Native Literature Written By Natives It is unfairly noted that Native Literature written by Natives offends many readers with its discussion of the first-hand social ills affecting fellow Natives. However, the typical stories of Euro-Canadian relations constructed outside the Aboriginal thought imprisons all Aboriginals into stereotypes which obscure and distort their very real experiences. The obligation of the Native artist is to remain grounded in cultural soil and ideals, which is determined by Euro-Canadian standards, while at the same time establishing a foundation of justice and truth within the context of their work. Ian Ross has addressed many of these social ills in his play fareWel. Using humor, characterization and personal experience Ross depicts reserve life from outside the Euro-Canadian perspective, as being hopeful despite the blatant despair and antagonism reserve life contains.
The Partridge Crop Reserve in Manitoba is a fictional place where the fictional characters Melvin MacKay, Sheldon Traverse, Rachel Traverse, Phyllis Bruce, Teddy Sinclair, and Robert Traverse, become muses through which Ross uses to convey poignant information about the need for social reform for social ills. The representation of the treatment of Native women throughout history has been from a one-sided view. Either they were seen as unequal or as royalty, resulting in being branded as squaws or Indian Princess by the people who adhere to the Christian point of view. Ross seems to understand this falsehood and attempts to rectify it with the creation of the characters Phyllis Bruce and Rachel Traverse. They are both reserved based Native Women, who lived a hard and fast life, but respect the church, however they are neither squaws nor Indian Princesses. Phyllis is a single-parent who was beaten by her husband but attempts to use this experience to strengthen Rachel by saying, You can hide in the roof here OK? That’s where I used to hide so I didn’t get beat up (pg.66).
There are few options for Native, uneducated, and single-parent women and Phyllis chooses to use her mind to fight the struggle which emphasizes the significant role woman as mothers and providers are forced to play. Also throughout the play Phyllis is constantly looking for a way to feed her kids while in the same thought explores how to feed a church full of people with sardines and moldy bread (pg.66). This highly illustrates that despite the obvious misfortune that Phyllis is entwined in she stills feels compelled to do her duty to her church, her friends, and herself. Phyllis is the symbol of strength for her enduring and overcoming. Rachel was created to emphasize the insurmountable difficulties that Native women face, first as being the Native woman, and second, for being unable to achieve economic or social value.
She relays this message to the reader when she states, and when I left here I realized what I wasA woman. A Native woman. With no education. No money. No future. (pg.
68) In order to gain economic value she had to prostitute herself due to the lack of adequate means to legitimate opportunities. It is a horror that is greatly misinterpreted by her fellow Natives for instance, Teddy constantly refers to her as a hooker (pg. 58) or a slut (pg.59), which only proves that the spirit of a native woman can never be broken. In her desperate attempts to gain economic freedom she was unfairly judged and subsequently lost social status. Although Rachel yearns to leave the reserve it is her deep sense of hope that the reserve will overcome the turmoil that keeps her there. Her welfare check also keeps her in a constant reality check because without it she is forced to resort to being the whore(pg.59) It is Rachel and Phyllis that truly define the meaning of hope with their conquests for self betterment.
The essence of this play is captured by its ability to add comic relief in its context through each characters unique disposition. But, it is Nigger with his abnormal actions, thoughts and appearance, which brings humor to the play the most efficiently. Our first experience with Nigger is when Animush (pg.22) attacks him leaving him with an open scar and torn jeans. The humor lies in the image of Nigger who is obviously in pain props himself against the doorframe (pg. 22) while being hit in the head with a fishhead (pg.22).
The second entourage we witness is one of a drunken Nigger with his even drunker friend Teddy. As Nigger claims to need medcin(pg.27) his friend offers a drink instead of medicine for Niggers’ toothache. Alcohol as a drink is not a form of medicine rather it is a depressant and should not be substituted for the help of a dentist. Eventually, Teddy suggests that Nigger go see a dentist and in reply Nigger adamantly states that All those guys are good for is pulling teeth. (pg.29). What Nigger makes apparent to the reader is that he clearly needs a dentist, because his tooth needs to be pulled out.
The humor escalates when Teddy tells Nigger to Use a belt or something to tie around your head. (pg. 29) claiming that that’s what you do when you get a toothache (pg.29). They are reduced to using Niggers’ dirty old sock to tie around his head. The irony of this situation is that there is no significant purpose for using a dirty sock or even a belt tied around his head to reduce Niggers toothache.
For the rest of the play Nigger wears the sock around his head and it is when Melvin declares I smell tacos (pg.38) that the comical image and smell of Nigger becomes painfully funny. There are other adventures Nigger goes through however, in the mind of this reader these adventures were the most obvious examples of Ross’ subtle sense of humor. It is obvious that Nigger is uneducated and undisciplined but he demonstrates that although society associates certain things like education, material wealth as being signs of hope for the future, it is not necessarily status that installs hope. Nigger offers a simple and lighthearted approach to life, which illustrates that hope can be found wherever you look as long as you incessantly look for it. Melvin MacKay needs to be discussed alongside Nigger, because he too adds a large amount of humor. But unlike Nigger, Melvin embarks on a mission of self-discovery and self-importance as a Bill C-31er.
He battles an addiction to gas sniffing but accepts the Church as a place of refuge, where he can get a break from this painful habit. This is apparent when he says; I come here so I won’t sniff. This is the only place I can’t sniff. I feel wrong about doing it here. (Pg.
61). Quitting this is like being a Christian to me. It’s hard. Hey you know what but? (Pg. 54) The fact that Melvin accepts salvation with the Church greatly implies that one of the many effects of Christianity has been an installed sense of hope for the future. Ian Ross’ ability to mask the serious issue of addictions among Native people by using Melvins’ benign and carefree personality is unique to Melvin only. When Melvin gets mad enough at the constant reminder that he is a Bill C-31er he rips his treaty card in half and makes a very important discovery that changes how the a …