Document Type

Book Chapter


In her biography of the Canadian poet Pauline Johnson-Tekahionwake; Betty Keller reports an incident that occurred in July 1894 on the trip home from London to Canada successful trip by all accounts, during which Johnson-Tekahionwake had not only been feted as the new darling of the London salon circuit, but had negotiated the English publication of her first volume of poetry with Bodley Head. Keller writes: On her trip home, nursing her sore throat and feeling quite unwell, she found herself unable to avoid a large, talkative American woman. The lady was extremely upset about many of the customs she had found in England. 'Why', she said, 'when I asked for ice water, they looked at me as if I were a North American savage!' 'Do you know', said Pauline quietly, 'that's just the way they looked at me.' 'Oh', said the woman, not at all abashed, 'was your father a real wild red Indian?' 'Yes', Pauline answered. 'Why, excuse me', said the woman. 'You don't look a bit like that!' 'Oh?' replied Pauline. 'Was your father a real white man?' 'Why, sure', said the puzzled lady. 'Excuse me, but I'm equally surprised', said Pauline and sought refuge in her cabin. This encounter had been all she had needed to remind her that she was headed home. This exchange reveals Johnson-Tekahionwake as more than equal to her opponent - neither victim nor vanquished - and yet nevertheless constrained by and within the bounds of cultural expectation. She interprets and speaks with acumen, but that speech is met with puzzlement: she is not (and possibly cannot be) understood, at least within this historical moment. This chapter offers a brief analysis of cultural exchange 'at cross purposes' as figured in the construction, performance and representation of Johnson-Tekahionwake as 'The Mohawk Princess'.