- When the Other Is Me: Native Resistance Discourse, 1850-1990
When the Other Is Me is a discursive analysis of Native resistance writing in Canada, which Metis Native Studies scholar Emma LaRoque defines as the Native response to the 'war of words' that historically has grossly misrepresented and dehumanized Indigenous peoples in this country. Citing the 'overwhelming presence of Eurocentric and hate material in Canadian archives, histories, literatures, school textbooks, and contemporary cultural productions' (5) as the colonial ground that sparks Native resistance literature, LaRoque argues that expressing anger and speaking in one's own voice are rhetorical strategies of liberatory potential. Aesthetics has not been the primary concern of Native resistance writers, she contends; theirs is an intellectual revolution, only just begun. LaRoque calls for a humanist literary criticism over reductionist political interpretations that once again treat Indigenous peoples only as a mass. In her view, literature offers the best medium for countering dehumanization, since it recognizes the uniqueness of the Native individual.
LaRoque characterizes 'civilisation confronting savagery' as the master narrative permeating Canadian culture and forming the basis for colonizer psychology and institutions. Drawing primarily on anti-colonial writers Albert Memmi and Franz Fanon, the book explores colonial language, Western intellectual imperialism, and Indigenous writers' tactics of resistance, such as humanizing Indigenous people by depicting their 'faces and feelings' (4), reaffirming the vitality of Indigenous cultures, and disproving or reversing charges of savagery. While many of these dynamics are observable in other anti-colonial or Indigenous literatures, the value of this study is its focus on Indigenous expression in Canada.
Despite its subtitle, the book is not an in-depth historical study; rather, its primary focus is on the discursive strategies of selected Indigenous writers from the 1970s to 1990s, with some reference to earlier writing by both Indigenous and non-Indigenous authors as context. LaRoque argues that Native writing did not become a significant collective expression until after 1970, when Harold Cardinal's [End Page 378] The Unjust Society characterized the widespread Canadian belief that 'the only good Indian is as non-Indian' as cultural genocide, and writers such as Howard Adams, Maria Campbell, Beatrice Culleton, Daniel N. Paul, Chief Dan George, Jeannette Armstrong, and Ruby Slipperjack gained a wide audience.
LaRoque's discussion of nineteenth-century resistance discourse is thus highly selective, particularly in its treatment of Native writing in eastern Canada. LaRoque mentions Catherine Sutton, Shingwaukonse, George Copway, and Pauline Johnson, but gives very short shrift to the significant and complex writings of the Rev. Peter Jones, the principal author of numerous petitions to protect Mississauga lands as well as The History of the Ojebway Indians. While largely correct in depicting the period from 1870 to 1970 as a time of Native voicelessness, with no visible cultural or political representation, she ignores the contributions of Oronhyatekha and Peter Edmund Jones to public debates and the significant publication of the Indian newspaper in 1886, which was reviewed in mainstream newspapers.
LaRoque's most interesting arguments concern the uses and perils of the rhetoric of cultural difference, and the 'deep, convoluted, and abiding connection between notions of Native cultural difference and the noble savage' (135). Here she critiques both Indigenous historians such as Georges Sioui for their utopianized traditional cultures and non-Indigenous historians such as Cornelius Jaenan, Sylvia Van Kirk, and Jennifer Brown for their overuse of ethnographic explanations 'treating Aboriginal history and contemporary cultural productions as only or largely as ethnological expressions' (139). While acknowledging that the Native emphasis on cultural difference reflects a strategic decolonizing response to the problem of Western scholarship's continuing practice of universalizing Western experience and knowledge, she warns against stereotypical notions of cultural differences as binary essentialisms. These lead 'back to the very stereotypes we are resisting' (139), particularly the civilisation/savagery construct and a primitivist romanticism that disallows Native cultural change and restricts authenticity to 'elders' and 'traditions.' Noting the economic exploitation of a commodified Native culture, LaRoque asks, 'Whose interest does it serve that we be different? What if we were...