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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 4 page 06


Finally, the Mohawk princess brought the evening to a climax with — and perhaps you were not anticipating this — a ringing “patriotic” segment that demolished the boundary between verse and jingoist bombast.

One of Tekahionwake's sure-fire pieces was “Riders of the Plains,” composed in 1898-99, a tribute to the Northwest Mounted Police that, incidentally, side-stepped any previous concerns she had expressed about the suppression of the Plains Indians in the 1885 Northwest Rebellion. Tekahionwake composed “Riders of the Plains” because certain Americans had in her presence scoffed at the Mounties as a serious fighting force. She took that as a slur against Canada, which was her territory, therefore she had to counter-attack. The Mounties, “have laughed in the face of bullets” according to Tekahionwake, and any such cur as dares bad-mouth them will soon be brought to heel:

He shall honour them east and westward, he shall honour them south and north,
He shall bare his head to that coat of red wherever that red rides forth.

Another blowhard poem was “Canadian Born” where the refrain goes like this:

For not a man dare lift his hand against the men who brag
That they were born in Canada beneath the British flag.

That's nothing. Savor this snippet from “His Majesty the King,” which Tekahionwake composed to honor King Edward VII, the British Empire’s new headman as of 1901:

And we of the North, East, South, and Westland, we’ll battle, we’ll dare, we’ll do;
We will die for the King of England when the Empire wants us to.

Tekahionwake was able to purvey this kind of guff because fervor for the imperial project ran high in English Canada. She herself had a strong Loyalist background, for the Mohawk had sided with the British in the U.S. War of Independence, which was why they ended up in Canada after the war. Most important of all, standing there on stage with her corseted hourglass figure wrapped in that brocaded evening gown she looked the epitome of radiant British womanhood.

(Did I mention that during intermission Tekahionwake ditched the Indian get-up and squeezed into a made-in-London ball gown? Well, she did.)

The “savagery” in her show was hardly restricted to the “Indian poems”. Tekahionwake's biographers who naturally enough like to dwell on her halo categories — Tekahionwake the Native Writer, Tekahionwake the Female Careerist — tend not to give the category of Tekahionwake the Imperial Shill the weight it deserves. Tekahionwake pandered to that same dumb-ass bellicosity that was afoot in many so-called civilized lands at the dawn of the twentieth century with the consequences we know well. Well, OK, let’s not blame World War One on Tekahionwake. The point is, there was an underlying martial spirit that bound the two wings of Tekahionwake's split stage personality together. The Indian poems that roused her audience at the start prepared the way for the jingoistic poems that sent the audience home re-energized and reassured at the end. The wretched Huron were perhaps the stock villains in an eternal drama of honor and revenge, but they were also stand-ins for any of the Empire's unregenerate enemies such as the Boer farmers of South Africa who at this time were causing no end of trouble.