- Challenging Frontiers: The Canadian West
Challenging Frontiers is a collection of essays concerned with bringing into the present ideas of the Canadian West as a continuing "frontier." All of the essays acknowledge that Western Canada is ethnically complex, but several should be of special interest to the readers of this journal. In "Celebrating Magpies," Ann Davis writes of three western artists, Paul Kane, Emily Carr, and the less well-known, but in many ways more significant, Assiniboine, Ho gee esa. Ho gee esa's commissioned ledger book drawings, curated by Valerie Robertson for the Glenbow Museum in 1993, are a record of both traditional ways and new reserve conditions, presented in a blend of indigenous hide-painting techniques and introduced conventions such as perspective. Davis cites Gerald McMaster to show that these pictures are "about" ideas and making tangible a way of life that for both practical and philosophical reasons limited its material culture and, thus, the artifacts that remain to reveal its past.
Sarah Carter's "Two Months in Big Bear's Camp, 1885," a republished version of her 1999 introduction to the "captivity narratives" of Theresa Gowanlock and Theresa Delaney, is a particularly insightful discussion of the rhetorical creation of hierarchies of race and gender in Western Canada. The two Theresas were the wives [End Page 200] of two reserve officers killed at Frog Lake (now Alberta) in 1885. They subsequently spent two months in what might be called the protective custody of Cree leader Big Bear before being restored to settler society. Soon after they had returned to Ontario, a sensationalised account of their experience appeared under their names. Carter examines the discrepancies between the published account and the stories the women told immediately after leaving Big Bear's camp, evaluating them in terms of the scare journalism that had attended their capture and the "captivity narratives" that had become American staples in deploring the Native people of the continent and extolling the newcomers.
Carter is particularly insightful on the politics of gender embedded in the narrative that the women published. Although the suffering of the two Theresas was undoubtedly real, it was no greater than the suffering of Cree and Metis women, who received no public sympathy, and it was never the hideous ordeal of "outrage" portrayed in the newspapers of the day. The construction of a wicked abduction of the two white women gave permission to the Canadian authorities to use extreme force against the Indian and Metis "perpetrators" of "atrocities." When the two women arrived at Fort Pitt in June, 1885, they were accompanied by several white and Metis families who had also taken refuge with Big Bear, and they both reported that they had been kindly treated by the Indians and Metis. Theresa Delaney even suggested that Indian Affairs maladministration may have helped cause the uprising. Although the published narratives sometimes break with convention, unlike the oral accounts, they fit into the category of "captivity narratives" that rhetorically justified the conquest of Native peoples, the confiscation of their land, and the stark restriction of their personal liberty.
Emma LaRocque's essay, "When the 'Wild West' is Me," looks once again at the power of "cowboys and Indians" narratives to frame contemporary non-Native understanding of Native people and issues. Teachers, judges, and other authority figures who literally don't know anything except popular culture stereotypes are still harming Native people in everything from ill-advised curriculum for grade schoolers to incorrect judgments on land claims. Although most of the essays focus on people of British descent, European ethnic groups also rate mention, especially in Janice Dickin's account of her difficulties in securing the publication of a memoir by a Norwegian settler in Alberta and in Lorry Felske's look at the multiethnic coal mining communities of Albert and British Columbia. Their stories, like those of Native peoples, tend to be obscured by "cowboys and Indians" stereotypes that hide the miners' progressive, unionized cooperation. Beverly Rasporich's account of the...