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Monday, 28 July 2014

email discussions on the enigma of Pauline Johnson

Hi Chris,
My point about not remaining on the reserve is based on my first hand experience with the importance of the extended family among the Ojibwa.  Given that the Iroquois are a matriarchal society, I would have thought the extended family would be equally important.  As I have pointed out before, those First Nations individuals who became more indoctrinated into the ways of white society were rewarded financially which is evident with the Johnson story.  Does it make them less "Indian" that they chose this route?  It would not be my place to make that kind of judgement, but it might account for the family not feeling comfortable staying on the reserve after Pauline's father died.  Yes, there would have been change in living style, but I am sure she had a large extended family on the reserve who would have come to the rescue.  It appears from what I have read (I have only read reviews of Flint and Feathers) that Pauline did not return to the reserve which I find strange.  She did appear however to develop a close relationship with the Capilino's in BC and it became very important to her that their story and concerns be heard. 
Here is another examination of Pauline Johnson's work.

Yes indeed, I believe we have uncovered a hornet's nest. I think our examination of Pauline's poetry should show her personal growth from someone who was prepared to include a couple of real scalps to her costume in order to gender an effect to someone who spoke with a much different voice in her later poems. (The Cattle Thief)  Compare if you would Grey Owl and Pauline Johnson and what do you see?  Were Native writers impacted by the work of Pauline Johnson and what role does she play in the minds of contemporary First Nations writers? s   

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On Sun, Jul 27, 2014 at 11:50 PM, Chris Faiers <> wrote:
Hi Gail,
Thanks for your thoughts on John's paper, & also for raising various questions & enigmas, which just about every person who scratches the surface finds with Pauline. She is by far the most interesting & controversial poet we have honoured with our PurdyFest Symposiums.

I found the answer to several of your questions in Gray's book FLINT & FEATHER; I'm not sure if you've had the chance to read it. In my opinion Gray answers many of your questions, altho she often does so a bit indirectly, & it is up to readers to draw our own conclusions. Pauline's sister, as presented by Gray, is a 'dutiful drudge', jealous of her more attractive, talented and free spirited sister.

Gray very carefully suggests a series of affairs throughout Pauline's life, but the strict Victorian moral code of that era probably caused her sister to burn Pauline's papers in a misguided attempt to preserve her reputation, & that of the family, including the sister herself. No verification of the affairs thus exists, adding to Pauline's mysterious legacy. Did she have many affairs, or a few, or were all the liaisons simple & chase flirtations. We'll never know (altho many of Pauline's poems suggest strong & consummated passion).

Although Pauline & her family grew up in upperclass luxury in the family 'manse', "Chiefswood", when her father died the family lost their main source of income, & had to retreat to the nearby city. They were forced to rent out Chiefswood to get some meagre source of income, & it was an incredible fall from upperclass respectability and financial comfort to having to live in rented digs in Brantford.

There are so many dualities in Pauline's story it is hard to list them all. Even her First Nations name means double wampum, or dual person. As I said in an earlier email, I feel many researchers miss the point of Pauline turning to a vaudevillesque (sp?) routine - she primarily did it to make a living - to simply survive. She found some things she could cash in on: her dual heritage, her poetic way with words, her good (basically white) looks, & connections made & inherited from her father's position,
 &  with outright chutzpa she managed to eke out a living touring basically nonstop for about 12 years. She performed in every whistlestop in Canada, something no other Canuck poet has done that I know of.

Perhaps she was having a bit of a private joke with her costume choices, or more likely she just chose the most flattering outfits which would ensure men's attention and women's envy. I find some of the current speculation & historical revisionism about Pauline quite unintentionally humorous. Looking back at us 100 years from now, what progressive or bizarre societal norms & standards will we be judged by, both individually & collectively?

A fascinating, intriguing, talented outsider & a riches to rags seminal Canuck poet. Good God, we sure chose a heckuva poet this year - and some say we Canadians are a boring & staid people!!!

peace & poetry power!
Chris ... & Chase Wrfffffffffzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

p.s. Morley's father, Don, died yesterday morning at Caressant Care. He was 74, & had been in ill health for several years. The service will be on Friday aft from 1 - 2:30 at the Pentecostal Church in Marmora. Burial at Zion Church Cemetery afterwards (Centre Line Road).
(I'm glad we've downplayed the potluck supper this year because of the sched overlap.)

p.p.s. I've cc'ed this to other interested parties to encourage the continuation of our studies, discussions & investigations of Pauline and her many legacies. 


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On 2014-07-27, at 4:55 PM, Gail Taylor wrote:

Hi Chris,

Thank you for forwarding me a copy of John's paper for our Pauline Johnson symposium.  I found it interesting and it, in many ways, reflects some of the points I was attempting to make.  Pauline Johnson should be honoured and remembered for being a woman who was generations ahead of her time, someone who struggled between two very different cultural influences, and yes, perhaps an early voice of concern with regards to the denigration of our environment.  My point that I have been attempting to get across is that I believe it is not appropriate for us non-Natives to assign her the label of first Native writer.  I have to admit that much of her early work at the time she was doing her "performances" made me feel as though it was being written to impress a "white" audience. There is no doubt she was gifted, beautiful and at the same time extremely troubled by the influences of two strong cultures.  Did Pauline Johnson ever have to walk the walk?  What I am getting at is she did not grow up poor but instead was exposed to a very affluent society.  She could have chosen not to acknowledge her First Nations heritage because based on the pictures of her that I have seen, she certainly could have kept her ethnicity a secret.  Instead she chose to focus on the duality of existence.  Was her stage performances just that, another example of "putting on the whiteman"? (Something that most First Nations people seem to enjoy immensely)   It appears she made no attempt to ensure that her Native costume was a true reflection of her Native Mohawk heritage.  What was the message she was trying to convey by starting her performances in a Native costume and then follow it in the second half of her performance with the very cultured attire of an upper society woman?  Why did Pauline, her mother and her sister choose not to stay on the reserve after the death of her father? Why did her sister choose to burn all Pauline's personal papers after her death? There will undoubtedly always be speculation, but will the answers ever be known?   

Although I love the typical Native humour of her poem "Wolverine", the poetry of Pauline Johnson that speaks to me are her romantic poems of love and loss.   I feel a great melancholy in much of this work that has become a haunting reality of what she did not wish to be, an empty sea.

Through Time and Bitter Distance

Unknown to you, I walk the cheerless shore.
The cutting blast, the hurl of biting brine
May freeze, and still, and bind the waves at war,
Ere you will ever know, O! Heart of mine,
That I have sought, reflected in the blue
Of these sea depths, some shadow of your eyes;
Have hoped the laughing waves would sing of you,
But this is all my starving sight descries-


Far out at sea a sail
Bends to the freshening breeze,
Yields to the rising gale
That sweeps the seas;


Yields, as a bird wind-tossed,
To saltish waves that fling
Their spray, whose rime and frost
Like crystals cling


To canvas, mast and spar,
Till, gleaming like a gem,
She sinks beyond the far
Horizon's hem.


Lost to my longing sight,
And nothing left to me
Save an oncoming night,-
An empty sea. 

Ironically the one poem that John refers to in his Pauline Johnson as an early environmentalist paper is one of the poems that I feel illustrates the strong internal struggles Pauline faced.  The poem was written about the Resistance of 1985.  In this poem, I find her torn between two allegiances, her First Nation heritage of her father and her British/Welsh heritage of her mother.  She compares the feelings of an Indian wife with the wives and mothers of those marching off to quell the rebellion.  Although she struggles throughout the poem between the two ideologies, in the final parts of her poem, she passionately speaks "By right, by birth we Indians own these lands"  A hundred years from her death in 2013, she could have been on the front lines with Idle No More.


A Cry from an Indian Wife

My Forest Brave, my Red-skin love, farewell;
We may not meet to-morrow; who can tell
What mighty ills befall our little band,
Or what you’ll suffer from the white man’s hand?
Here is your knife! I thought ’twas sheathed for aye.   
No roaming bison calls for it to-day;
No hide of prairie cattle will it maim;
The plains are bare, it seeks a nobler game:
’Twill drink the life-blood of a soldier host.
Go; rise and strike, no matter what the cost.   
Yet stay. Revolt not at the Union Jack,
Nor raise Thy hand against this stripling pack
Of white-faced warriors, marching West to quell
Our fallen tribe that rises to rebel.
They all are young and beautiful and good;   
Curse to the war that drinks their harmless blood.
Curse to the fate that brought them from the East
To be our chiefs—to make our nation least
That breathes the air of this vast continent.
Still their new rule and council is well meant.   
They but forget we Indians owned the land
From ocean unto ocean; that they stand
Upon a soil that centuries agone
Was our sole kingdom and our right alone.
They never think how they would feel to-day,   
If some great nation came from far away,
Wresting their country from their hapless braves,
Giving what they gave us—but wars and graves.
Then go and strike for liberty and life,
And bring back honour to your Indian wife.   
Your wife? Ah, what of that, who cares for me?
Who pities my poor love and agony?
What white-robed priest prays for your safety here,
As prayer is said for every volunteer
That swells the ranks that Canada sends out?   
Who prays for vict’ry for the Indian scout?
Who prays for our poor nation lying low?
None—therefore take your tomahawk and go.
My heart may break and burn into its core,
But I am strong to bid you go to war.
Yet stay, my heart is not the only one
That grieves the loss of husband and of son;
Think of the mothers o’er the inland seas;
Think of the pale-faced maiden on her knees;
One pleads her God to guard some sweet-faced child   
That marches on toward the North-West wild.
The other prays to shield her love from harm,
To strengthen his young, proud uplifted arm.
Ah, how her white face quivers thus to think,
Your tomahawk his life’s best blood will drink.   
She never thinks of my wild aching breast,
Nor prays for your dark face and eagle crest
Endangered by a thousand rifle balls,
My heart the target if my warrior falls.
O! coward self I hesitate no more;   
Go forth, and win the glories of the war.
Go forth, nor bend to greed of white men’s hands,
By right, by birth we Indians own these lands,
Though starved, crushed, plundered, lies our nation low…
Perhaps the white man’s God has willed it so.

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On Sat, Jul 26, 2014 at 11:49 PM, Chris Faiers <> wrote:
Hi John,
Many thanks for sending this. It's an excellent and inspiring piece of research on Pauline Johnson and her father, both founding participants of Canada's environmental movement. Your essay makes a very strong and compelling case for both Pauline's and her father's early leadership in this field.

I'm forwarding this to the other presenters at the Symposium, and a few other interested parties as well. Pauline was a pioneer in so many aspects of modern Canada, which is why the theme for this year's Symposium is "Re-envisioning Canada through Pauline Johnson's eyes".

Again, congratulations on preparing a well-written, well-researched and key piece of historical importance. I'm eagerly awaiting hearing you and the other presenters this coming Saturday!

peace & poetry power!

p.s. An an environmentalist, I'm sure you and your wife will enjoy visiting my ZenRiver Gardens retreat on the Upper Moira River. I have given written permission to Quinte Conservation to access my property and the river for various monitoring and educational activities. Time permitting, I hope to also take you to nearby Callahan's Rapids Conservation Area - it has 800 hectares of wilderness on the Crowe River just below the village of Marmora.  

Begin forwarded message:

From: "John Bacher"Date: July 26, 2014 11:09:10 PM EDT
To: "Chris Faiers" <>
Subject: Purdy Fest

Attached is my talk for the Purdy Fest. Thanks, John Bacher

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 July 29, 2014

Hi Chris,
  I enjoyed very much reading your Zen Peace Garden haibun (2011).   It is a beautifully -written work of art.  May you write many more like that.
  I am learning so much about Pauline Johnson from all your  e-mails.  I have always felt that she was neglected by the critics over the years.   It is just in recent times    that Canadians have been  paying more attention to her.  By choosing Pauline for your Purdy-Fest you did a great deed for   our national literature.
   Did I tell you that Bob MacKenzie  has been  sending me packages of books and archival material for the collection?
   Cheers, from Montreal West
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Wednesday, 23 July 2014