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Reviewed by:
  • The Betrayal of Faith: The Tragic Journey of a Colonial Native Convert
  • Dana Medoro (bio)
Emma Anderson . The Betrayal of Faith: The Tragic Journey of a Colonial Native Convert. Harvard University Press. 2007. xiv, 303. US$47.50

This book brilliantly accomplishes the two tasks it sets out to do: to present a tightly focused biography of a seventeenth-century Innu man, Pierre-Anthoine Pastedechouan, and to establish the contextual complexities of his experiences as someone caught between his own people and the missionaries who took him to France and baptized him. Anderson approaches her subject as if she were holding a fine camera, zooming in to contemplate Pastedechouan in very specific scenes and traumatic moments and then widening out to frame these scenes within such powerful forces as the Reformation, the fur trade, and the nomadic practices of the seventeenth-century Innu. Nothing is skimped on; everything is richly explored and expertly handled.

In sentence after sentence, Anderson packs in historical facts, cultural and geographical references, compelling analyses of Innu-French interactions, and careful consideration of human motives. She is as deft with her descriptions of the St Lawrence in the winter as she is with the intricacies of Recollet missionary ideology and Innu hunting rituals. One of the most impressive feats that Anderson accomplishes is her ability to portray individual people both as individuals - singular, complicated, surprising - and as figures undeniably formed by their linguistic, social, and philosophical environments.

She thus brings Pastedechouan, along with missionary Paul Le Jeune, to dazzling life in simultaneously brave and careful interpretations of their motives and points of view. At about the midpoint of her book, Anderson writes,

Le Jeune sought to reshape Pastedechouan into an active, fervent Catholic by wielding the weapons of guilt, intimidation, friendship, praise, mockery [End Page 363] and occasionally outright coercion. Pastedechouan sought to defend his prerogative to define his own religious and cultural identity by engaging the missionary with passive resistance, boundary marking, active defiance, flight, and overt challenges to Le Jeune's Christian claims.

Anderson's work is ultimately structured by two main questions about the entwined histories of these two men: to what extent does the record of Pastedechouan's life and death illuminate what must have been an agonizing cultural and linguistic suspension between the French and the Innu? How can that suspension be understood in terms wider than a straightforward narrative of colonial aggression and victimization?

She opens her study by 'backstreaming' to the scene of Pastedechouan's birth and to what it might have been like as he took his first breath and began the 'complex process of "becoming Innu," observing absorbing, and mirroring the religious and social practices of his people.' The scene is gripping, and it ushers in Anderson's reconstruction of the Innu world and ways of life before they found themselves in constant negotiation and struggle with the French missionaries. Her striking reconstruction of Pastedechouan's baptism in France similarly opens her discussion of seventeenth-century French Catholicism and pedagogy, and from here she sets up the cultural forces that not only pulled Pastedechouan in two but also propelled the Recollet missionaries into Quebec.

This book is as beautifully written and imaginative as it is thoroughly researched and profoundly knowledgeable. From start to finish, Anderson weaves a clear and sophisticated argument into a chronicle superbly paced and consistently interesting. It manages simultaneously to be a specialized contribution to the history of religion and a fascinating resource for a wider audience.

Dana Medoro

Dana Medoro, Department of English, Film, and Theatre, University of Manitoba

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 363-364
Launched on MUSE
2010-08-07
Open Access
No
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