Choose two of the above three poems and compare how they engage overtly with Indigenous issues. Here are some questions to help you get started:
- Muted Violence: Johnson certainly wrote capably about overt violence, such as in The Cattle Thief, but in
The Corn Huskerand
The Indian Corn Planterthe violence is far more muted. Collect all the references to violence or potential violence that you can identify, then compare their implications.
- History: What sorts of perspective do “The Corn Husker,” “The Indian Corn Planter,” and “The Cattle Thief” present on Indigenous-settler history? How does this perspective add to your understanding of the poem as a response to the impact of colonialism and settlement in North America?
- Landscapes: Human interactions with specific landscapes feature in all of these poems to suggest particular relationships between natural and cultural ways of being. Find the different types of interactions and discuss how shifts in these practices impact the figures in the poems.
- Gender: How are women represented in these poems? How are male and female figures distinguished?
- Transformations: Johnson held very different views than colonists about Indigenous people’s abilities to adapt to change. Recall D. C. Scott’s views on assimilation, as head of the federal government’s Department of Indian Affairs:
[the] happiest future for the Indian is absorption into the general population, and this is the object of the policy of our government. The great forces of intermarriage and education will finally overcome the lingering traces of native custom and tradition. (qtd. in Monture 126)
How does Johnson represent changes to Indigenous lifestyles in order to accommodate and work with, rather than assimilate and disappear into, the dominating, colonial cultural and material pressures?
Connecting Prose and Poetry
Different forms of writing offer different ways of representing and engaging with various experiences. Often poetry condenses or focuses on specific experiences, while prose provides more space to elaborate and explore. Placing different genres into dialogue with each other offers opportunities to think creatively and expansively about how literary works represent and engage with social and cultural issues such as racialization, power, Indigenous rights, and gender.
- Analyze Johnson’s engagement with Indigenous experiences and ways of knowing in her prose and poetry. What does she focus on as key issues? How does one form of writing perhaps answer questions raised in the other?
- Find an issue that recurs in both a poem and a prose piece. Examine how Johnson employs the features of each genre to address the issue in different ways. Consider how she elicits different effects in her readers by writing in different forms.
- Monture, Rick.
Essays on Canadian Writing 75 (2002): 118–41. Print.
Beneath the British Flag: Iroquois and Canadian Nationalism in the Work of Pauline Johnson and Duncan Campbell Scott.