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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 4 page 08


But Tekahionwake did not die. Three days after Christmas, the fever eased. Five weeks later, she was back at work (in London, Ontario). She could not afford to be sick for longer than that. The only thing was, she had to wear a ton of make-up now to hide the lingering marks on her face, and a wig to conceal the baldness.

Even if her biographers do not note the irony of Tekahionwake losing her hair in Huron ghost territory, the coincidence could hardly have failed to register with the Mohawk poetess herself. Still, there is no obligation to claim that she drew any moral from this incident or that it amounted to a turning point of any kind. More likely she took it as part of the ebb and flow in the fortunes of war. That’s how life goes in pride-and-vengeance cultures: one side wins, then the other.

The hair grew back eventually, the face healed. Life continued pretty much as before, except that Tekahionwake spent more time out West now, and Ontario faded from the picture. There was a financial rationale, for the frontier towns of Alberta and British Columbia provided the fresh, appreciative audiences that helped prolong her career a few more years. She retired from the stage in 1909, hoping to survive as a magazine writer. She took up permanent residence in Vancouver, which was also where, a few years later, she chose to be buried. If anything, her interest in the Native patrimony grew stronger. One of her last works, Legends of Vancouver, was a collection of the myths of the West Coast Squamish tribe more or less as related to her by her newfound friend Chief Joe Capilano.

She had some edifying days paddling in Lost Lagoon, and some difficult days in medical offices as she confronted the onslaught of a new and implacable enemy: she held out until March 7, 1913 when, three days shy of her fifty-second birthday, she died from breast cancer. Beside her bed was found a draft of a poem she had been working on entitled “And He Said, Fight On.” Here are a couple lines:

But though I fight alone, and fall, and die,
Talk terms of Peace? Not I.

That verse relates to Tekahionwake's specific battle against disease, to be sure, but also exemplifies the fighting spirit that from the very start had been, for better or worse, fundamental to her character.