Reviews of Fiction and Films

The Imaginary Indian: The Story of Grey Owl

Remember the Titans

L'Auberge Espagnole

Racism in "Dancing"

Once Were Warriors

Lost on earth

I Heard the Owl Call my Name


The Imaginary Indian: The Story of Grey Owl

Caroline Rivard

Who does not know the story of Grey Owl? His story was popularized by a movie on his life, Grey Owl, made in 1999 in which Pierce Brosnan portrayed Grey Owl. Grey Owl was a white man who succeeded in completely integrating into the Indian way of life for over twenty years until his death. He also adopted their appearance and dress. His story shows a life of intercultural relationships between Native Canadian and English people. Grey Owl was a well-known wilderness writer and became one of the first Canadian conservationists.

Grey Owl also became part of the Imaginary Indian. In fact, Daniel Francis defines this concept as "almost anything Whites want it to be" (86). He also explains all the misrepresentations related to this term:

[…] the Imaginary Indian is ever with us, oscillating throughout our history from friend to foe, from Noble Savage to blood-thirsty warrior, from debased alcoholic to wise elder, from monosyllabic 'squaw' to eloquent princess, from enemy of progress to protector of the environment. (book cover)


Who was Grey Owl?

Grey Owl's real name was Archibald Stansfeld Belaney and he was born in 1888 in Hastings, England (Polk 101). He was born to an unknown alcoholic father and a fifteen-year-old mother. His grandmother and his two aunts raised "Archie" from the age of 2 because his mother was too poor to support him. Archie never appreciated his aunts because they were too severe and rigid toward him. As a little boy, Archie just wanted to play the "Red Indian" with his few friends. He was only interested in nature. He wished to live a life like the "wilderness man" in Canada. England was not the place for him; he often felt excluded from his own country. Archie was searching for a new place to live, a new family who could accept him with his own values and interests. At the age of seventeen (in 1906), he sailed to Canada (Francis 135).

It is in Canada that the real adventure started for Archie. It is in "the Temagami area of northern Ontario" that he met Bill Guppy, a well-known local guide, who taught Archie everything he needed and wanted to know such as how to make "his living as a trapper, guide, and forest ranger" (Grey Owl). A year later, he met his first wife, a young Ojibway woman. Although Archie's many marriages during his life, two of his five wives remained important to him: his first wife, Angele Egwuna, and his fourth wife Gertrude Bernard (generally known as "Anahareo") (Yanko). Archie was grateful to Angele because she taught him the Ojibway language so that he could communicate with Indians. It is also through her that he familiarized himself with the traditions, values and culture of Angele's tribe. The young man was also grateful to Anahareo, an Iroquois woman, who changed his life forever and who helped him become popular. The love of his life, Anahareo, helped him modify his way of seeing life and nature. Archie changed when she encouraged him to stop trapping beavers such as Francis describes it: "he adopted a conservationist ethic and devoted himself to preserving the wilderness" (133). It is also in his relationship with Anahareo that Archie used for the first time in 1930 the name Grey Owl to identify himself (136).

His taking care of beavers made the white population living in Grey Owl's area curious. It was at that same period that the National Park Service became interested in Grey Owl's protection of nature and beavers. They " hired [him] as their first naturalist " and built for him and Anahareo a small cabin in Riding Mountain National Park, Manitoba (Grey Owl). When they moved to Ajawaan Lake in Prince Albert National Park, Saskatchewan, Grey Owl started to write books on nature. In two years he wrote three best-selling books: Pilgrims of the Wild (1935), Sajo and Her Beaver People (1935) and Tales of an Empty Cabin (1936) (Ibid). Grey Owl quickly became well known all around the world. He gave many lectures in Canada, United States and England. However, being in the civilized world, getting stressed and not sleeping enough, Grey Owl became exhausted. "He died of [fatigue and] pneumonia on April 13, 1938" (Ibid). Only a day after his death, journalists revealed the truth about Grey Owl's real identity. He had never been a "real" Indian.


Grey Owl's Popularity

Throughout his life Grey Owl felt isolated, lonely and misunderstood. His secret of being a non-Native in "the skin of an Indian" prevented him from telling the truth about his own identity. In order for people to believe his story, Grey Owl would say that he was the son of a Scottish father and a Jicarilla Apache mother (The Canadian Forestry Association). This would explain his blue eyes, his British accent, and his good English speaking and writing.

Why did those who knew that Grey Owl was not an Indian (such as his mother, his aunts and the Natives he was living with) never try to reveal the truth about the real Archibald Belaney? In fact, the Indians were the first to know that Grey Owl was not a real Indian because "his eyes were too blue, his skin too pale, and his attempts at drumming and dancing too comical. But they [Indians] didn't care" (Francis 137). The Indians did not say a word because they needed someone like Grey Owl to defend their rights and to protect their environment and nation. He was their spokesperson.

Could Grey Owl have delivered his message without being in "the skin of an Indian?" Grey Owl thought that his message would be taken more seriously if it was coming from a Native's voice. This is why he often insisted: "I feel as an Indian, think as an Indian, all my ways are Indian, my heart is Indian" (Francis 134). In this way, he proved his identity and gave confidence to the population. Moreover, Francis explains that Grey Owl

[…] looked so much like what Whites thought an Indian should look like. With his long braids (which he dyed to keep black), dark skin (which he coloured with henna), and glowering stare (which he practiced in front of a mirror), he seemed to have stepped right out of the pages of Fenimore Cooper. Even his drinking was seen as confirmation of his Native identity. (137)

According to the white population, this certified that the tall man was a real Indian because "[he] conform[ed] to the image of the Indian held by the White world" (109). Francis also adds that "the general opinion seemed to be that what he stood for was more important than who he was" (137). It is also fascinating to know that Grey Owl initially based his knowledge of the Native's appearance on books (which were often biased).
Grey Owl looked so much like the stereotypical Indian that many people wanted to see him and went to visit his small cabin in Manitoba. When the Canadian government built him and his wife a small cabin, the intention of Parks Branch was not only to interest people in going to hear Grey Owl's message on nature protection but also to attract tourists to this unknown area. Grey Owl was considered almost as an object, someone part of a circus.

Grey Owl not only tried very hard to lose his British accent but he also invented ways to make mistakes when he spoke and wrote so as to mask his real identity because he had excellent English. The white population was so surprised to see an Indian whose English writing was so fluent that they simply forgot to ask about his origins. "Everywhere he went he was acclaimed as the finest Indian of them all" (Francis 134). Did this mean that Natives were not sweet and fine?

Not only did Grey Owl look like an Indian, but he also sounded like one through the message he was trying to get across and which he often repeated: "Man is not above nature […]. Man belongs to nature" (Francis 138). His message idealized Indians, who were known as "the guardians of the wilderness" (139). People also idealized his knowledge of nature and his spiritual dimension: "Grey Owl spoke with the accumulated wisdom of the people who had inhabited the eastern woodlands for thousands of years" (139). Grey Owl succeeded in giving Indians a new image. He gave Indians the power to be excellent nature "conservationists by instinct" (140). Francis summarized Grey Owl's visionary message about the necessity of conserving nature: "[…] the Indian had a lot to teach the modern world about the necessity of preserving wild nature from the reckless forces of economic development" (142). Francis finally concludes his article by showing that Grey Owl's popularity was mostly based on a White perspective:

Celebrity Indians were chosen by Whites. The example of Grey Owl suggests that it was not even necessary to be Native to be a celebrity Indian. The essential thing was to conform to the White stereotype of what an Indian was. After that, the rest was easy. (142)
Works cited

Francis, Daniel. The Imaginary Indian: The Image of the Indian In Canadian Culture. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 1997.
Polk, James. Wilderness Writers. Toronto/Vancouver: Clarke, Irwin & Company Limited, 1972.
The Canadian Forestry Association. Grey Owl: Biography. 2000. 4 Oct. 2003.
Unknown author. Grey Owl. 4 Oct. 2003.
Yanko, Dave. Grey Owl's Biography. 1997-2003. 4 Oct. 2003.




Remember the Titans

Mylene Ducharme

Remember the Titans, based on a true story, begins in 1971, the first year when in Alexandria, Virgina's T.C Williams High School must admit black students. Amid the furor over integration, Herman Boone (played by Denzel Washington), the new black football coach, arrives from North Carolina, displacing the beloved white head coach and incurring the wrath of a white team, as well as between black and white members of the coaching staff. However, after a rigourus training camp, the team comes together bonded by a common goal of victory on the football field. Differences are put aside, friendships are forged, and an entire community is united by the team's shining example of racial harmony. The new friendships between the black and white players inspires white parents to open their previously closed homes to black players as explains Tobias Peterson, of PopMatters Film Critic.

I remember a scene in the movie when the team won a game and the group of young men wanted to go out. Sunshine (Kip Pardue) brought his friends in a little restaurant in a part of town that did not yet accept black people. When they enter the Pub, we can immediately see that there are only white people and we can feel the tension in the air. The owner of the place goes to see them and tells them that the Pub is full, but in reality everybody saw that there are a few tables available. Sunshine argues with the man, and finally they are kicked out because the man told them that he can decide to serve who he wants and today he does not want to serve them. Once outside, Sunshine did not understand how he could accept all people included blacks equally but the rest of the town could not. In this case, Sunshine understands that his friends are victims of prejudice and they are not welcome everywhere. We can understand that it's in the mind of white people to exclude black people, because whites think that they represent the power and they can do what they want, and that black people are inferior, not the same race. It's a really good representation of the notion of power relations, because in reality they will rapidly understand that they are both human and they just have apparent physical differences. But it will take long time to change that in the mind of white people because it's imprinted in their values, norms and beliefs.

In another scene, near the end, the girlfriend of Gary Bertiers (Ryan Hurst) a member of the team, comes to see Julius Campbell (Woody Harris), a black man. She wanted to introduce herself because Gary tried to present her to Julius when they came back from the training camp, but she refused. Julius presented his hand to her and she never even looked at him. She looked at her boyfriend with a "what are you doing?, he is a black man, I can't be friends with him" kind of look. She does not understand the situation and does not want to be friends with this guy. In her mind, it's not possible to mix white and black people, it's denigrating for her. With time, and seeing that the town's belief in black people had changed, she was changing her mind as well. She was influenced by the tendancy of the town, and she went to see Julius and shook his hand for an official introduction.

I could describe to you more situations of the movie that show the power hierachy according to which white people are believed to be superiors. In the 70's it was in the mind of everyone. The city was split in half, white people in a specific part of the town and black in another part. It was not possible in those years to have a black person as a neighboor if you were a white person. They were separated by what seems to be two different worlds. It was not really a bad thing, but it's better today, because they are stronger in sharing their values, beliefs and norms. We have a lot to learn from other people. At this time they needed a person to remove racism from white people's minds and the funniest thing is the person who did this was black. It was not easy, it took time but they surpassed their narrow-mindedness.

"Remember the Titans", a movie by Walt Disney Pictures produced in 2000 and directed by Boak Yakin, focused on diversity and unity through sports. It's more difficult and problematic. Sports in the U.S are regarded by many to be an "even playing field". The predominance of African Americans in sports such as basketball and football has historically led anxious observers to assert stereotypes and perpetuate "scientific" efforts to categorize black physical success as the result of innate biological traits. "Remember the Titans" offers the inspiring notion that sports, in this case football, can erase racism, unify humanity, and allow us all to just get along.

Work Cited

PETERSON, Tobias; PopMatters film critic
REMEMBER THE TITANS, Website rememberthetitans/flash/flash.html



L'Auberge Espagnole

Catherine Bolduc

L'Auberge Espagnole is a wonderful, cross-cultural comedy written and directed by Cédric Klapisch. This French movie stars Romain Duris, Cécile de France, Audrey Tautou, and many more talented actors from different European countries. The fact that the actors are from different nationalities created problems in the realization of the movie. In an interview, Cédric Klapisch even compared the shooting with the tower of Babel. He said that everybody was talking in a different language and that it was very hard for him, being French, to lead the actors in English. In spite of these difficulties, he did a great work and everybody should see this movie, which inevitably makes people want to travel and meet other cultures.

L'Auberge Espagnole is defined in the dictionary as a place where you find only what you bring yourself. It is certainly the spirit of the movie which related the story of a twenty-five-year-old economics student named Xavier. Xavier has a lack of confidence and he doesn't really know what to do with his life. After his father's friend offered him a job at the French Ministry of Finance, he decided to spend his last year of university courses in Barcelona. He could then learn Spanish as required for the job. He left France, his girlfriend and his mother without realizing that he is about to live the experience of a life time. At first, he had some difficulties to find somewhere to stay but he ends up sharing an apartment with six other people, all coming from different countries: England, Italy, Denmark, Germany, Spain, and Belgium. It is like a little European union living in the middle of Barcelona. During the two delightful hours of the movie, we can see the evolution of this little community and the development of their friendship which overcome the language barrier to grow. They all speak different languages and it is not always easy for them to understand each other. After votes, they decided to use English to communicate in the apartment because everybody has a little knowledge of this language; although they still speak with their own country's accents which are sometimes hard to understand.

It is interesting to see that all the characters in the movie are portrayed as the familiar stereotypes, and it accentuates the differences between them. We can see a meticulous German, a loutish British, a messy Italian, and so on. These descriptions might bring up the idea of tolerance for difference; that even if people are not from the same culture, they can well live together when everybody shows a little goodwill. At the end of the movie, we can see a new Xavier who realized what he really wants to do with his life. He is much more confident and we can easily understand that this year changed him in many ways. It is probably due to the fact that most people need to meet others to finally find themselves.

Works cited
L'Auberge Espagnole. Dir. Cédric Klapisch. Perf. Romain Duris. Marsfilm, 2002
L'Auberge Espagnole. MCM Ciné. October 20, 2003. http://www.commeauciné ?newsid=3010
Travers, James. L'Auberge Espagnole. October 20, 2003.
Chappell, Crissa-Jean. L'Auberge espagnole. Film scouts reviews. October 20, 2003. ?Film=aub-esp



Racism in "Dancing"

Valerie Dionne
Through the readings I had to do until now, I really enjoyed those of Neil Bissoondath. The way he describes things and the way he tells stories by doing a comparison with his own life is interesting. Neil Bissoondath was born in Trinidad in 1955 of East Indian ancestors. He lived there until the age of eighteen, then he came into Canada in 1973. He studied advanced writing at the Banff School of Fine Arts. He taught English and French as a second language from 1977 to 1985 in Toronto, and has been a full-time writer since 1985.Through these years, he had the opportunity to write the best-selling book, Selling Illusions, and many short stories, such as "Dancing". In the next few lines, I will summarize the short story "Dancing" the racist aspect dramatised in the story

First of all, at the beginning of the story, Bissoondath tells about Sheila's life, which consists of a young woman living in Trinidad and working as a maid. She works for an Indian family and earns sixty dollars a month. In Trinidad itself, people are very aware of racial difference: "Black people have Indian maid and Indian people have Black maid. White people does mix them up, it don't matter to them." Then, as Sheila earns only sixty dollars a month, she doesn't have a lot of money and has no other choices than to live in a very little house, which she describes as: "a one-room shack with a big cupboard."

Secondly, Sheila has a sister who was her pen pal for a time. Her name is Annie and she lives in Toronto. She moved there a long time ago. In her last letter, Annie tells Sheila about the money she is making and how her life is easy compared to what she lived in the past. Also she writes about the racist behaviour of Canadian people: "She say they hate black people for so and she tell me bout a ad on TV showing a black girl eating a banana pudding." White people thought it was funny because they thought Black people "looked like monkeys."

Thirdly, Annie invited her sister to come up to Canada and live with her. This was a very hard choice for Sheila. Although she definitely wanted to see her sister and wanted to have more money: "I had thirty years, my little shack and sixty dollars a month. Annie was making five times that Canadian, ten times that Trinidian", Sheila enjoyed her life in Trinidad because the people she was working for were really good citizens. But she thought her life could perhaps improve if she moved into Canada. She did not know what to do and spent much time thinking about her life: "I thought, No man, no child, a shack, a servant job, sixty dollars a month. What my life was going to be like when I reach sixty?"

Finally, Sheila decided to move to Canada and see her sister, but she had a hard time integrating into the new society. She had to let herself be assimilated by others. Moreover, she thought the racialist and violent behaviour of Canadian people was absolutely not acceptable and she was not able to deal with it. Then she started to miss her mother, who had been dead for a very long time.

To conclude, I would say that the fact that Sheila started to miss her mother after she moved to Canada was probably because she was looking for her roots. She thought her sister's behaviour changed. Everything was new around her and she didn't know how to act to avoid suffering from racism. She probably wanted to make a link with her past instead of acting as if it never existed.



Once Were Warriors

Jonathan Séguin

Maori society and culture comes from a Polynesian warrior-race who conquered New Zealand during the 14th century and defended themselves against the British invaders. Today, they comprise 12 percent of the New Zealand population and occupy 50 percent of the prison cells. Based on a critically acclaimed novel by Maori writer Alan Duff, Lee Tamahori's Once Were Warriors has won 15 international awards, including 4 from the Montreal World Film Festival.

It is a story about Jake, an insensitive brute, blinded by rage and deaf to his family's ordeals. A father of five children, he has been married to Beth for 18 years. Jake's violent behavior and his unwillingness to keep tradition alive made Beth a fighter after she realized that she was depriving her children of the pride of cultural identity. It is a movie about passion, pride and spirit of a culture, the tragic relationship between love and violence, the alienation of indigenous people and the destruction of innocence.

More than a story on film, it is a poignant commentary about all scorned autochthones. The painful images and cruel reality stick to the memory and haunt us for a long time after the viewing. It also makes us think of the Innu, the Warriors and all the other tribes who seek some balance in a devastated world. With its complex cultural backdrop and its stark view of a societal cancer, Once Were Warriors comes to a level where it is equally painful and potent, speaking of the way besieged tribes of indigenous people have turned their rage inward in acts of self-destruction, its members living on alcohol and the dole without any noticeable hope for better lives. Everyone in this film is trapped by one thing or another; if not their ordeals, their personality. In fact, the only brief moment of serenity happens in the opening scene and depicts a pastoral setting but turns out to be an illusion: a plain billboard in the midst of a gray city.

In his movie, Tamahori intelligently refused to reduce his character's emotional predicaments to simple moral or social dichotomies. In fact, the problems here are not so much based on racism, but on class oppression. Unlike other indigenous people of the world, there was no genocide ever practiced upon the Maori and they were never moved to other areas. With his attention to detail, Tamahori makes the film resonate in its insistence on the daily visible effects of continually blurring the boundaries between cultures, experiences and times. It is an example of a culture which borrowed cultural aspects from the presence of foreigners and lost its identity over time, living out the grim legacy of colonialism.

Works Cited

Once Were Warriors, Tamahori, Lee. New Zealand Film Commission, 1994. 105 min.


Lost on earth

Sophie Lapointe

By the mid 1990’s, over fifty million people were forced out of their homelands and became refugees. In Lost on Earth: Nomads of the New World, Mark Fritz manages to put a face and a name on the cold facts and statistics about these people we read about in newspapers everyday.
Fritz, a journalist awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the genocide in Rwanda, is a gifted writer. Being a foreign correspondent for the Associated Press, he met a lot of refugees and humanitarian workers whose stories he decided to put together one day.
There is no apparent link between these short stories, except that they all take place a few months before the fall of the Berlin wall or in the years following the events. The book starts with the journey of Michaela, a young woman from East-Germany who managed to escape to the West and pursue her dream of a better life. While this first story takes place a few months before the reunification of Germany, the second one takes place a few months after the event, when the Gypsies literally invaded Berlin as soon as the borders are reopened. A woman from East-Germany then works in a refugee camp and, like many other persons working with her, began to feel bitter and exploited as many refugees started taking advantage of the system. At one point, the author describes that “sometimes, a Mercedes-Benz would pull up the gated camp and neatly dressed men would get out. Then they would pull old and tattered clothes from the trunks of their cars, change into the rags and come inside and ask for help” (Fritz, 34). Another story is about a software expert from Togo who has to run away from dictatorship after getting a message from his mother-in-law saying that Security men had gone to his house looking for him, then raped and killed his wife and son. We are introduced to many other characters, among them an American nurse working for the International Medical Corps, a young Tutsi girls escaping an attack of the militia in her village, a Viennese security agent who manages to drive orphan kids away from the a Bosnia war zone, etc.
Lost on Earth is a very well-written book, fairly easy to read. Fritz has the gift of making it easy to understand various political and social realities that we might not be familiar with. Each short story is concise, yet the author manages to incorporate various descriptions and explanations, giving the reader the impression that he is actually in the middle of the action. The sensitive descriptions also add to the sentiment of empathy we feel towards the characters while reading this book.
This book made a remarkable impression on me. Not only was it inspiring to read the stories of such courageous people, but it was also an eye opener. It made me realize that refugees were often middle-class people who were living a life quite similar to ours. Also, Fritz’s portrayal of war is far from the preconceived idea of strategic battles we often have and it goes further than its political impact, into individuals’ private lives.
In short, Lost on Earth: Nomads of the New World is a recollection of heartrending short stories. The book not only gives its readers a courage lesson, it opens their eyes to a new subculture and a new contemporary reality.

Fritz, Mark. Lost on Earth: Nomads of the New World. New York: Routledge,2000.



I Heard the Owl Call my Name

Amanda Larose

Margaret Craven’s I Heard the Owl call my Name is not a novel about one person or one nation in particular. Neither is it a critique of the white man’s impact on native culture, or a story of the conflict between white man and natives. It is in part the story of a young vicar sent out to a remote native parish, in the islands near Vancouver (B.C.). Even though he has not been told so, this young vicar has been sent to Kingcome’s parish because he has an illness that only leaves him with a couple of years left to live and the Bishop thinks he still has so much to learn from life. Kingcome being the toughest parish they have to manage, it is also believed that this is the one from which he will learn the most in a limited amount of time.
Even though he does not immediately realize it, this young vicar will slowly get assimilated to the native culture, developing a hunter-gatherer way of perceiving life and death but also, a more realistic understanding of the trivialities of life which we usually consider so important to our daily lives. Mark, will get to understand and ultimately learn Kwakwalà, the native language of the tribe where he is based. Whereas Mark will gain an intercultural understanding of the native’s way of life and culture, most of the other white men who will be encountered throughout the book will arrive to the village with their minds already set on what they think of as the native way of life and nothing Mark will do or say will change those preconceptions.
But it is also more than his story, it is the story of an ageless village which is slowly dying out because of the way members of the young generation are being changed by the time spent in the outside world, fighting to get a place in the white man’s world. Likewise, Mark fought to get himself accepted as a member of the native community and a friend rather than an intruder who is treated politely but still as an outsider. However, most native young who get out in what we would call the civilized world are ill prepared for the society that awaits them and often remain caught between two societies and ways of life. Most of them just become ‘’apple indians’’, white on the inside but still red on the outside. People will be more prejudiced against natives than natives will be towards the ones who they would have a right to consider as intruders.
This novel presents the reader both with the younger generation’s point of view regarding their parents’ and grandparents’ way of life, a way of life which they treat with respect but cannot understand anymore and which they know is bound to disappear within a few generations. Who will be left when the elders will all have died of old age or of sadness and no one remains who remembers the myths, the songs and the dances? Through T.P, Mrs Wallace, Peter the carver and Martha’s statements and discussions with Mark, we understand the sadness and the feeling of helplessness natives must have felt when governmental policies were issued at the beginning of the century, preventing them from holding their cultural rituals. Natives are however not depicted as resentful of the governmental policy, they seem saddened but still proud and standing strong in their beliefs.
All along the reading process, the reader is presented with various native myths, all relating human presence to nature’s good will. The title of the novel is based on one of those myths that are referred to by Peter, Kingcome’s carver, that says that before dying, the native man will hear the owl call his name in the night. Mark will hear his name be called in the night and his death will follow soon after, thus proving the old myth right. He will be buried in this village which he came to know, understand and ultimately love, as few white man had done before him.
All in all, this novel basically takes this young vicar’s life as a pretext for the presentation of myths, of a culture, of a critique of Caucasian way of life. But overall, I heard the Owl Call my Name is a story of friendship, of sharing and of understanding.

Source: Margaret Craven. I Heard the Owl Call my Name. New York: Dell Publishing, January 1980