Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Charm Offensive: Epideixis and a Microhistorical Reading of the Indian

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Charm Offensive: Epideixis and a Microhistorical Reading of the Indian

Article excerpt

This essay examines epideictic rhetoric in The Indian (1885-86), an Ontario newspaper edited by Dr. Peter Edmund Jones (Ojibwa). A microhistorical reading demonstrates that the paper's epideixis aims to neutralize its Euro-settler readership's potential hostility towards First Nations peoples by appearing to endorse vanishing race and other colonialist stereotypes of them.

In her extensive study "Shooting the Messenger: Historical Impediments to the Mediation of Modern Aboriginality in Ontario," Kathleen Buddle traces the history of First Nations-controlled media in the province over the past two hundred years to demonstrate that, since the early nineteenth century, the province's First Nations have developed and adapted technologies of mass communication to serve "the contemporary communication requirements of their communities" (98). Briefly mentioned in Buddle's discussion is The Indian, "the first Native controlled newspaper in Canada" (111), published between 1885 and 1886 from Hagersville, near the Mississauga of the New Credit and the Six Nations reserves on the Grand River in Southern Ontario. Buddle points out that as a vehicle for "public exchanges of written information" among First Nations readers, the newspaper "aimed to arm the [First Nations] community with the information they required to successfully resist government attempts to break up the reserves" (112). Over the twelve months of its publication, The Indian drew attention to urgent political and legal matters affecting First Nations people in North America. Yet, to contemporary readers, The Indian's repeated inclusion and apparent acceptance of the most cliched colonial stereotypes of First Nations may undermine the notion that the paper served resistance purposes, as may its editor's unshakeable belief that Ontario reserves should replace the councils of hereditary chiefs with the settler model of elected municipal governments, a proposed change viewed by some in Ontario's First Nations communities as assimilationist and therefore part of the "government attempt to break up the reserves" (Buddle 112). How can the frequent appearance of First Nations stereotypes and the advocacy of Euro-settler systems of governance in The Indian be understood as resistance?

One answer involves reading The Indian as rhetoric in relation to the Euro- settler audience that it courted in addition to its First Nations one. In this essay, I will argue that The Indian featured familiar Euro-settler stereotypes of the Anishnabe--as subordinate, as vanishing, as requiring a colonial education--in order to appeal to a Euro-settler readership. The paper's deployment of these stereotypes and its often flattering treatment of colonial governing systems belong to an epideictic (or "ceremonial") rhetoric that appears at first to endorse common Euro-settler assumptions about the First Nations in order to then attack those assumptions in later issues. Made possible by editor Dr. Peter Edmund Jones's active solicitation, selection, and arrangement of the materials for his newspaper, as well as his many editorial contributions to it, this rhetoric allows The Indian strategically to camouflage its more critical review of First Peoples' place in late nineteenth-century neo-colonial North America. The disarming tactics of this epideixis precipitate The Indian's challenge to these peoples' marginalized position in relation to the Canadian state, and in particular to the fact that they have many of the responsibilities of national citizenship without its rights.

Making this case through a document as varied in its contents as a newspaper calls for an elaboration of and rationale for the methodology that justifies doing so, particularly since much work on early First Nations newspapers (Buddle; Coward, Newspaper, Murphy and Murphy) presents a broad overview of the genre without resorting to the kind of close reading that I will undertake here. The Indian consists of a diverse array of news articles, editorials, literary pieces, missionary memoirs, and regular columns. …

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