“The Onondaga Madonna” (1898) by Duncan Campbell Scott and Racialization

Today, “The Onondaga Madonna,” is studied as a classic example of racialization, “a thoroughly stereotypical representation of the supposed characteristics as well as the supposed fate of North America’s Native peoples” (Bentley 755). Describing the titular Onondaga woman as a “tragic savage” with a “pagan passion,” Scott represents her as an embodiment of violent people.

“The Onondaga Madonna” by Duncan Campbell Scott

She stands full-throated and with careless pose,

This woman of a weird and waning race,

The tragic savage lurking in her face,

Where all her pagan passion burns and glows;

Her blood is mingled with her ancient foes,

And thrills with war and wildness in her veins;

Her rebel lips are dabbled with the stains

Of feuds and forays and her father’s woes.

And closer in the shawl about her breast,

The latest promise of her nation’s doom,

Paler than she her baby clings and lies,

The primal warrior gleaming from his eyes;

He sulks, and burdened with his infant gloom,

He draws his heavy brows and will not rest.

Note: This poem was originally published in Labour and the Angel (Boston: Copeland & Day, 1898).


  1. What is the significance of calling the Onondaga woman a “Madonna”?
  2. Find examples of racializing language in this poem. How does the poem portray Indigenous peoples? Why might the baby be described as “[p]aler than she”?
  3. What might the poem be suggesting about the integration of Indigenous peoples into white Canadian society? Does “The Onondaga Madonna” echo Scott’s assimilationist policies, or does the poem present a different view? Explain.

Works Cited

  • Bentley, D.M.R. Shadows in the Soul: Racial Haunting in the Poetry of Duncan Campbell Scott. University of Toronto Quarterly 75.2 (2006): 752–70. Print. (Link)