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Hybridity, Dispossession, and Culpability: The Mêtis/Sentimental Rhetoric of Jane Johnston Schoolcraft and E. Pauline Johnson

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Abstract:

In her recent exploration of the cultural, racial, and sexual border crossings that have inspired the American imagination and destabilized the literature and politics of the United States, Betsy Erkkila has argued that a critical preoccupation with substantiating the “authenticity” of minority voices has obscured the generic hybridity and often troubling ideological collaborations that made the texts of culturally marginalized authors intelligible to and consumable by a white audience. Despite her text’s provocatively promising title of _Mixed Bloods_, however, Erkkila does not actually interrogate the complex, ambivalent hybridity of works written by nineteenth-century mixed-blood/American Indian authors. Nevertheless, by refusing to impose a narrow definition of an “authentic” lyric voice, whether female or Native, Robert Dale Parker’s expanded compilation of Jane Johnston Schoolcraft’s poetry and prose and Veronica Strong-Boag and Carole Gerson’s reassessment of E. Pauline Johnson’s literary legacy have brought into focus the bicultural lives and resistant rhetoric of two nineteenth-century American Indian women poets. Although separated by the U.S./Canadian border as well as by more than half a century, Jane Johnston Schoolcraft (1800-1842), the earliest female Native American author recovered thus far, and E. Pauline Johnson (1861-1913), the Canadian stage celebrity and poet-advocate, are linked by their liminal identity under Euro-American and Euro-Canadian authority respectively; their privileged Mêtis upbringing; their strategic use of Anglo-American sensibility and sentimental conventions; and by their representation of European settlers’ psychological displacement of First Nations peoples and marginalization of the indigenous meanings and resonances of American Indian homelands. A loyal British subject until her community’s unwelcome absorption into the United States, Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, the daughter of a politically influential Ojibwe clan matron and a cultured Irish fur trader, eventually becomes the wife of the Michigan Territory’s first Indian Agent. With special access to her father’s impressive library, she is intensely tutored in Anglo-American gender and literary values and, drawing inspiration from a nostalgia that clearly participates in the conventions of trans-Atlantic sensibility, the complaint, and the sentimental longing for an escape into childhood, portrays her mixed-blood Ojibwe community as a virtuous pastoral middle state that is degenerating into an increasingly vicious Euro-American landscape. Deemed an Indian by Euro-Canadian authority but not by Mohawk tribal law, E. Pauline Johnson, the daughter of the wealthy Mohawk Head Chief George H. M. Johnson and Emily Howells, the English-born cousin of William Dean Howells, is trained by her mother to embrace her First Nations identity along with her British heritage of English poetry and sentimentality. Johnson’s poetry and prose, in turn, transform the sentimental secret sorrow and late Victorian fascination with ghostly lovers into a reflection upon First Nations dispossession and cultural renewal and her own Mêtis liminality and redemptive Pan-Indian identity via an indigenous relationship with nature. Yet, as Erkkila warns, unraveling the rhetorical complexity of these hybrid Mêtis/sentimental representations of American Indian protest and resistance also reveals Schoolcraft’s and Johnson’s varying degrees of complicity with the Euro-American and Euro-Canadian appropriation of indigenous cultural territory.
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Cavalier, Christine. "Hybridity, Dispossession, and Culpability: The Mêtis/Sentimental Rhetoric of Jane Johnston Schoolcraft and E. Pauline Johnson" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The American Studies Association, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Philadelphia, PA, Oct 11, 2007 <Not Available>. 2013-12-15 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p186319_index.html>

APA Citation:

Cavalier, C. R. , 2007-10-11 "Hybridity, Dispossession, and Culpability: The Mêtis/Sentimental Rhetoric of Jane Johnston Schoolcraft and E. Pauline Johnson" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The American Studies Association, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Philadelphia, PA <Not Available>. 2013-12-15 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p186319_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Abstract: In her recent exploration of the cultural, racial, and sexual border crossings that have inspired the American imagination and destabilized the literature and politics of the United States, Betsy Erkkila has argued that a critical preoccupation with substantiating the “authenticity” of minority voices has obscured the generic hybridity and often troubling ideological collaborations that made the texts of culturally marginalized authors intelligible to and consumable by a white audience. Despite her text’s provocatively promising title of _Mixed Bloods_, however, Erkkila does not actually interrogate the complex, ambivalent hybridity of works written by nineteenth-century mixed-blood/American Indian authors. Nevertheless, by refusing to impose a narrow definition of an “authentic” lyric voice, whether female or Native, Robert Dale Parker’s expanded compilation of Jane Johnston Schoolcraft’s poetry and prose and Veronica Strong-Boag and Carole Gerson’s reassessment of E. Pauline Johnson’s literary legacy have brought into focus the bicultural lives and resistant rhetoric of two nineteenth-century American Indian women poets. Although separated by the U.S./Canadian border as well as by more than half a century, Jane Johnston Schoolcraft (1800-1842), the earliest female Native American author recovered thus far, and E. Pauline Johnson (1861-1913), the Canadian stage celebrity and poet-advocate, are linked by their liminal identity under Euro-American and Euro-Canadian authority respectively; their privileged Mêtis upbringing; their strategic use of Anglo-American sensibility and sentimental conventions; and by their representation of European settlers’ psychological displacement of First Nations peoples and marginalization of the indigenous meanings and resonances of American Indian homelands. A loyal British subject until her community’s unwelcome absorption into the United States, Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, the daughter of a politically influential Ojibwe clan matron and a cultured Irish fur trader, eventually becomes the wife of the Michigan Territory’s first Indian Agent. With special access to her father’s impressive library, she is intensely tutored in Anglo-American gender and literary values and, drawing inspiration from a nostalgia that clearly participates in the conventions of trans-Atlantic sensibility, the complaint, and the sentimental longing for an escape into childhood, portrays her mixed-blood Ojibwe community as a virtuous pastoral middle state that is degenerating into an increasingly vicious Euro-American landscape. Deemed an Indian by Euro-Canadian authority but not by Mohawk tribal law, E. Pauline Johnson, the daughter of the wealthy Mohawk Head Chief George H. M. Johnson and Emily Howells, the English-born cousin of William Dean Howells, is trained by her mother to embrace her First Nations identity along with her British heritage of English poetry and sentimentality. Johnson’s poetry and prose, in turn, transform the sentimental secret sorrow and late Victorian fascination with ghostly lovers into a reflection upon First Nations dispossession and cultural renewal and her own Mêtis liminality and redemptive Pan-Indian identity via an indigenous relationship with nature. Yet, as Erkkila warns, unraveling the rhetorical complexity of these hybrid Mêtis/sentimental representations of American Indian protest and resistance also reveals Schoolcraft’s and Johnson’s varying degrees of complicity with the Euro-American and Euro-Canadian appropriation of indigenous cultural territory.

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