This poem by Emma LaRocque (Métis) addresses the Red River, at the heart of the Métis homeland. It runs north from the US through Winnipeg; it floods in the spring and fills with silt and and freezes in the winter. A major trade route from the earliest times, it was central to the fur trade for centuries. LaRocque addresses the river as a person because the Cree language often marks landscape features as animate, as having personhood. The poem evokes a woman who blushes with life in the summer, but whose face turns white in the cold winter. Just as the formerly blushing river is now frozen and lifeless, she implies, so are the Cree themselves, whited out by the freezing weather of white colonization. (The Cree name, Miscousipi, meaning “Red Water River” was first translated into French, Rivière Rouge, and then into English).
“The Red in Winter” by Emma LaRocque
The blushing river the Cree called her
She wears no rouge today
I ask about her other lifetimes
beneath her white mask.
For help with critical reading, see
Close Reading Poetry.
- Appearances: What do the changes in her appearance suggest about her experiences, motives, and circumstances? Why is it significant, within the metaphorical framework, that she is in “winter” and her “other lifetimes” are “beneath her white mask?”
- Masks: What function does the mask serve her? Why does she need it, and why hide away those other lifetimes? Consider especially how the mask might serve to break her away from her heritage.
- Colonial interactions: What stance does this poem take toward the ideas surrounding Indigenous-colonist interactions, such as of assimilation, adaptation, and cultural renewal?
- LaRocque, Emma.
The Red in Winter.Canadian Literature 124–25 (1990): 136. Print.