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 was A 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 audience now views him beyond the obvious Indian image. “I figured out I’m an Indian from these two parts of my Treaty card. See. My face is on one half and my number is on the other half. That picture is what people see. The number is what the government sees. And the card’s like me. In two parts. Part White. Part Indian. And you put them together. And you get an Indian. Me. But not cuz’ the government says so. I had to get mad to find that out. That’s good eh?” (pg.54). This quotation reveals to the audience that Melvin has gained pride and acceptance of the given position in life he was granted. In the eyes of many people he appears as a “white” person, but finally understands that the way the world sees you is directly influenced by how you see, treat, and act towards yourself. Melvins new-founded self respect is the key to change and invokes an understanding for the other Native people who can’t get out of their own self-imprisonment.
Teddy Sinclair is an interesting character as well, and if analyzed could create a myriad of levels of discussions. However, in relation to the purpose of this paper needs to be examined for his ability to convey an important message about the need for self-reliance within the paradigm of self-government. When the reserve fails to supply an adequate means of support via welfare checks, Teddy takes it upon himself to establish a new system. As elected “for thief. I mean chief” (pg.50) by Nigger, Teddy desperately attempts to form an alliance against the ” whiteman’s bullshit” (pg.62). What Ian Ross is attempting to teach the audience through Teddy is that, even though there are many ideas towards corrective measures in regards to Native politics, it is not necessarily appropriate to use these measures hastily. Teddy’s many good intentions are similar to all the intentions of all the “white” historians who fail to accept the native reality. By establishing this new support system, Teddy denies the others the ability to create their own self-dependency. Strengthening the thought that Native programs, which are created in haste, are far to often gratifying for the establishers and not the participants, which is apparent in the Freudian slip made by Nigger. Characterizing Robert Traverse as levelheaded, educated and wealthy in reserve standards, makes him the single most important symbol of hope for the Partridge Crop Reserve. Nigger recognizes these things as important for a chief to have, ” You got money. You dress nice. You’ve got a satellite. You’re the only one around here with a job. We need a guy like you in the band office.” (Pg. 24) Robert however, feels that the position of chief is more complex than simply owning material possessions. ” It’s been in receivership. That’s like being bankrupt.” (Pg. 24) and that the reserve needs more than sensitivity to traditions to overcome its obstacles. It is obvious that Robert is tired of having his things stolen, laziness and the dependency the others have on welfare checks, “”What’s with you fuckin’ Indians huhn? Get a job. Get off of Welfare. Stop taking my things.” (Pg. 83) Although these things that Robert is upset about are made to be important to the story only, the audience doesn’t have to fully analyze or even understand Native culture to realize what Ross was intending to show through Robert. Everyone has a sense of obligation to the things that made us who we are, some of us however, feel more obligated to these things, and thereby creating situations that a person normally would not normally feel pressured into experiencing or even accepting. If Robert were to give up and walk away from all the madness then there would be no balance between the binary forces of right and wrong. It is also through Robert that the reader is brought into the realities of all politics, not just in Partridge Crop Reserve politics exclusively. On the one hand we have the character Teddy who na vely underestimates the responsibilities of elections and the position of chief. And on the other hand we have the character Robert who is responsible and understands that being chief is more than just a name. However, the reality amongst these characters that the reader can easily identify with is the lack of organization and agreement between the two leaders. After Nigger has been presumed killed Robert says accusingly, ” If you hadn’t played your stupid politics none of this would have happened. Self-government. You’ve gotten someone killed now. This is why Self-government will never work. Because there’ll always be people like you. (Pg. 85) Teddy feeling insecure and defenseless states, ” And people like you Robert. Telling us to stay the same.” (Pg.85), this is typical in any form of argument beyond the scope of politics, it can occur over insignificant details, or it can occur over matters of huge importance. Usually it involves name-calling and Teddy and Robert are not excluded from this area, words like “irresponsible”, “chickens-shit”, “selfish”, “Heathen” and finally “Christian” (Pg. 85), were relayed between these two characters within the same paragraph. Even after all the lost hope and despair that Robert feel he knows that he is greatly indebted to his culture and must use his skills and gifts to help the other people on the reserve attain a way of life without dependency.” fenced in and forced to give up everything that had meaning to our life But under the long snows of despair the little spark of our ancient beliefs and pride kept glowing, just barely sometimes, waiting for a warm wind to blow that spark into a flame again.” (Acoose, Pg. 55) For centuries Aboriginal peoples have been perpetually imprisoned within physical and stereotypical surroundings by years of historical injustices. With little hope and much despair they have fought desperately to regain their faith and strength in the traditions of the past. This “little spark of ancient beliefs and pride” wavers between conformity and traditions until it no longer is apparent what the struggle is for. In order to foster strength and pride in the Native culture it must be accepted for all its facets unconditionally. Ross grew up on a reserve and it is with this knowledge that he can accurately illustrate the reality of reserve life. It is authors like Ross, who by his failing to conform to the Euro-Canadian perception of the Native Experience fosters pride and strength to the native communities at large. Ross makes a positive contribution to the literary world by writing and articulating the Native reality. Ross and all respectful writers, who acknowledge it as such, are the “warm wind” by which sparks ignite. Every community of all backgrounds needs to educate and strengthen the next generation about and for the continuance of cultural identities. Sadly, it is too often unfairly thought that the suffering of Natives of their physical, spiritual, sexual, and physiological abuses, are not parts of the Native cultural identity and experience. Bibliography1. Iskewak Kah’Ki Yaw Ni Wahkomakanak, Janice Acoose, 1995, Womens Press, 2. fareWel, Ian Ross, 1996, first published 1997 by Scirocco Drama, An imprint of J. Gordon Shillingford Publishing. Inc