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Search of identity

"In Search of April Raintree" by Beatrice Culleton and "Halfbreed" by Maria Campbell - a comparison

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2011 25 Pages

American Studies - Literature

Excerpt

Content

1.Introduction

2.A little bit of History, who are the Métis?

3.Two brief summaries
3.1 “In Search of April Raintree” by Beatrice Culleton
3.2 “Halfbreed” by Maria Campbell

4.Two sisters but different developments of life, April and Cheryl Raintree
4.1 The early years
4.2 Years of unhappiness
4.3 Becoming an adult
4.4 April
4.5 Cheryl

5.Comparing the two books

6.Conclusion

7.Personal Comment

8.Bibliographies

1. Introduction

In this paper I will discuss the facts about finding the own identity as a mixed race woman in Canada through out two books:

- Halfbreed by Maria Campbell
- In Search of April Raintree by Beatrice Culleton

Maria Campbell’s Halfbreed is the story of her own life and with it the book can be seen as a biography, whereas In Search of April Raintree by Beatrice Culleton is a novel about mixed blood sisters living in Winnipeg.

This essay will compare and contrast these two books as illustrations of life as a “half-breed” in western Canada. Most importantly, attention will be directed to their conclusions in finding the own identity. While reading this essay, you will notice that I have put my main focus on the book by Beatrice Culleton. For many Canadians the distinction is taken to be white or black, between ‘Status Indians’ legally recognized as native and the remainder of the population. Indians carry a status card and are entitled to exemption from sales tax, special education funding, a vote in band council elections and other legal rights that differentiate them from other Canadians. There are a lot of individuals who do not fall into either of theses categories, while the legal divisions between these two groups are clear. As a group the Métis are neither Europeans nor Natives, but in their bloodlines they contain the blood, of both of these two ethnic groups. Similar, with fur traders working throughout the Canadian wilderness for centuries, there are many people who share European and Native ancestry.

Both books end with a form of “healing”, finding their own identity, for the main characters, April and Maria. The roots and origins of these characters developments will be examined. [1]

2. A little bit of History, who are the Métis?

They one and all look upon themselves as members of an independent tribe of natives entitled to a property in the soil, a flag of their own and to protection from the British government ” William Mcgillivray, Nor’ West Company Head, 1818[2]

The Métis are Canadian people of mixed blood, Indian and white. Their “mothers” were natives and their “fathers” were the traders and explorers who came far from France and Britain on their ships, this is now three centuries ago. The Métis have been often misunderstood, had to suffer with racism or have been ignored, although they played an important role in Canadian history. In the sixteenth century, trading companies had been formed and well dressed men went on an adventure to discover the new world. Far away from the country they came from the white traders and discoverers needed the Indians to survive. They exchanged goods with them and so some of the whites became friendly with them. Partly to help business, some of the foreign men took an Indian wife; the achievement was that an Indian wife was able to interpret for her husband. As well, white men who married the daughter of an Indian would have the business of the chief’s people and probably that of the neighbouring bands too. The children of a European man and an Indian woman were able to speak both of the languages. As soon as the boys were old enough some of them worked like their father for the companies. With it a new native work force of labourers, traders, canoe men and fur packers developed. Some of the Métis children were sent to France, Britain or Quebec to be educated, when they came back home, they often were hired as clerks by the fur companies. Some of the girls married their father’s fur-trade colleagues; most early western Métis lived the lifestyle of their Native mothers. Not only the fur trade grew and expanded, also the Métis did. From now on the Métis started to call themselves, “The new Nation”.

The Indians decreased, being killed in rebellions and wars, or they died as the result of European diseases. The Métis communities instead grew, they had not been affected so badly by the diseases, probably because they had a better access to the white men’s medicine and it also might be that their “mixed blood” provided some immunity.[3]

3. Two brief summaries

3.1 “In Search of April Raintree” by Beatrice Culleton

April Raintree, a twenty-four-year old Métis woman, tells the story of her and her younger sister Cheryl’s lives: As small children, April and Cheryl are taken away from their parents and are put into different foster families, where they make different experiences. While Cheryl is encouraged to be proud of her Native ancestry and develops a strong and confident identity, April suffers abuse and discrimination against her Métis identity, which leads her to feel a deep shame of belonging to the Métis people and the wish to lead a ‘white’ life. As a grown-up, April tries her best to succeed in white society and believes to have reached this goal when she marries the white lawyer Bob Radcliff. But her marriage fails due to the discriminating behaviour of her mother-in-law and due to the affair of her husband to another woman, and April must confess to herself that she does not fit into this white society either.

Meanwhile, Cheryl manages to find her father, and thus discovers the truth: Not only were April and Cheryl’s parents unable to take care for their children due to their addiction to alcohol, but their mother also committed suicide because she did not see another way out of depression and shame. These news destroy Cheryl’s self-identity and function as a trigger of her fateful development: The feelings of disappointment and shame lead Cheryl into a live of alcoholism and prostitution, which in turn results in the rape of April by three men who mistake her for Cheryl. Only when April learns that she was mistaken for Cheryl she recovers from that trauma. But Cheryl is not able to overcome her shame and victimization and finally regards suicide to be her last resort. Only after Cheryl’s death April learns about everything Cheryl had suffered from and also learns about Cheryl’s son. April decides to take care for Cheryl’s son and is finally able to accept her Native ancestry and to develop a proud and self-confident Métis identity.[4]

3.2 “Halfbreed” by Maria Campbell

Maria Campbell was born in April 1940 and the story covers the 1950s and the first half of the 1960s, the period when she was in her twenties and her thirties. Her autobiography was published in 1973 within she displays her struggle being a Métis women in Canada. Even though her early childhood was fortunate because of her parents, her siblings and her great grandmother Cheechum, she has to face discrimination, poor living conditions, discrimination and abusive behavior at an early stage of her life. Maria looses her mother already with the age of twelve, the death of her mother can be seen as a turning point in her life. To take care of her younger siblings and the household, Maria has to leave school. With these responsibilities, she grows up faster to an adult. Only three years later, she is just fifteen, she decides to marry a white man, Darrel. With Darrel, Maria has now her own little family and her first daughter Lisa. Unfortunately, Darrel abuses Maria during their marriage. Moving to Vancouver, being abandoned by her husband; Maria escapes into a disaster, she lives in a world full of alcohol, drugs and prostitution. Maria manages to get away from her self-destructive lifestyle, after her second attempt. She gives birth to her second daughter, Laurie in 1960 and moves to Calgary. Here she meets David, the father of her two sons Lee and Robbie. Already at this early stage of life, Maria tried to committed suicide twice, which leads her to a breakdown. After three month in the hospital, and joining the Anonymous Alcoholics, she is able to start a new life. After these horrible years she reconnects with Cheechum, the most important person in her life, her great grandmother, while she traveled back to her childhood home. Here Campbell becomes involved with the Native Movement. When Cheechum dies, Maria finally accepts herself the way she is, a Métis women.[5]

4. Two sisters but different developments of life, April and Cheryl Raintree

The characters of April and Cheryl are born of parents who were mixed bloods. The two sisters do not look alike at all, at the one hand there is a fair skinned April, taking after her mother’s Ojibwas and Irish background, heritage and bloodline. At the other hand there is Cheryl with a dark skin, she admires her father “mixed blood, a piece of this and a piece of that, and much of Indian”.

Not only their look is different, also the question what is meant by being a Métis differs.

For April being a Métis means:

- the native girl syndrome
- alcoholism, with it being drunk most of the time
- prostitution
- social outcast
- growing up with a bunch of lies
- being faced with racism to her and her family
- shame to be a Métis

[“Being a half-breed meant being poor and dirty. It meant being weak and having to drink. It meant living off white people. It meant being ugly and stupid. And giving your children to white people to look after. It meant having to take all the crap white people gave. Well, I wasn’t going to live like a half breed. When I got free of this place, when I got free from being a foster child, then I would live just like a real white person”][6]

Cheryl has a totally different opinion about being born as a mixed blood, for her it means:

- being pride of her family
- keeping up traditions
- “belonging”
- being glorious about her past
- honesty and authenticity

[...]


[1] Art by Leah Dorion: Seven Generations, 2007. This painting shares the First Nation concept of the seventh generation principle which encourages us to make decisions that consider the effects upon seven generations. This principle causes one to deeply consider the consequence of our actions for the future generations. In today’s world this type of thinking is necessary if we are to pass on a healthy and sustainable earth system to our grandchildren.

[2] Gordon Ternier, Irene: A People on the move the Métis of the Western Plains. P. 9

[3] Campbell, Maria: Riel’s people (How they lived in Canada).

[4] Culleton, Beatrice: In Search of April Raintree.

[5] Campbell, Maria: Halfbreed (1973, 1983).

[6] Culleton, Beatrice: In Search of April Raintree. P. 49

Details

Pages
25
Year
2011
ISBN (eBook)
9783640932948
ISBN (Book)
9783640933051
File size
1 MB
Language
English
Catalog Number
v173165
Institution / College
Ernst Moritz Arndt University of Greifswald
Grade
Tags
search april raintree beatrice culleton halfbreed maria campbell

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Title: Search of identity