Reading native literature from a traditional indigenous perspective : contemporary novels in a Windigo society
Rasevych, Peter Mark
Master of Arts
SubjectCanadian literature Native authors History and criticism
Indians of North America Cultural assimilation
Canadian literature Indian authors History and criticism
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In this thesis I explore three novels by Aboriginal authors, using a perspective that evolves from traditional Anishnabe teachings about the “Windigo" character. In the Introduction, I elaborate upon the reasons why a n interdisciplinary study is necessary for the advancement of Aboriginal education. In Chapter One, “Literary Colonization," I formulate an Aboriginal literary criticism through “inside” perspectives of Aboriginal social reality and community. I propose that through Aboriginal literary self-determination which includes youth. Elders, community, and Indigenous traditions and stories, one may find an escape from literary colonization. In Chapter Two, “The Windigo,” I focus on the Windigo not only as a character but also as a metaphor. I use the Windigo to explain humanity though a traditional Indigenous, multi-layered perspective of human reality. In Chapter Three, “Silent Words and the Tradition of Respect,” I study the novel Silent Words by Ruby Slipperjack for its rejection of Windigo domination and its establishment of respect for community. This chapter promotes Aboriginal pedagogy and traditional teachings through a study of the protagonist’s journeys under the guidance of traditional teachers, from whom he learns about balanced, reciprocal relationships. In Chapter Four, “Ravensong and the Them e of Transformation,” I study the novel Ravensong by Lee Maracle in terms of resistance to assimilation and Windigo infection, noting the necessity for and possibility of transformation. Emphasizing the importance of Indigenous community to Indigenous life and identity, this chapter explicates the protagonist's role as a potential “bridge” between non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal cultures. In Chapter Five, “Slash. Assimilation, and Cultural Survival,” I study the novel Slash by Jeannette Armstrong as a challenge to Windigo, opposing assimilation and assisting cultural survival. The protagonist’s journeys include political activist events as well as an inner exploration where he must realize internalized oppression in himself as well as Windigo disease in his community and in the greater Canadian society. In the conclusion and recommendations, I suggest that the Windigo can be overcome through creative acts of literature and through informed reading of Indigenous literature from an insider perspective. I also recommend that Indigenous perspectives, such as those expressed in this thesis, be accommodated by literary studies as a whole.