Native Literature Essay Research Paper It is

Native Literature Essay, Research Paper

It is unfairly noted that Native Literature written by Natives offends many

readers with its discussion of the first-hand social ills affecting fellow

Natives. However, the typical stories of Euro-Canadian relations constructed

outside the Aboriginal thought imprisons all Aboriginals into stereotypes which

obscure and distort their very real experiences. The obligation of the Native

artist is to remain grounded in cultural soil and ideals, which is determined by

Euro-Canadian standards, while at the same time establishing a foundation of

justice and truth within the context of their work. Ian Ross has addressed many

of these social ills in his play fareWel. Using humor, characterization and

personal experience Ross depicts reserve life from outside the Euro-Canadian

perspective, as being hopeful despite the blatant despair and antagonism reserve

life contains. The Partridge Crop Reserve in Manitoba is a fictional place where

the fictional characters Melvin MacKay, Sheldon Traverse, Rachel Traverse,

Phyllis Bruce, Teddy Sinclair, and Robert Traverse, become muses through which

Ross uses to convey poignant information about the need for social reform for

social ills. The representation of the treatment of Native women throughout

history has been from a one-sided view. Either they were seen as unequal or as

royalty, resulting in being branded as squaws or Indian Princess by the people

who adhere to the Christian point of view. Ross seems to understand this

falsehood and attempts to rectify it with the creation of the characters Phyllis

Bruce and Rachel Traverse. They are both reserved based Native Women, who lived

a hard and fast life, but respect the church, however they are neither squaws

nor Indian Princesses. Phyllis is a single-parent who was beaten by her husband

but attempts to use this experience to strengthen Rachel by saying, "You

can hide in the roof here OK? That’s where I used to hide so I didn’t get beat

up" (pg.66). There are few options for Native, uneducated, and

single-parent women and Phyllis chooses to use her mind to fight the struggle

which emphasizes the significant role woman as mothers and providers are forced

to play. Also throughout the play Phyllis is constantly looking for a way to

feed her kids while in the same thought explores how to feed a church full of

people with "sardines" and "moldy bread" (pg.66). This

highly illustrates that despite the obvious misfortune that Phyllis is entwined

in she stills feels compelled to do her duty to her church, her friends, and

herself. Phyllis is the symbol of strength for her enduring and overcoming.

Rachel was created to emphasize the insurmountable difficulties that Native

women face, first as being the Native woman, and second, for being unable to

achieve economic or social value. She relays this message to the reader when she

states, "?and when I left here I realized what I was?A woman. A Native

woman. With no education. No money. No future." (pg. 68) In order to gain

economic value she had to prostitute herself due to the lack of adequate means

to legitimate opportunities. It is a horror that is greatly misinterpreted by

her fellow Natives for instance, Teddy constantly refers to her as a

"hooker" (pg. 58) or a "slut" (pg.59), which only proves

that the spirit of a native woman can never be broken. In her desperate attempts

to gain economic freedom she was unfairly judged and subsequently lost social

status. Although Rachel yearns to leave the reserve it is her deep sense of hope

that the reserve will overcome the turmoil that keeps her there. Her welfare

check also keeps her in a constant reality check because without it she is

forced to resort to being the "whore"(pg.59) It is Rachel and Phyllis

that truly define the meaning of hope with their conquests for self betterment.

The essence of this play is captured by its ability to add comic relief in its

context through each characters unique disposition. But, it is Nigger with his

abnormal actions, thoughts and appearance, which brings humor to the play the

most efficiently. Our first experience with Nigger is when "Animush"

(pg.22) attacks him leaving him with an open scar and torn jeans. The humor lies

in the image of Nigger who is obviously in pain props "himself against the

doorframe" (pg. 22) while being "hit in the head with a fishhead"

(pg.22). The second entourage we witness is one of a drunken Nigger with his

even drunker friend Teddy. As Nigger claims to need "medcin"(pg.27)

his friend offers a drink instead of medicine for Niggers’ toothache. Alcohol as

a drink is not a form of medicine rather it is a depressant and should not be

substituted for the help of a dentist. Eventually, Teddy suggests that Nigger go

see a dentist and in reply Nigger adamantly states that "All those guys are

good for is pulling teeth." (pg.29). What Nigger makes apparent to the

reader is that he clearly needs a dentist, because his tooth needs to be pulled

out. The humor escalates when Teddy tells Nigger to "Use a belt or

something to tie around your head." (pg. 29) claiming that "that’s

what you do when you get a toothache" (pg.29). They are reduced to using

Niggers’ dirty old sock to tie around his head. The irony of this situation is

that there is no significant purpose for using a dirty sock or even a belt tied

around his head to reduce Niggers toothache. For the rest of the play Nigger

wears the sock around his head and it is when Melvin declares "I smell

tacos?" (pg.38) that the comical image and smell of Nigger becomes

painfully funny. There are other adventures Nigger goes through however, in the

mind of this reader these adventures were the most obvious examples of Ross’

subtle sense of humor. It is obvious that Nigger is uneducated and undisciplined

but he demonstrates that although society associates certain things like

education, material wealth as being signs of hope for the future, it is not

necessarily status that installs hope. Nigger offers a simple and lighthearted

approach to life, which illustrates that hope can be found wherever you look as

long as you incessantly look for it. Melvin MacKay needs to be discussed

alongside Nigger, because he too adds a large amount of humor. But unlike

Nigger, Melvin embarks on a mission of self-discovery and self-importance as a

Bill C-31er. He battles an addiction to gas sniffing but accepts the Church as a

place of refuge, where he can get a break from this painful habit. This is

apparent when he says; "I come here so I won’t sniff. This is the only

place I can’t sniff. I feel wrong about doing it here." (Pg. 61).

"Quitting this is like being a Christian to me. It’s hard. Hey you know

what but? (Pg. 54) The fact that Melvin accepts salvation with the Church

greatly implies that one of the many effects of Christianity has been an

installed sense of hope for the future. Ian Ross’ ability to mask the serious

issue of addictions among Native people by using Melvins’ benign and carefree

personality is unique to Melvin only. When Melvin gets mad enough at the

constant reminder that he is a Bill C-31er he rips his treaty card in half and

makes a very important discovery that changes how the audience now views him

beyond the obvious Indian image. "I figured out I’m an Indian from these

two parts of my Treaty card. See. My face is on one half and my number is on the

other half. That picture is what people see. The number is what the government

sees. And the card’s like me. In two parts. Part White. Part Indian. And you put

them together. And you get an Indian. Me. But not cuz’ the government says so. I

had to get mad to find that out. That’s good eh?" (pg.54). This quotation

reveals to the audience that Melvin has gained pride and acceptance of the given

position in life he was granted. In the eyes of many people he appears as a

"white" person, but finally understands that the way the world sees

you is directly influenced by how you see, treat, and act towards yourself.

Melvins new-founded self respect is the key to change and invokes an

understanding for the other Native people who can’t get out of their own

self-imprisonment. Teddy Sinclair is an interesting character as well, and if

analyzed could create a myriad of levels of discussions. However, in relation to

the purpose of this paper needs to be examined for his ability to convey an

important message about the need for self-reliance within the paradigm of

self-government. When the reserve fails to supply an adequate means of support

via welfare checks, Teddy takes it upon himself to establish a new system. As

elected "for thief. I mean chief" (pg.50) by Nigger, Teddy desperately

attempts to form an alliance against the "?whiteman’s

bull*censored*" (pg.62). What Ian Ross is attempting to teach the audience

through Teddy is that, even though there are many ideas towards corrective

measures in regards to Native politics, it is not necessarily appropriate to use

these measures hastily. Teddy’s many good intentions are similar to all the

intentions of all the "white" historians who fail to accept the native

reality. By establishing this new support system, Teddy denies the others the

ability to create their own self-dependency. Strengthening the thought that

Native programs, which are created in haste, are far to often gratifying for the

establishers and not the participants, which is apparent in the Freudian slip

made by Nigger. Characterizing Robert Traverse as levelheaded, educated and

wealthy in reserve standards, makes him the single most important symbol of hope

for the Partridge Crop Reserve. Nigger recognizes these things as important for

a chief to have, "?You got money. You dress nice. You’ve got a satellite.

You’re the only one around here with a job. We need a guy like you in the band

office." (Pg. 24) Robert however, feels that the position of chief is more

complex than simply owning material possessions. "?It’s been in

receivership. That’s like being bankrupt." (Pg. 24) and that the reserve

needs more than sensitivity to traditions to overcome its obstacles. It is

obvious that Robert is tired of having his things stolen, laziness and the

dependency the others have on welfare checks, ""What’s with you

*censored*in’ Indians huhn? Get a job. Get off of Welfare. Stop taking my

things." (Pg. 83) Although these things that Robert is upset about are made

to be important to the story only, the audience doesn’t have to fully analyze or

even understand Native culture to realize what Ross was intending to show

through Robert. Everyone has a sense of obligation to the things that made us

who we are, some of us however, feel more obligated to these things, and thereby

creating situations that a person normally would not normally feel pressured

into experiencing or even accepting. If Robert were to give up and walk away

from all the madness then there would be no balance between the binary forces of

right and wrong. It is also through Robert that the reader is brought into the

realities of all politics, not just in Partridge Crop Reserve politics

exclusively. On the one hand we have the character Teddy who naпvely

underestimates the responsibilities of elections and the position of chief. And

on the other hand we have the character Robert who is responsible and

understands that being chief is more than just a name. However, the reality

amongst these characters that the reader can easily identify with is the lack of

organization and agreement between the two leaders. After Nigger has been

presumed killed Robert says accusingly, " If you hadn’t played your stupid

politics none of this would have happened. Self-government. You’ve gotten

someone killed now. ?This is why Self-government will never work. Because

there’ll always be people like you. (Pg. 85) Teddy feeling insecure and

defenseless states, " And people like you Robert. Telling us to stay the

same." (Pg.85), this is typical in any form of argument beyond the scope of

politics, it can occur over insignificant details, or it can occur over matters

of huge importance. Usually it involves name-calling and Teddy and Robert are

not excluded from this area, words like "irresponsible",

"chickens-*censored*", "selfish", "Heathen" and

finally "Christian" (Pg. 85), were relayed between these two

characters within the same paragraph. Even after all the lost hope and despair

that Robert feel he knows that he is greatly indebted to his culture and must

use his skills and gifts to help the other people on the reserve attain a way of

life without dependency. "?fenced in and forced to give up everything

that had meaning to our life?But under the long snows of despair the little

spark of our ancient beliefs and pride kept glowing, just barely sometimes,

waiting for a warm wind to blow that spark into a flame again." (Acoose,

Pg. 55) For centuries Aboriginal peoples have been perpetually imprisoned within

physical and stereotypical surroundings by years of historical injustices. With

little hope and much despair they have fought desperately to regain their faith

and strength in the traditions of the past. This "little spark of ancient

beliefs and pride" wavers between conformity and traditions until it no

longer is apparent what the struggle is for. In order to foster strength and

pride in the Native culture it must be accepted for all its facets

unconditionally. Ross grew up on a reserve and it is with this knowledge that he

can accurately illustrate the reality of reserve life. It is authors like Ross,

who by his failing to conform to the Euro-Canadian perception of the Native

Experience fosters pride and strength to the native communities at large. Ross

makes a positive contribution to the literary world by writing and articulating

the Native reality. Ross and all respectful writers, who acknowledge it as such,

are the "warm wind" by which sparks ignite. Every community of all

backgrounds needs to educate and strengthen the next generation about and for

the continuance of cultural identities. Sadly, it is too often unfairly thought

that the suffering of Natives of their physical, spiritual, sexual, and

physiological abuses, are not parts of the Native cultural identity and


1. Iskewak Kah’Ki Yaw Ni Wahkomakanak, Janice Acoose, 1995, Womens Press, 2.

fareWel, Ian Ross, 1996, first published 1997 by Scirocco Drama, An imprint of

J. Gordon Shillingford Publishing. Inc


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