Parejo Vadillo discusses three works by Aboriginal Canadian authors in her essay.

| March 13, 2016

Question
1. Parejo Vadillo discusses three works by Aboriginal Canadian authors in her essay. What are some of Parejo Vadillo’s key points about how all three of these books have been effective in giving voice to the Native female subjects of these stories? What is this important?
2. How does Parejo Vadillo describe these three literary works (include their titles and authors) as being part of their authors’ attempts to heal? What are these authors working to heal from? Give one specific example of this healing project in relation to Maria Campbell and Halfbreed.
3. What does Parejo Vadillo explain about the relationships between Native women’s autobiographies and the construction of identity? How is literature important in this process?
4. Outline Parejo Vadillo’s claims about the ways Native women’s stories generally, and Campbell’s autobiography specifically, confront colonialism, racism, and/or sexism.
5. Why does Parejo Vadillo believe it is significant that these women write from within community and Native storytelling traditions? How does that shape their written stories and their expression to readers?
6. How does Parejo Vadillo perceive that in the case of these Native women’s autobiographies, the “personal becomes political”? Why does she feel this is important?
• Your opinion: Has reading this essay in any way enhanced your understanding of, or response to, Maria Campbell’s autobiography? If so, explain how. If not, explain why not

Title: Native Women and Resistance Literature
Author(s): Ana I. Parejo Vadillo
Publication Details: Tricks with a Glass: Writing Ethnicity in Canada. Ed. Rocio G. Davis and Rosalia Baena. Amsterdam:
Rodopi, 2000. p229-250.
Source: Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Ed. Lawrence J. Trudeau. Vol. 238. Detroit: Gale. From Literature
Resource Center.
Document Type: Critical essay

Full Text: COPYRIGHT 2010 Gale, Cengage Learning
Full Text:
[(essay date 2000) In the following essay, Vadillo explores the search for identity and subjectivity in the semiautobiographical fiction of Native Canadian women writers.]
It is the practice of writers to fictionalize reality and prostitute the product of their licentious fantasies. “Artistic
license,” they call it. (Whoever ‘they’ are.) Being not different, I have taken both the stories of my life, the
stories of other’s lives and some pure fabrications of my imagination and re-written them as my own.The
fantasy of these stories lies less in the distortion of the facts of them, than in their presentation. They are
presented as I saw them from my own emotional, spiritual and visual perspective. To be faithful to my view I
put myself as the central figure in all the lives recounted here. If I was not really there, it does not matter. I
have eyes and I can see.1
Whose Story Is It Anyway?
For Barbara Godard, This question–involving “who is speaking, to whom, on whose behalf, in what context?”2–is the
major issue in Canadian literature; one that addresses matters of authority, property and appropriation ‘in’ and ‘by’ the
Canadian canon. Furthermore, the question is re-inscribed on the theoretical assumption of a pre-existent constitutive
‘subject,’ whose story has somehow been appropriated, while showing willingness on the part of the reader to name the
subject or subjects producing the text. The epigraph of the present essay asks precisely that: who is speaking? Or,
alternatively, who is going to speak in Maracle’s book? To whom is she speaking? Is she speaking to the people she
represents? Is she speaking for these people? Or, are these people speaking through her voice placing themselves in the
position of a speaking voice? Lee Maracle does not deny any of these questions. Her autobiographical text I Am Woman
writes Maracle-as-text, inscribing in such a discourse the multiple voices of the subaltern.
Maracle’s remarks introduce the main issue to be discussed here. First, I will consider the question of Native women’s
autobiography3 in the Canadian literary context and its aesthetic hybridity (narratives in the “as-told-by” tradition). These
autobiographies consolidate the formation of the writer’s identity as a Native/Indian woman.4 The created ‘I’ subverts the
ideological Subject by becoming the speaking subject of the text and not the discourse of the Other. Both narrative
strategies confront the literary white Canadian canon by constructing an Indian/Native identity and positioning the (white)
subject as the Other. Secondly, this essay will analyze the relationship between the female autobiographer and her readers
in terms of ‘identity’ and/or ‘representation,’ demonstrating how this leads to the creation of a collective subject or voice
which transforms history and historiography. History functions as an aesthetic and political element, particularly in the
emphasis on its difference from its representation in the white Canadian literary canon. Thirdly, this essay will
consequently examine how Native women’s autobiographies construct a communal mode of power deconstructing colon-Ization and ‘history.’ I will conclude by reading autobiography as a form of resistance literature where the subaltern takes up
political positions. It is in this sense that the personal will become the political, when ‘history’ and ‘story’ overlap and the
‘personal’ is ‘political’ and vice versa. Last but not least, I will read collective autobiography as the inverted discourse of a
patriarchal-cum-imperialistic imposed silence.
Proceeding from these premisses, this essay will analyze Lee Maracle’s I Am Woman and Bobbi Lee, Indian Rebel, Maria
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Campbell’s Halfbreed, Beatrice Culleton’s In Search of April Raintree, and Isabelle Knockwood’s Out of the Depths. I shall
examine how the (ethnic) subject (the Native woman), speaking from historical time and space, disrupts history and
ideology by occupying the ‘I’ and erasing its distinction from collectivity.
Native Women’s Autobiography: Becoming a Subject
Silvera: Was the novel autobiographical?Culleton: In a general way. I grew up in foster homes. My family
were alcoholics, there were suicides in my family, I was raped, and, of course, I had the thing with the
identity.Culleton: I decided to go with reality.5
In recent decades, Canada has witnessed a proliferation of Native writers who have revolutionized literary studies by
offering personal and innovative analyses of the decolonizing process. Their writings question the white literary
establishment itself and the canonical rules by which the different publishing companies have determined what is literature
(understood as white) and what is not. Writings by women are of special importance in this respect, as they offer an
analytical study of class, race and gender de/colonization, thereby producing a transformation in poetic language in terms of
genre- and subject-positions. One of the first of these texts was Maria Campbell’s Halfbreed, written in 1973. In 1975, Lee
Maracle published her autobiography, Bobbi Lee, Indian Rebel. However, it was in the 1980s and early 1990s that Native
women’s writing underwent its most dramatic expansion. In 1983, Beatrice Culleton published In Search of April Raintree,
while Jeannette Armstrong’s controversial book Slash appeared in 1985, the same year as Ruby Slipperjack’s Honour the
Sun. Further books included Beth Cuthand’s Horse Dance to Emerald Mountain (1987) and Rita Joe’s Song of Eskasom
(1988). Also in 1988, Maracle published I am Woman in the new Write-On Press, founded by Lee and Dennis Maracle.
Linda Griffiths and Maria Campbell’s The Book of Jessica, Beth Cuthand’s Voices in the Waterfall and Joan Crate’s
Breathing Water all appeared in 1989. Bobbi Lee, Indian Rebel was republished in 1990 by the Women’s Press, the same
year that Maracle’s Sojourner’s Truth and Other Stories appeared. In 1992, Isabelle Knockwood published Out of the
Depths.
The origin of these autobiographies is, in most cases, an attempt by the authors to heal themselves. At times, they start in
the form of a letter that the author is writing to herself, as in the case of Maria Campbell. Others, as with Beatrice Culleton,
try to come to terms with their lives by writing. Writing becomes the healing. Campbell, in an interview with Hartmut Lutz,
explains the origin of Halfbreed. With no money or food, about to be kicked out of her house, she was on the verge of
going back to the street. She was very angry and frustrated. One night, she went out to a bar, “I always carry paper in my
bag, and I started writing a letter because I had to have somebody to talk to, and there was nobody to talk to. And that was
how I wrote Halfbreed.”6 The original manuscript was about two thousand pages long. Isabelle Knockwood’s Out of the
Depths was also written with the idea of exposing what residential schools had meant to the Native population. In her
introduction, Knockwood says that at first she wanted to search out stories about her mother; then she met Betsey Paul and
taped two interviews, and both ended up “spending almost all the time talking about what we could remember of the
school.”7 Writing it became both a personal and a communal healing process for all those who had spent their childhood in
residential schools. When asked by Makeda Silvera what she felt about the book’s being used in schools and universities,
she answered that “that’s all I wanted, for the word to get out.”8 Similarly, Beatrice Culleton decided to write In Search of
April Raintree in response to the suicides of her two older sisters, to “try to figure out why all that stuff happened to my
family,”9 while Lee Maracle defines I Am Woman as “a search for meaning to us, to me, personally, and to the people in my
life, and a search for what happened in my life that is universal to us.”10
The Native autobiographical mode thus becomes the means of both a search for personal selfhood and a reconstruction of
lost Native/Indian identity. Colonialism misconstrued this identity; the Native woman or Other was merely the ‘squaw.’
Because Native autobiography manipulates the images, myths and discourses that white cultural categories had transposed
onto the Native, this genre enables the Native woman to consolidate her own identity. Within colonial ideology, the
(mis)naming played an important role in the construction of the Native as Other. In order to understand how identity and
subjectivity are constructed in the autobiographies that I am analyzing, I must turn to Althusser’s theory of ideology and
ideological state apparatuses in order to comprehend the extent to which the (mis)naming forces an individual to
(mis)recognize him/herself in the process of defining personal identity. Althusser explains that identity and subjectivity
work by ‘recognition’ or, conversely, by ‘misrecognition.’11 Identity is formed in the placing/recognizing of oneself in a
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subject-position which ideology offers.: ie, it is ideology that constructs identity and subjectivity. Ideology is “a system of
representations (discourses, images, myths) concerning the real relations in which people live.”12 These representations are
reproduced in what Althusser calls “ideological state apparatuses,” within which he includes literature and the educational
system. These apparatuses exist to guarantee the reproduction of the “myths and beliefs necessary to enable people to work
within the existing social formation.”13 Following these premisses, it is obvious that, first, these apparatuses work to
support colonial ideology, upholding the Native as the Other, as ‘squaw,’ “good-for-nothing Halfbreed.” Behind all ideology
is the idea of the individual in society, and the construction of this individual as subject:
I say: the category of the subject is constitutive of all ideology, but at the same time and immediately I add that
the category of the subject is only constitutive of all ideology in so far as all ideology has the function (which
defines it) of ‘constituting’ concrete individuals as subjects.14
As a result, Belsey, following Althusser’s theory, argues that “people recognize” (misrecognize) themselves in the way in
which ideology “interpellates”15 them or, in other words, addresses them as subjects, calls them by their names and, in turn,
“recognize[s] their autonomy,”16 adopting the different subject-positions which ideology offers them so that they may exist
in society. The subject-position that the ideology of the West has offered the Native individual is the position of the Other,
that is, the one who is not-‘I.’ This ‘non-I-dentity’ is what Native women’s autobiographies deconstruct, using different
strategies. Jodi Lundgren analyzes these strategies in the work of Beatrice Culleton and Maria Campbell. According to
Lundgren, Campbell “redefines ‘Halfbreed’ in positivist terms but deconstructs racist stereotypes.”17 She offers as an
example her deconstruction of the image of the Indian as “only good for two things–working and fucking”; Campbell
“undermines the employer’s stereotyped discourse by informing the reader” that this same person used to “go to dances in
nearby Native communities and sneak off into the bush with the men,” putting this statement into context by explaining that
“this was common in our area.”18 The reader is then made aware of how ‘naming’ works. The same strategy is used by
Culleton in her In Search of April Raintree, whose main characters, April and Cheryl, represent the social and economic
dispossession of the Natives. The colour of their skin makes them different, though: April is fairer, and this will allow her
to enter the middle class. The discourse of colour is present in April’s views on other children and on herself: “They didn’t
care to play with Cheryl and me. They called us names and bullied us.”19 Only when these characters deconstruct those
imposed images (while unlearning the racist discourse) and accept their origins, are they producing their own
representations, myths and discourses.
Lee Maracle’s deconstructive technique differs from those of Campbell and Culleton. Maracle’s two autobiographical texts
are a combination of theory, poetry, storytelling and politics. Describing I Am Woman, she maintains that “it’s theory
coming through story […] Colonization, decolonization, very, very simply.”20 This is also true of Bobbi Lee, Indian Rebel,
where European political theory, especially Marx, is used in combination with the story of her life to de/construct the
colonizing process in the Native community. Nonetheless, she also understands that only by changing the myths implanted
by colonialism can Natives regain their lost identity:
I used to consider myself a liberated woman. I woke up at the bottom of the mine shaft one morning, darkness
above me, screaming; “I’m not like the rest […] I’m not an alcoholic […] a skid row bum […] a stupid Native,”
ad nauseum. Each time I confronted white colonial society I had to convince them of my validity as a human
being. It was the attempt to convince them that made me realize that I was still a slave.21
In the same way, Maracle describes how “racist ideology had defined womanhood for the Native woman as non-existent.”
And again, she creates the identity of the Native woman by using different discourses; poetry: “Fish-Wife”; prose, “I want
to look across my kitchen table at the women of color that share my life and see the genius of their minds, uncluttered by
white opinion”; and theory:
the dictates of patriarchy demand that beneath Native man, comes the female Native. The dictates of racism are
thus that Native men are beneath white women and Native females are not fit to be referred to as women.22
Isabelle Knockwood also constructs identity by showing how the educational system–one of the ideological apparatuses
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which “reproduces the conditions of production”–deprives the Natives of their Indian culture, in this sense robbing them of
their “collective identity.” It does so, for example, by eliminating their vernacular (the students are not allowed to speak
Mi’kmaw or any other Indian language); by replacing Indian beliefs with the Catholic faith; and also by depriving them of
their “individual identities,” for “often the nuns would arbitrarily change a child’s name.”23 Knockwood quotes from a letter
in which Imelda Brooks describes these experiences:
I remember those horrifying years as if it were yesterday. There was one nun, Sister Gilberta, she always
passed out the punishment. Every day, she would take me into the bathroom and lock the door. She would then
proceed to beat me thirty times on each hand, three times a day, with a strap. She would count to thirty, out
loud, each time she hit me. It’s an awful way to learn to count to thirty. My older sister, Grace, learned to count
to fifty. I never understood why I had those beatings, but at the age of 37, I realized it had to be because I
spoke my language. To this day, I can’t speak my language very well. But I do understand when I am spoken to
in Micmac.Why was our culture and language such a threat that it had to be taken away from us with such a
vengeance?24
Fredric Jameson has claimed that genres are “literary institutions, or social contracts between a writer and a specific
public.”25 As such, Native women’s autobiography is a genre in which the writer and the public can search for their identity
as Natives. The autobiographical genre is thus especially powerful because it subverts the hegemony of white-colonial
discourse by attacking its very basis: ie, the construction of the Other as non-I. Autobiography constructs the ‘I’ in discourse
and in history, and subjectivity is formed in the discourse and history of the Other, which confronts, by its very nature,
white colonial history.
I established earlier that the indigene woman writes in order to come to terms with colonialism and its effects. Further,
these autobiographies share two very important features that make them different both contextually and formally from
Western autobiographies by women: these women write for the community,26 and Native women’s autobiography is a
hybrid form of writing which fuses the oral to the Western written tradition. Maria Campbell, Beatrice Culleton, Isabelle
Knockwood and Lee Maracle all admit that they write within the storytelling tradition. In most cases, this is done by
introducing various intratextual stories which captivate and entertain the reader. Also, orality is achieved through language.
Maria Campbell explains that her choice of what she calls “broken English” reflects the way she spoke when she was at
home. She writes in this manner because, as she argues, “I can also express my community better than I can in ‘good’
English. It’s more like oral tradition, and I am able to work as a storyteller with that.”27 Similarly, Maracle explains that, for
Natives, “words and meaning are more important than structure”; English syntax offers no meaning in the stories because
for them “‘syntax’ is even bigger than in a sentence. It’s in our life, in our conduct of being.”28 She also agrees that the way
they speak English is different, and she tries to capture that ‘essence’ when she writes. As a result, these autobiographies
move from theory through poetry to history, incorporating in them their own traditions and stories, as is done in the
storytelling process. Knockwood included in Out of the Depths the tradition of the Talking Stick in Mi’kmaw culture. It
represents the “power of speech” and was used to “guarantee that everyone who wanted to speak would be allowed to take
as long as they needed to say what was on their minds,” before the stick was passed to the next person in the circle,
following the direction of the sun: “The Talking Stick goes around until it returns to the person with the problem or issue,
who then acknowledges everyone present and what they have said.”29 Knockwood presents her autobiography in this way
to make the reader aware that what follows is a “Talking Stick” ceremony in which different people from the community
are going to speak. Orality and the storytelling tradition empower Native identity and “combat the Eurocentric attitude that
the written word is the universal register of meaning as truth.”30
This hybridity does not imply, as Emberley claims, a “utopian projection of an unprecedented overlay of ‘traditions’.”31 On
the contrary, it is a form of resistance to that tradition that has kept them silent. By writing these autobiographies, they
reach larger audiences. Hence, they use an imperialistic form to confront the ideology that disempowered them. Further:
in making use of realist and autobiographical genres, implicitly [they] produce a confrontation between their
re-presentations of a mode of life and the readings of the intellectual, who, by proxy, claims an institutional
responsibility in representing their political interests.32
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From this angle, autobiography challenges both the literary canon and colonial ideology. Barbara Godard, developing
Spivak’s ideas on the subaltern and the possibility of breaking the silence to which colonialism has consigned “the Third
World Woman,” concludes that resistance literature in general, but particularly in Canada, produces a discourse that
“interpellates individuals as subjects of this discourse.”33 Resistance literature, Godard argues, is defined by three main
things: first, it is “a political and politicized activity” engaged with “formal experimentation,” although she makes clear that
this is not a formalist project. Secondly, experimentation leads to the “exploration of the formal limitations of the literary
codes” imposing “historical demands and responsibilities on a reader.”34 The last characteristic of resistance literature is
that it is produced within the struggle for decolonization. Native women’s autobiography is, in this sense, a counterhegemonic mode of writing, following both the oral and the written tradition. As resistance literature, its final aim is to
achieve de-colon-I-zation,35 by constructing a Native identity. Once identity has been achieved, the subject is empowered
by the word.
The Subject That Embraces the Community: The Collective Voice
For us, thinking is a complete and total process. In a sweat, or the Big House or wherever, around the pipe, you
harness all your energy, physical, spiritual, emotional, and intellectual, and you retreat into solitude to work
out the nature of your particular solidarity with creation. And you retreat into lineage, as well, because the
farther backward in time you travel, the more grandmothers you have, the farther forward, the more
grandchildren! You actually represent an infinite number of people, and the only physical manifestation is
yourself.36
Acknowledging, first, that ideology constructs individuals as subjects and that the subject is constructed and produced in
ideology; and secondly, that Native women’s autobiography effectively reverses the imposed colonial ideology by
constructing I-dentity; and finally, that this genre is a resistance mode which “interpellates the individual as subjects,” it can
be proposed that Native women’s autobiography offers the colonized reader a subject-position from which she can speak,
hence the possibility of de/colon-I-zation. Further, it can be said that the ‘I’ in Native women’s autobiography represents
both the writer and her community. The symbolic use of the “Talking Stick,” for instance, is transformed into political
acquisition of subjectivity, where the community can speak out.
Gayatri Spivak, in a critique of Deleuze, analyzes the problems faced by the intellectual in representing the subaltern, the
oppressed, or the colonized.37 For Spivak, ‘representation’ has two senses or meanings, “‘representation’ as ‘speaking for,’ as
in politics, and representation as ‘representation,’ as in art or philosophy.”38 There is yet another important meaning:
this third inflection of representation signifies something represented to, addressed to a
reader/viewer/consumer and foregrounds the relations of seer and seen to the economic and political networks
which constitute the ‘outside.’39
Spivak rejects the possibility of representation in the case of the Western/European intellectual, who shows him/herself as
‘transparent’ because of totalizing concepts of power and desire. Lee Maracle agrees with this view. In I Am Woman she
argues that intellectuals gave Natives the power to dream, but rendered themselves invisible when political, economic and
social action was required;
they preferred polite discussion about abstract ideas and not the challenge that characterized our old ways.
They preferred peace–at any price–to the inevitable consequences of social resistance. They feared the wrath
of the State.40
Nonetheless, the problem of representation changes if the ‘speaker’ is the Other and not the European intellectual.
Representation works precisely because these women are the Other. To examine the nature of representation in Native
women’s autobiography, we must first understand the process of transmission of Native culture, the collective nature of the
story in the oral tradition, and its influence in Native written texts.
Maria Campbell includes her writings as part of her work within and with the community, as do Beatrice Culleton, Rita
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Joe, Jeannette Armstrong and the majority, if not all, of…

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