father and his schoolmate Ben Stonechild were among the first to start with the colony. When they turned over the first sod, little did they realize their efforts were opening up a new era, turning a page in the history of their people. No longer would they and their descendants be content to depend entirely on the bow an arrow and hunting knife for a living.

Brass’s over-simplification of Plains Indian culture to a dependence “entirely on the bow and arrow” accords well with the view that was doubtless expounded in the residential school and elsewhere at the turn of the century and later. This view itself derives from nineteenth-century evolutionary-based ethnography, which characterizes hunting-gathering cultures as “savage.” One influential proponent of Indian ethnography was the American Lewis Henry Morgan, whose 1877 study Ancient Society, or Researches in the Lines of Human Progress from Savagery through Barbarism to Civilization was widely read and constituted the basis for a number of influential nineteenth-century works. (Note: For a discussion of Morgan’s work, see Robert F. Berkhofer Jr., “The Scientific Image of the Indian, The White Man’s Indian) Consider for example this assertion, from Friedrich Engles’s The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State —a book indebted to Morgan’s views of culture: “The bow and arrow was for savagery what the iron sword was for barbarism and firearms for civilization — the decisive weapon”11 In any discussion of cultural history (Brass’s text is, at one level, a discussion of a cultural history) the phrase “bow and arrow” serves well as a shorthand invocation of a complex set of late-Victorian/early twentieth-century assumptions and arguments.

Foremost was the assumption that the Indian way of life was vanishing, as it inevitably must in order to make way for “civilization.” (Note: See Daniel Francis The Imaginary Indian, chapter 3, for a discussion of “the Vanishing Indian”) This assumption is evident at places in Brass’s text, and is ostensibly substantiated with empirical evidence. For instance, she writes that “thirteen sections of the [File Hills] colony were left unsurveyed for those ex-pupils who still desired to follow the old pursuits of hunting and trapping. Significantly, the inhabitants of this portion of the colony had had an equal education but did not seem to progress economically”(10). Coming immediately after Brass’s encomium on the “new era” of agricultural work (a phrase which itself derives from the evolutionary logic of contemporary ethnography), this comment implicitly renders the verdict that hunting and trapping represent “old pursuits” which are incompatible with progress. The qualification “significantly” here apparently denotes an observation of essence: hunting and trapping fail because of their ontological status; no external, contingent explanation for the failure is sought (climate, geography, local game populations), and presumably, none is needed.

Brass’s assumption of the “vanishing Indian” informs her conception of Indianness. The Indian occupies the past and harkens back to simpler times, a point underscored in the “Teepee Tidings” article quoted above. Indians sit on the “sidelines” and offer respite —and peace pipes— to those whites whose disenchantment with civilisation propels them to seek the unadulterated charms of nature. Even the manner in which the Brasses speak to one another makes this point apparent:

When we were travelling, my husband gave me a pep talk, saying, ‘Remember, Eleanor, we must leave our beads and feathers at home. We’re going to show the white people that we can meet their challenge and we have to show our own people that Indians can do it.’” (45)

The complexities and ironies of the Brass’ subject positions are reified by the language in which they are represented. The ironies I have been analysing cannot be adequately rendered in the simplified ideological categories on which Brass finds it necessary to rely. She is either a “beads and feathers” Indian or an aggressive European. In an irony Brass never ackowledges, “integration” entails going out into the “white world” and leaving behind her bow and arrow. It means working for whites in a money economy, submitting to monetarised human relations until the reserve “beckons,” the term used by Brass (46).

Integration is based on the principle of understanding. Brass decides to “get acquainted with the outside world and to relate [her] findings” to her people (48). This is primarily an intellectual effort which recalls an earlier statement: “it has never ceased to be interesting to be an Indian and to walk in two worlds, watching, learning and trying to understand the many cultures and the thinking of the various races of people” (14). The thesis of the autobiography is that knowledge humanises and fosters understanding of the Other, a proposition which may be termed “humanist.” Yet at the heart of Brass’s knowledge of the Indian are notions about progress which frustrate her explicit intellectual commitment. Brass’s knowledge is impeded by what she knows.

Brass’s knowledge is partly informed by cultural systems working at cross-purposes. For the dominant white culture, at the onset of the twentieth century as well as in the 1950s, the educational, administrative, and economic systems for dealing with the Indian were designed to meet the Indian problem, which was the stubborn refusal of Indians to vanish. Policies aimed at assimilation had the paradoxical effect of preserving Indian culture, an effect made apparent in Basil Johnston’s autobiography, Indian School Days. The reservation system is a good example of a policy which in practice contradicted its theoretical purpose. At File Hills, secretly-held traditional Indian feasts and Indian funeral ceremonies were a part of the local experience, as were the agricultural exhibitions and brass band performances which were the proscribed fare of colony life. The segregation of white settlements and reservations, together with the harsh economic realities of reserve life, forced many Natives to move among two segregated cultures, unable and/or unwilling ever to dwell fully in either. Appropriately, the “two worlds” metaphor figures often in the autobiographies and biographies of this generation, as we have seen in the case of John Tootoosis. Brass’s text likewise registers this perception, though the effort of the narrative is toward integration. Brass like her generation is thus caught between the “distinctive and highly developed civilization” of an earlier generation of Native peoples, and the civilization of the future, brought to the Indian through progress and assimilation.

The “two world” model of Indian experience is presented largely in symbolic terms, but we are reminded that the two-world segregation of Native and white is literal. The complications of identity enter into the text when Brass crosses the barrier between white and Native and is confronted as a cultural other:

As we grew older we often accompanied our parents to town. While they were doing their shopping we would sometimes wait for them outside on the street and watch the people go by. Some of them would stop and speak to us while others would just smile. Once some boys came by and called us “little squaws” but we didn’t realize then that we were Indians. We called back to them “little squaws yourselves.” This marked the first of many episodes both good and bad that were to influence the rest of my life. (13-14)

The young Brass’s reply, “little squaws yourselves,” is a comic mis-identification, but it also discloses a conceptual innocence regarding the cultural conditions articulated in the Tootoosis passage. The context of this episode suggests that the young Brass’s failure to construe a racial slur is a manifestation of cultural alienation: she does realize that she is an “Indian,” nor that the townspeople are not. The term “Indian” is as obscure to Brass as the traditional rituals which serve only to give her nightmares. Although the town episode is easily dismissed as the naiveté of a child, on the assumption that Brass later shall “know better,” the social and economic conditions of the period discouraged the knowledge of Native peoples concerning their culture. This is what Pat Deiter-McArthur identifies by her phrase “the lost generation.” “Lost” is another term for the suspension of knowledge of the self between two worlds, and the resulting social, economic and psychological hardships.

Brass learns about the white world and about the Indian in the same manner: by “watching, learning and trying to understand.” Her understanding of both worlds reflects its social and institutional settings, and, as I have suggested, generates ironies which may lead the reader toward epistemological skepticism. What Brass knows about Native people is largely informed by cultural assumptions about the Indian. Furthermore, how Brass responds to and interprets what she apprehends gives the reader reasons to be skeptical. She recalls that from friends she learned about “our Indian culture” while at the Presbyterian boarding school (25). In the sole documented response to this education, we find Brass “giggling” at a sacred dance, the understandable reaction of a child. The same ironic response to the sacred is recorded on page 16, where the missionary sent out “to look after our spiritual needs” unknowingly exposes his bum to young Eleanor. Brass’s reflections on spiritual matters are abruptly displaced by considerations of the body, particularly the male penis (17). Here the child’s failure to understand dominates the narrative and the ironies are taken for granted. This naïve point-of-view regarding religion is arguably a mere narrative technique designed to capture the experience of childhood, and yet it is consistent with Brass’s reluctance to write critically of Graham two paragraphs later. Brass’s ambivalence registers itself only subtly, in the ironies of which she often appears to be unaware.

The ironies with which we are principally concerned are those involving Indian identity. We have already considered Brass’s first encounter with racism, and her recollection that she did not realise she was an Indian. Here the irony is readily apparent, as it is in the case of the “white man’s Indian,” who lives in tents and indulges in scalpings. Brass exploits the humour of such absurdities, but beyond these absurd ironies are the troubling matters articulated in the biography of John Tootoosis, with which I introduced this chapter. The troubling matters to which I refer concern the Native person caught in a historical process of assimilation. Such a person, according to Tootoosis, “is not a whiteman and he is not an Indian.” This assertion contradicts Brass’s claims, yet it accounts for the ironies of the narrative as discreet moments of textualised aporia, in which self-alienation is exposed. The autobiography itself thus can be read as an exploration of the “two world” character of Brass’s identity. The autobiography constitutes the logic according to which the Indian and the white worlds can be integrated, and yet the ironies persist, contradicting the narrative’s logic

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