Red and White: Miss E. Pauline Johnson Tekahionwake and the Other Woman

Red and White: Miss E. Pauline Johnson Tekahionwake and the Other Woman

Women’s Writing
Volume 8, Issue 3 (2001)
pages 359-374
DOI: 10.1080/09699080100200140

Anne Collett, Associate Professor of English Literature
University of Wollongong, Australia

This essay examines the dramatised conflictual relationship between “Red” and “White” selves in the performed and literary body of “half-blood” poet, Pauline Johnson Tekahionwake. “Half-blood”, as opposed to the more common but derogatory “half-breed”, was the term used by Pauline to indicate the divisive, yet ultimately creative, potential of the marriage between settler and indigenous cultures in the new Canadian nation of the 1890s and early twentieth century of which she herself was representative. Pauline Johnson’s understanding and representation of that dynamic relationship is charted through an analysis of selected short stories drawn from this period, including “A Red Girl’s Reasoning”, “As It Was in the Beginning” and “My Mother”.

“Forget that I was Pauline Johnson, but remember always that I was Tekahionwake, the Mohawk that humbly aspired to be the saga singer of her people.” [I] Ernest Thompson Scion, admirer and friend, recalls these words in introduction to a collection of Tekahionwake’s stories. Miss E. Pauline Johnson Tekahionwake was perhaps most famous in England and the USA as “The Iroquois Princess” and “poet advocate” for the “Red” people of America’s First Nations, but to Canadians she was also a beloved representative and cultured lady of their new confederacy. The daughter of an English gentlewoman and a Mohawk chief was not allowed to forget that she was Tekahionwake, even had she wanted to, but (contrary to her final request recalled by Seton) neither did she forget, nor allow others to forget, that she was Pauline Johnson. Her “half-blood” inheritance was the signature of her stage and literary career. Although better known during the last decade of the nineteenth century and first decade of the twentieth as a performance poet, she was also the author of many stories, published primarily, but not exclusively, for an audience of women and children. A number of these stories not only served to educate the settler population in the ancient civilisation and living culture of the indigenous…

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