Updating the Trickster
- Linda M. Morra (Editor) and Deanna Reder (Editor)
Troubling Tricksters: Revisioning Critical Conversations. Wilfrid Laurier University Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by June Scudeler
The essays in Troubling Tricksters: Revisioning Critical Conversations chronicle the shift the Trickster performs from a postmodern transgressor to a figure more grounded in Indigenous specificity. Co-editor Deanna Reder notes that it has only been since the late 1980s that an infrastructure developed to analyze Native literature, with the trickster being the preferred trope to discuss Native literature. The strength of Troubling Tricksters is its grounding in Native literary nationalism, studies that engage not only the literature, but the communities’, ways of knowing and traditions from which the work grew. Many of the essays are situated in tribal-specific ways of knowing: Warren Cariou’s (Métis) suspicion that his Uncle Morris really is a rigoureau, the Métis shapeshifter, Eldon Yellowhorn’s (Piikani) rediscovering how Naapi created humans, and Reder’s reading of Steve Sanderson’s (Cree) Darkness Calls, a comic book published by the Healthy Aboriginal Network. By anchoring her reading of Darkness Falls in Cree values such as respect and the Cree trickster, Wesakecak, Reder illustrates the complexity that a nationalist perspective brings to Native texts. Linda M. Morra and Christine Kim investigate how non-Aboriginal authors such as Hiromi Goto, Sheila Watson, Mordecai Richler, and Gail Anderson-Dargatz employ trickster figures in their work. As Morra notes, these authors use the
anti-trickster, which may have some Indigenous characteristics but ultimately embodies Eurocentric ideas.
Troubling Tricksters does an excellent job of providing context for the popularity of the Trickster in Native literature studies. Margery Fee and Kristina Fagan (Labrador Métis) investigate how using the trickster to explain Native literature ignores the agency of Indigenous writers and views Native literatures as monolithic. However, Fee notes that many Native artists coalesced around the trickster as a means to reconfigure social relations, such as the Committee to Re-Establish the Trickster, founded in 1986 by Tomson Highway (Cree), Lenore Keeshig-Tobias (Anishinaabe) and Daniel David Moses (Delaware). Reder and Morra include the Committee’s 1986 essay
Let’s Be Our Own Tricksters, Eh, which exhorts,
WE CAN TELL OUR OWN STORIES—IN OUR OWN WAY. Fagan troubles the trickster by noting the tensions between urban and gay Aboriginal peoples’ pan-tribal use of the Trickster and the more tribally based grounded reading of the Trickster, differences that echo the conflicts within the larger Aboriginal community.
The collection moves beyond a purely academic lens to include creative works by Niigonwedom James Sinclair (Anishinaabe), Thomas King (Cherokee), and Jill Carter’s essay on Spiderwoman Theatre. Visual artist Sonny Assu’s (Laich-kwil-tach)
Personal Totems humorously recounts his obsession with pop culture (he cites Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Lt. Cmdr. Worf’s refusal to be assimilated by the Borg as the Indian response to the Indian Act), to illustrate how Raven likes to
keep up with the Joneses both in the consumption of pop culture and in the transformation of consumer culture into Assu’s
Personal Totems series of iDrums. Clearly, tricksters, in whatever guise, are still a force to be reckoned with.
- Canadian Historical Amnesia and the Métis People by Michelle La Flamme
Books reviewed: The Long Journey of a Forgotten People: Métis Identities and Family Histories by Ute Lischke and David T. McNab
- In Search of the Sacred by David Kent
Books reviewed: A Concise History of Christianity in Canada by Terence Murphy and Roberto Perin and Locations of the Sacred: Essays on Religion, Literature, and Canadian Culture by William C. James
- Taboo Intimacies by Maya Simpson
Books reviewed: Race Mixing: Black-White Marriage in Postwar America by Renee C. Romano and Interracial Intimacy: the Regulation of Race and Romance by Rachel F. Moran
- Taming the West by Albert Braz
Books reviewed: The Trade by Fred Stenson and The Destruction of the Bison: An Environmental History, 1750-1920 by Andrew C. Isenberg
- No Man's Land by Desirée Lundström
Books reviewed: White Man's Law: Native People in Nineteenth Century Canadian Jurisprudence by Sidney L. Harring
MLA: Scudeler, June. Updating the Trickster. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 4 Dec. 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #212 (Spring 2012), General Issue. (pg. 177 - 178)
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