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"Circling the Square: the Role of Native Writers in Creating Native Literature for Children" by James H. Geliert In a brief but insightful essay on the especial tensions and dynamics which have characterized Native/nonNative relations in Canada, Jon Stott of the University of Alberta adapts the ancient symbol incorporating the drde and square found in Tibetan, Indian, and Chinese emblems in order to explore the nature of the conjunction of these two cultural forces of Canada and North America. Stott suggests that squares and circles symbolize the European and Native cultural influences of North America, and adds that in a figurative sense, the history of North America during recent centuries has been dominated by an attempt to square the cirde. ... All that is symbolized by the checkerboard pattern of prairie landscapes has been dominant; English law, political structures and religious beliefs have been superimposed on the land and the people. All that is symbolized by the circle-tribal organizational patterns, spiritual ideals, and artistic patterns-has been attacked as outmoded, primitive, and foolish. Squares have been imposed on circles, destroying the configurations of the latter or pushing them underground where they could neither be seen nor be effective. (2) Jon Stott's metaphor is chosen advisedly. Not only do drdes represent a fundamental existential concept for Native peoples-a truth reflected in everything from their paintings to their tribal meetings-but the reference to attempting "to square the circle" is a cogently appropriate correlative for the European hegemony over all aspects of Native Kfe and the resultant shifting demographics which have had the ultimate effect of discouraging any real sense of relevance or pride in the Natives' view of their own cultural heritage. Significantly, as Stott notes, one aspect of Native life which has suffered from the imposition of non-Native values on Canadian Native peoples is the artistic, it is notable that along with the more publicized areas of Native concerns such as aboriginal rights, self-governance, land and resource claims, and high mortality and morbidity rates, the Native leaders of Canada and the Canadian government have recognized the need to revive and redevelop Native languages, literature, art, music, and customs. Such attention is wan-anted, and perhaps most particularly warranted in respect to Canadian children, for the presentation of limited or biased views of the Native experience to children in their formative years is fraught with danger. This danger is recognized by many who are directly involved ki Native art and literature In Canada. For example, the author and illustrator, George Clutesi, stresses that his versions of West Coast Indian tales are more than an exercise in casting a nostalgic eye back to a nearly forgotten culture of a once carefree people. Instead, Clutesi sees his art as performing a critical dual role ki Canadian sodety, in which non-Indians might better understand the culture of the true Indian, and Natives might return to their art to counteract the dubious "civilizing" influences of alien cultures. Clutesi goes so tar as to suggest that the attenuation of Native art and literature "could be part of the reason so many of the Indian population of Canada are in a state of bewilderment today" (12). What I wish to explore here is to what extent Clutesi's concerns have been and are being redressed in respect to works which might be read and studied by Canadian children, or, to return to the drde-square metaphor, to ask this question: has there been any circling of the square In works to which Canadian chldren are exposed? In addressing this question, I especially wish to offer some comments on the role Native writers have played and are playing in this process. A survey of the wide spectrum of literature about Natives which Canadian children might encounter reveals three roughly chronological phases of development: that ki which Natives are stereotyped as savages (noble and otherwise); that in which non-Natives attempt to depict the Native experience more realistically; and finally, that in which Native writers relate their perceptions of their own culture and history. The first phase noted, which began as early as the first decade of the eighteenth century in America with...


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pp. 79-82
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