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Representation of the Encounter Between White Settler-Invaders Essay Sample

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Representation of the Encounter Between White Settler-Invaders Essay Sample

Examine the representation of the encounter between white settler-invaders and Indigenous peoples in Jeannette Amstrong’s “History Lesson” and Roughing It in the Bush.

The Representation of the encounter between white settlers-invaders and indigenous peoples in Jeannette Armstrong’s “History Lesson” and Susanna Moodie’s Roughing it in the Bush differ greatly in a number of ways. Writing at different times, for conflicting purposes, from opposing points of view as well as utilizing different literary mediums- the resulting representation of the encounter between the white and indigenous groups are inherently contrasting. Depicted as a lesser, more savage race in Roughing it in the Bush as well as the victims of savagery and ‘civilisation’ in “History Lesson”, Native representation in the two works are particularly unalike, however settler attitudes in both are based upon discriminatory and racist ideals of the time, and this can be seen in their encounter. The role of religion also helped shape the natives’ encounter with the settlers, it is presented in a farcical way in “History Lesson” as well as in a somewhat ignorant fashion in Roughing it in the bush. Despite her at times belittling language, Moodie does express some respect and appreciation of the Natives’ characteristics, an interest that is non-existent in “History Lesson”, however despite her fair mindedness, her opinions are still tinged with racism and an overbearing white –supremacist sentiment.

Writing about her experiences in the 1830’s in Canada, Susanna Moodie’s Roughing it in the Bush is an account of life as a female settler at the time. Published as a guide to Britons considering emigrating, her writing is ethnographic, analysing various groups such as those immigrating to Canada, the settlers in Canada as well as the indigenous Natives. In the Chapter “The Wilderness & our Indian Friends”, Moodie is confronted for the first time with Native Americans, whom she describes as “a people whose beauty, talents, and good qualities have been somewhat overrated, and invested with a poetical interest which they scarcely deserve.” As her first utterance relating to the Natives, this opinion serves to be rather disparaging and surprising. As she believes they have received too much “poetical interest”, and their apparent positive qualities “overrated”.

Moodie goes on to write, “Their honesty and love of truth are the finest traits in characters otherwise dark and unlovely.” Despite an attempt at complimentary writing, her Language here is highly belittling toward the Natives, and in their encounter it is clear she sees herself superior to them. Her use of “dark” refers to their mysterious personality as well potentially their complexion. The air of white settler superiority present in Roughing it in the bush is drastically magnified in Jeannette Armstrong’s poem “History Lesson”, however the Whites are portrayed as inferior in terms of actions. In contrast to Moodie, Armstrong is writing from the Native’s point of view, recounting the invasion of the white invaders following Christopher Columbus’s initial expedition to the Americas. Her writing serves as a counter-history, providing a version of events from the Natives view that have throughout history been seen as savage enemies of civilization. It is argued, “Throughout recorded time, empowered groups have been able to define history and provide an explanation of the present. A good example of this is the portrayal of wars between Indians and White by Canadian historians.” It is this notion of white dominating history that Armstrong challenges in “History Lesson”. In the first stanza, Armstrong writes;

Out of the belly of Christopher’s ship
a mob bursts
Running in all directions
Pulling furs off animals
Shooting buffalo
Shooting each other

left and right
Armstrong ironically depicts the white invaders as savages in this stanza, with little to tell between them and animals such as the buffalo referred to in line 5. Christopher Columbus’s “discovery” of the Americas is whittled down to one line. Using very informal language, “belly” and “Christopher’s ship” denotes a particularly non-impressive image unlike most depictions of his voyage in white histories. The use of the word “mob” conjures brutish connotations again often attributed to Native Americans. As well as depicting the encounter between Natives and white invaders, Armstrong also indicates the oncoming results of colonizing on the Natives’ land. “Pulling off furs” as well as literally graphically depicting the savage nature of the whites when hunting animals, also refers to the fur trade set up following colonization of Canada. The senseless barbarism continues with the shooting of buffalo as well as shooting of each other. The lack of definition between the two, and the casual nature of the lines highlights the whites animalistic and savage nature, as well as the lack of unity between the European settlers. In this stanza “Jeannette Armstrong conveys the violence of abstraction of “Colonialism” by telescoping it into a vivid caricature of mad physical activity”.

In contrast to “History Lesson” where the whites are judged on their actions, in Roughing it in the Bush Moodie initially analyses the Natives appearance and common traits. Moodie states, “The men of this tribe are generally small of stature, with very coarse and repulsive features.” Following this wholly belittling description, there is a continuation of animal like comparisons “the observing faculties large, the intellectual ones scarcely developed; the ears large, and standing off from the face; the eyes looking towards the temples, keen, snake-like” In both literary texts, the opposing group is represented as animalistic, albeit metaphorically in “History Lesson” and much more literally in Roughing it in the Bush. Using authoritative language throughout, Moodie seems to be talking down to the Native peoples.

Her incessant insistence on referring to the Native peoples, within which there were fifty-five different languages and numerous tribes, as “Indians” also shows a clear lack of desire in learning the culture, a white attitude typical of “History lesson” as well. Although being an advocate of peace, her understanding of the nature of white- native relations seems somewhat off. Representing the taking of Native land as being “Passed into the hands of strangers”, suggests it was peaceful and not questioned, due to the passive verb “passed”. However this is wholly contrasting with “History Lesson” in which the truer nature of the conflict is depicted.

Religion plays a crucial role in both depictions of the encounter between white settlers and the natives. Christianity, and the way in which it was thrust upon the Natives is mocked in “History Lesson”, whilst Moodie finds the Natives’ understanding of the religion lacking, despite her total lack of knowledge of the Natives’ spirituality. Armstrong writes, “Father mean well
 waves his makeshift wand forgives saucer-eyed Indians”

Referring to a Priest as “Father mean well” is a sarcastic simplification of English terms, suggesting his intentions are good but little else. “Waves his makeshift wand” is a particularly strange way of describing a crucifix, with “wand” suggesting its magical as opposed to religious. Writing from a Native point of view however it is clear meaning given to such objects mean little to those that do not connote such meanings, and Armstrong instills in the reader the understanding that Christianity in the eye of the Natives is almost farcical. In the self-deprecating line “forgives saucer-eyed Indians” Armstrong twists racism around, with her fellow Natives the abused in order to show its true ignorance. Moodie in comparison, writing for her home countrymen, reacts angrily in what she perceives as too much of a fascination with a man made sword, “For several days they continued to visit the house, bringing along with them some fresh companion to look at Mrs. Moodie’s god! –until, vexed and annoyed by the delight they manifested at the sight of the eagle-beaked monster, I refused to gratify their curiosity by not producing him again.”

Moodie represents the natives as ignorant and naïve, however her anger at their interest shows her close-mindedness in terms of faith. This can be seen again when Moodie writes “Their ideas of Christianity appeared to me vague and unsatisfactory. They will tell you that Christ died for men, and that He is the Saviour of the World, but they do not seem to comprehend the spiritual character of Christianity, nor the full extent of the requirements and application of the law of Christian love.” Both literary texts are alike in that Native comprehension of Christianity is lacking, however it is of course not they’re chosen faith and so this is understandable. References to the Garden of Eden can be found in both texts, as Armstrong writes “Somewhere among the remains of skinless animals is the termination to a long journey and unholy search  for the power  glimpsed in a garden forever closed forever lost”

Armstrong likens the new world to the Garden of Eden, another form of Utopia disturbed by human action. Despite clear attempts at bringing Christianity to the Natives, she refers to the whole ordeal as “unholy”, owing to the terrible actions of the settlers. Moodie’s discovery of the areas natural beauty and naming of already known rocks and other objects is also similar to the biblical story. Yet Moodie sees herself as Eve, as opposed to the destroyer of it.

In “History Lesson” there are several acknowledgements of the failings of Colonization and Capitalism that are to come following the encounter between whites and Natives. As Armstrong writes “Pioneers and traders bring gifts

Smallpox, Seagrams and rice krispies”
She again references the Bible, with the likeliness to the birth of Christ and the three Kings. However the gifts are terrible, illness, alcoholism and particularly unsubstantial modern food that of no use and no need to the Native with their established diet. Typifying her argument, she states “Civilization has reached the promised land”

like the unashamed nature of advertising, Armstrong ironically includes the tagline “snap, crackle and pop” to illustrate the uselessness to Natives White/US culture has become. The devastation continues as in stanza 7 she writes “The colossi in which they trust while burying breathing forests and fields beneath concrete and steel  stand shaking fists waiting to mutilate whole civilizations ten generations at a blow”

The encounter between the whites and Natives is represented as doomed, for the natural wonder of the nation is buried “beneath concrete and steel”, with “whole civilizations, ten generations at a blow” ready to be mutilated. Despite instances of lacking understanding and acceptance on Susanna Moodie’s part in Roughing it in the Bush of the Natives and their beliefs and characters, she does exhibit some tolerance and acknowledgement of their many skills and positive qualities. As Moodie states, “The affection of Indian parents to their children, and the deference which they pay to the aged, is another beautiful and touching trait in their character.” Her encounters with them are represented as peaceful and humbling, as she notes their humility in receiving food “The Indians are great imitators, and possess a nice tact in adopting the customs and manners of those with whom they associate.” However despite her kind rhetoric, her superior racist attitude often prevails, “During better times we had treated these poor savages with kindness and liberality”. Often too happy to return to the use of “savages”, she certainly does not give the Natives much respect as is due, much like the encounter in “History Lesson”.

As J R Miller writes, “the ethnographic approach to the study of indigenous peoples was problematic because it was a descriptive portrayal that rendered Natives static and unchanging.” This is the case with Moodie’s portrayal of the natives, as it is clear their way of life is seen as backward in her writing. Much of this however is to do with the provenance surrounding Roughing it in the Bush. Nevertheless the encounter between the different groups in her writing is peaceful, intriguing and certainly not as disastrous as in “History Lesson”. In both texts the common themes of misunderstandings, religion and racism arise and help to shape the representation of the encounter between the white and native groups, with two very different depictions of the encounter and its consequences.


Susanna Moodie, Roughing it in the bush, The wilderness & Our Indian Friends, Canada, 1851

James S Fridered, Native Peoples in Canada- Contemporary Conflicts, Canada, 1988

Jeannette C Armstrong & Lally Grauer, Native Poetry in Canada- A Contemporary Anthology, Canada, 2001

J R Miller, Reflections on Native Newcomer Relations-Selected Essays, 2004, Canada

Jeannette C Armstrong, History Lesson Native Poetry in Canada- A Contemporary Anthology, Canada, 2001

I was able to gain further insight into the topic of white settler/Native relations using the book ‘Native peoples in Canada-contemporary conflicts”. I was able to learn more of the way in which the history between these two groups has been documented, and this in turn enabled me to further understand the representation of the encounter between them in the two literary texts. I found this book in the library. Native poetry in Canada enabled me to better understand the meaning of Armstrong’s initial stanza, I found this using Google books. J R Miller’s book, Reflections on Native Newcomer Relations again enabled me to better understand the historical documentation of native/white relations in Canada. Again I found this in the library.

[ 1 ]. Susanna Moodie, Roughing it in the bush, The wilderness & Our Indian Friends, Canada, 1851 [ 2 ]. Susanna Moodie, Roughing it in the bush, The wilderness & Our Indian Friends, Canada, 1851 [ 3 ]. James S Fridered, Native Peoples in Canada- Contemporary Conflicts, Canada, 1988, p4 [ 4 ]. Jeannette C Armstrong & Lally Grauer, Native Poetry in Canada- A Contemporary Anthology, Canada, 2001, p 24 [ 5 ]. Susanna Moodie, Roughing it in the bush, The wilderness & Our Indian Friends, Canada, 1851 [ 6 ].
Susanna Moodie, Roughing it in the bush, The wilderness & Our Indian Friends, Canada, 1851 [ 7 ]. Susanna Moodie, Roughing it in the bush, The wilderness & Our Indian Friends, Canada, 1851 [ 8 ]. Susanna Moodie, Roughing it in the bush, The wilderness & Our Indian Friends, Canada, 1851 [ 9 ]. Jeannette C Armstrong, History Lesson Native Poetry in Canada- A Contemporary Anthology, Canada, 2001 [ 10 ]. Jeannette C Armstrong, History Lesson Native Poetry in Canada- A Contemporary Anthology, Canada, 2001 [ 11 ]. Jeannette C Armstrong, History Lesson Native Poetry in Canada- A Contemporary Anthology, Canada, 2001 [ 12 ]. Susanna Moodie, Roughing it in the bush, The wilderness & Our Indian Friends, Canada, 1851 [ 13 ]. Susanna Moodie, Roughing it in the bush, The wilderness & Our Indian Friends, Canada, 1851 [ 14 ]. Susanna Moodie, Roughing it in the bush, The wilderness & Our Indian Friends, Canada, 1851 [ 15 ]. J R Miller, Reflections on Native Newcomer Relations-Selected Essays, 2004, Canada, p16

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