- Geneish: An Indian Girlhood by Jane Willis, and: Halfbreed by Maria Campbell, and: No Foreign Land: The Biography of a North American Indian by Wilfred Pelletier and Ted Poole (review)
- University of Toronto Quarterly
- University of Toronto Press
- Volume 43, Number 4, Summer 1974
- pp. 405-409
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- Additional Information
HUMANtnEs 405 Indian. The venture was funded by]. Pierpont Morgan, and supported at its inception by President Theodore Roosevelt; it was originally limited to an edition of 500 sets, which were published between 1907 and 1930. The work contained a rich variety of material of value to anthropologists, historians, linguists, and ethnomusicologists; there were a number of small plates bound into each volume, and each was accompanied by a folio containing larger unbound gravure plates. It was, as he himself wrote, 'a series of volumes picturing and describing the Indians' and 'represent[edl the result of a personal study of a people who are rapidly losing the traces of the aboriginal character and who are destined ultimately to become assimilated with the usuperior race",' The photographs are most certainly memorable and remarkable, but their organization in this book is decidedly curious and misleading, although one would not know this from the collection itself, since no source references are given. And while any reader may find it appropriate to turn from a Salish Mussel Gatherer to a Kutenai Rush Gatherer, and thence to a Navaho Blanket Weaver, it is an imaginative reader indeed who can find the immediate connection between an Apsaroke war-party and a Kwakiutl house-frame. Curtis, after all, did organize his work, and it would be nice to have at least a nod in that direction here. Also, there is in this collection little sense of cultural distinctions without which 'the Indian' becomes yet again the victim of a devastating generalization; and it was such distinctions which Curtis himself ironically employed to indulge his own special generalizations. For although Curtis sympathized with the Indian way of life and became angered by the injustices which had been done to them, he did, not surprisingly, like some groups better than others, and was especially impressed by wha t he took to be habits of industry and thrift, those cardinal nineteenth-century virtues. There arc some surprises , moreover, such as his comment ( in volume x, p 4) that 'it is scarcell' an exaggeration to say that no single noble trait redeems the Kwakiutl character.' This, at the beginning of a volume devoted entirely to them! There is no sense of this Curtis in the Coleman-McLuhan collection, and the absence of sufficient context for the photographs makes these splendid works rather awkwardly arresting. But they are superb; Curtis was a photographer of rare talent and imagination, and his work easily transcends the really rather minor limitations of this book. (J.E. CHAMBERLIN) Jane Willis, Geneish: An Indian Girlhood. New Press, 199, $8.50: Maria Campbell, lIaltbreed. McClelland and Stewart, 157, $5.95; Wilfred Pelletier 406 LETTERS IN CANADA and Ted Poole, No Foreign Land: The Biography of a North American Indian. New York: Pantheon Books, 212, $6.95 Although the subtitle of the third of these works may remind us that a 'Canadian Indian' is something of a contradiction in terms, the native people are a central (if often ignored) fact of Canadian life, and the few direct accounts we have of their way of life are an invaluable contribution to our understanding of Canadian culture. The appearance of three auto· biographies, each centring on the experience of growing up as a native in Canada, is an entirely welcome event, and not less so because the outlook they provide on Canadian SOCiety is disturbing and painful. Jane Willis's Geneish: An Indian Girlhood is a simple, plainly told account of her early life and education. Her early childhood at Fort George, on a tiny island in James Bay, is brieRy and effectively sketched in, but the book reaches its real subject when Geneish (Little Janie) enters the island's Anglican Residential School. We have been made aware of the unsympathetic presence of the twenty or so white people who, through the Hudson's Bay Company and the Anglican and Catholic missions, held arbitrary rule over some seven hundred Crees and forty 'white-status' Indians. Now Geneish is delivered over into the enemy's hands, and the tale becomes one of spiritual imprisonment and torture, one that ends in escape but an escape by a racked and bitter victim. She maintains...