Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Re: Literary Landscapes March 10/11 (Appropriation)

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Shane Rhodes (Poet) as I understand was not writing from the perspective of an aboriginal person, so it was not appropriation. Now if you look at some of the writings of W. P. Kinsella, particularly the Hobbema stories, Dance Me Outside and The Rez. Kinsella was critized by the aboriginal community for his use of stereotypes and accused of appropriation of Native Voice. This kind of thing has been going on in Canada for years. From Wacousta a novel by John Richardson published in 1832. It is a use of an Indian vehicle to tell a Whiteman’s story. Margaret Atwood appropriated aboriginal pictographs in her novel, Surfacing using them as a vehicle for her feminist ideas. What is going on is that these people have saw fit to paste on to aboriginal people any meaning they want, for any ideas they have. It dehumanizes a people. A people that have a voice, a people that were shut away for a long time can now speak for themselves. Anne Cameron, Rudy Wiebe, Grey Owl (aka Archibald Belaney), Lynn Andrews, the list goes on. They are, for the Aboriginal people themselves there are social and cultural restrictions imposed on certain subjects concerning spirituality, many aboriginal writers will consult members; elders of their own communities even before they begin writing about their cultures. For aboriginal writers have a responsibility to the community. For White people there is none of this, there is no context, no responsibility to anyone they just take whatever the hell they want and publish whatever they wish. For White people nothing is sacred. If your gonna tell these stories, these sacred stories you better fucking get them right, and I don’t know any white writers who can do that. Hell I won’t even dare to write anything I know about our creation stories, that responsibility is just too much for me. Maybe it shouldn’t be written down at all, none of these things. I mean a lot of Native people get frustrated because these people trivialize everything that is sacred, make it into a commodity, you wonder why Muslims get pissed off. I think all organized religion is lunacy; but I ain’t going out of my way to make a buck off of it. It isn’t for me to do. White people will make Jesus into fictional character for a book, why not nothing is sacred, maybe this is what is wrong with White culture, freedom of speech; to hell with American Supreme court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. who said there are limits on free speech. Freedom of speech should carry some, at least some semblance of responsibility. We here haven’t even explored these limits, it could be dangerous, but without risk there is no gain. We have laws dealing with hate speech, but this is different. It is very arrogant that a White writer like Kinsella can take a Native character and pass that off as authentic, mean while in this country and I’ve heard many aboriginal writers mention it, that one of the loudest complaints from the dominant society is about the authenticity of the Aboriginal voice, this is bullshit, a double standard. Things like talk about the sweat lodge and the myths about Nanbush. Whites have no cultural connection to Coyote or Windigo. I don’t even write about Coyote (much) I really don’t feel comfortable, Coyote is more the southwest cultures from what I understand. Share your culture, but in a paradigm that the dominant society has created. I have a friend of mine that was studying creative writing at the University of Victoria, an Aboriginal friend, was told by her fiction instructor, a White guy that her stories “weren’t Native enough” Not native enough! You don’t fit into my imagination so therefore I will recreate you. What fucking arrogance. I’ve just recently experienced something similar myself when I someone I know told me I “wasn’t a real Indian”; because I didn’t live in a teepee or trap for a living. Authenticity, well if we live in a world of stereotypes, what would the stereotypical white writer do? steal. These people perpetuate stereotypes of Aboriginal people that conform to the dominant –White society’s expectation of an Indian, which from what I’ve encountered is totally fucked up. Kinsella’s Indians and stereotypical colonial expectations of what an Indian should be, one dimensional. My writing was recently quoted as be “protest poetry” What the fuck is that, I only write what I know. It becomes frustrating even exhausting to be a Indigenous person living in this country called Canada. Fighting against racism and stereotypes is taxing and tiring on the mind. Canadians see themselves in the myth that the state has built for them. The Mounties didn’t go out west to save Indians from American whiskey traders, HBC was trading whiskey to the Indians already, they went there to subjugate the Indigenous population and murder Riel. The European had done the same all over the world; why the hell should the narrative be any different in Canada. When the Canadian government turned away the S.S St Louise with 907 Jews in 1939, they were forced t return to Nazi Germany were its reported that most of them died in the holocaust. From the years 1914-20, 9 000-6 000 Ukrainians were imprisoned as ‘enemy aliens’ into forced work camps one of them being Banff national park. 700 Italians were also interned during the second world war, these places were also called concentration camps, although since the war that term has fallen out of favour here in this democracy.850 German-Canadians were also imprisoned as well as 22 000 Japanese- Canadians. Canada has a long and shameful history of using violence against workers where we can only mention the three miners murdered by the RCMP in the miners’ strike in Estevan in 1935, the strikers killed by city police in the Regina riot of the same year and the two strikers murdered in the Winnipeg general strike of 1919, immigrants and Indians. This is not a country of tolerance. It is a country of violence. Where do these facts fit in the settler/colonial narrative? Is there no end to what these people will steal? Our land, our children, and now our stories.
In the Canadian narrative Aboriginal people are relegated to the fucking fur trade. That myth doesn’t work for us; never has. We want the future and we are going to take it.

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David Groulx

Award-winning poet David Groulx's most recent poetry collection, Rising with a Distant Dawn, is published by BookLand Press. David’s poetry has also appeared in over a hundred periodicals in Canada, England, Australia, Germany, Austria, Turkey and the USA. He lives in Ottawa.

Go to David Groulx’s Author Page