Response and Responsibility
- Drew Hayden Taylor (Author)
Furious Observations of a Blue-Eyed Ojibway. Theytus Books (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Lee Maracle (Author)
Will's Garden. Theytus Books (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by John Moffatt
Like the earlier two instalments in Drew Hayden Taylor’s Funny, You Don’t Look Like One series, Furious Observations of a Blue-Eyed Ojibway is composed of “opinions and observations” drawn here from the period 1999-2002. As in the earlier works, the themes of identity and expression, both personal and public, inform most of the essays in this book in one way or another, as Taylor contemplates Aboriginal humour, Canadian politics, 9/11, food, cheerleader calendars, travel across Canada and around the world, and the rising tide of enthusiasm for golf among First Nations people. Consistent elements are Taylor’s characteristic wry humour and impatience with stereotypes; he continually prompts readers to re-think their easy assumptions about the moral and logical geography of the issues. If he pokes fun at the Canadian Alliance or affirms the culpability of various religious denominations in the residential schools tragedy, the reader is never under the impression that Taylor is simply falling into line with a fashionable or politically correct viewpoint. In “Casting an Indigenous Ballot” the discussion of Alliance policy occurs in the context of a wider discussion of the ethics of aboriginal participation in the Canadian political process, while in “The Walk Through the Valley of the Shadow of Litigation” the focus is ultimately on the responsibility of organizations for the behaviour of their members.
Taylor’s ability to consider his subject matter from opposing positions gives the collection some of its best moments: his discussion of Aboriginal Humour and the problems it seems to pose for the non-Aboriginal audience, particularly where the reception of his own work is concerned, is a highlight. In “Evidently I’ve been a Bad, Bad Boy” and “White Like Me” he explores a 2000 incident in Vancouver when an anonymous bomb threat was made in response to his play AlterNatives. Both of these pieces ask the age-old question of whether an author can expect the audience to distinguish his or her opinions from those of the fictional characters, and while Taylor finds humour in the situation (“and worst of all, my mother found out about the bomb threat and gave me a good scolding, telling me to ‘start writing good plays again!’”), he doesn’t hold out much hope in this instance.
Will’s Garden, Lee Maracle’s first novel for young adults, also addresses issues of cross-cultural misapprehension and stereotyping with compassion and humour, but the story is ultimately optimistic in its implications. Set in an unnamed Sto:lo community near Mount Cheam in the Upper Fraser Valley, the novel follows 15-year-old Will through the days leading up to and following his traditional coming-of-age ceremony. As in Maracle’s earlier work, most notably Ravensong (1993), the novel develops Will’s character partly in terms of his response to the complex ethical codes of Sto:lo society, and partly in terms of his confrontation of the larger world, particularly at school. Some readers will no doubt find the high school’s pack of inarticulate racist “jocks” rather crudely drawn caricatures, but Maracle is interested in the roles that people are willing to play in society, and throughout the novel Will is looking for ways to see people in larger contexts that make their behaviour comprehensible, if not forgivable. A key theme in Will’s Garden is the challenge of finding a language in which to comprehend and embrace human difference; Maracle’s attention to the difficulty of reconciling different value systems saves the novel’s depiction of small moments of reconciliation from sounding simplistic. For example, when Will brings home his friend Wit, who is homosexual, his family’s troubled response, while low-key, nevertheless prompts Will to examine the kinds of freedom and choice that his society offers. The family ultimately tolerates Wit (who is part Aboriginal), but Will and the reader are cautioned to think carefully about how homophobia may be constructed differently from community to community.
Like Stacey, the protagonist in Ravensong, Will sometimes seems wise and self-possessed beyond his years. However, the novel also effectively captures Will’s teenage longings for love and impatience in a world that often still treats him as a child; the reader’s resistance to his insights draws attention to the obstacles that Will must still face in his effort to find the authority to speak in his own voice.
- EPJ in "New" Reprint by Cecily Devereux
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Books reviewed: The New Media Nation: Indigenous Peoples and Global Communication by Valerie Alia and When the Other is Me: Native Resistance Discourse 1850-1990 by Emma LaRocque
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MLA: Moffatt, John. Response and Responsibility. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 13 Dec. 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #184 (Spring 2005), (Grace, Dolbec, Kirk, Dawson, Appleford). (pg. 176 - 177)
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