- R. Scott Sheffield (Author)
The Red Man's on the Warpath: The Image of the "Indian" and the Second World War. University of British Columbia Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Madelaine Jacobs
Citizenship and identity are most salient during war. As Canadians extended their ever-forming national identity during the Second World War, an oft-dismissed segment of the population chose service and sacrifice, proving their Canadianness, despite their lack of official citizenship. R. Scott Sheffield reveals the impact of this effort on the wider English-Canadian public by describing the “image” of the “Indian.”
Sheffield’s task is monumental and, accordingly, the scope of his documentary analysis is impressive. His work’s greatest strength lies in its analysis of Canadian newspapers. Using these sources and government documents, Sheffield extracts images of the “Administrative Indian” and “Public Indian” for the period between the Depression and 1948. He demonstrates that, despite their generous contributions to the war effort and the recognition that these sacrifices evinced, Aboriginal Canadians were generally seen through lenses of Eurocentric stereotypes: “noble savages,” weak remnants of a dying “race,” or dangerous degenerates. Nevertheless, Sheffield asserts that English Canadians’ capacity to consider Aboriginal persons in a positive light was “forced on them” by the Aboriginal war effort and resulted in the “end of the ‘era of irrelevance’” for Aboriginal Canadians.
Although the candid intent of The Red Man’s on the Warpath is to investigate the “characteristics, imagery, stereotypes, and assumptions” that comprise the public understanding of Aboriginal Canadians, trading in stereotypes is a delicate task in which the issue of scale is crucial. Sheffield emphasizes the ease with which these oversimplified and imprecise images were accepted: “Canadians, through their media, and as a result of the segregation of the First Nations on remote reserves, had the luxury to think of the ‘Indian,’ or not, in whatever way they wished.” Nonetheless, Aboriginal Canadians were not uniformly remotely-located nor of a singular “race.” In many areas of the country, despite the restrictions of reserve life, Aboriginal Canadians met and interacted with English-Canadians and formed a diversity of impressions through everyday exchanges, relationships, and influences.
Although Sheffield is understandably limited by a lack of literature on the subject of Aboriginal involvement in the Great War and is only able to discuss this important precursor briefly, he omits the important point that Aboriginal enlistment in the Great War was greater than that in the Second World War both proportionately and absolutely. In his discussion of Aboriginal soldiers, in particular, it follows that the images and attitudes that Sheffield investigates may have had a significant relationship to those formed in the Great War.
Sheffield has clearly made a valuable contribution to an underdeveloped area of scholarship. He has laid the pioneering framework for future work that will, hopefully, fill in the remaining gaps and address the particularities that Sheffield strategically avoids.
- Dismembered Culture by Robert Bringhurst
Books reviewed: Haida Art by George F. MacDonald
- Literacy On the Thames by Blair Rudes
Books reviewed: Oneida-English/English-Oneida Dictionary by Mercy Doxtator and Karin Michelson
- First Nations Identity by Jennifer Kramer
Books reviewed: The Star-Man and Other Tales by Jonas George (Wah-sa-ghe-zik) and Basil H. Johnston, Privileging the Past: Reconstructing History in Northwest Coast Art by Judith Ostrowitz, The Trickster Shift: Humour and Irony in Contemporary Native Art by Allan J. Rayan, What's the Most Beautiful Thing You Know About Horses? by Richard Van Camp and George Littlechild, and Mythic Beings: Spirit of the Northwest Coast by Gary Wyatt
- Conflicts in History by Marlene Briggs
Books reviewed: Clio's Warriors: Canadian Historians and the Writing of the World Wars by Tim Cook
- Winds of Change by Madelaine Jacobs
Books reviewed: Something New in the Air: The Story of First Peoples Television Broadcasting in Canada by Lorna Roth
MLA: Jacobs, Madelaine. Foundational Images. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 21 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #188 (Spring 2006). (pg. 177 - 178)
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