Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Native Studies

The Aboriginal Intellectual in Jeannette Armstrong's Whispering in Shadows: Between Indigenous Localism and Globalization

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Native Studies

The Aboriginal Intellectual in Jeannette Armstrong's Whispering in Shadows: Between Indigenous Localism and Globalization

Article excerpt

Abstract / Résumé

The narrative arch of Jeannette Armstrong's latest novel Whispering in Shadows (2000) follows the life journey of Penny Jackson, an Okanagan painter, poet, activist and single mother of three. This paper considers the predicament that Penny faces as an Indigenous intellectual. More specifically it examines Penny's commitment to fighting globalization through her art and activist work as a call for a return to Aboriginal localism and as a model for recovering and maintaining the particularities of Indigenous difference in a global era.

L'arc narratif du dernier roman de Jeannette Armstrong, Whispering in Shadows (2000), présente le cheminement de la vie de Penny Jackson, peintre, poète, militante et mère chef de famille de trois enfants de la région de l'Okanagan. L'article examine la situation difficile de Penny à titre d'intellectuelle autochtone. Plus particulièrement, il examine l'engagement de Penny qui lutte contre la mondialisation avec son art et son militantisme en lançant un appel en faveur d'un retour à un localisme autochtone et en proposant un modèle de récupération et de maintien des particularités autochtones dans une ère de mondialisation.

Globalization and conceptions of new world order represent different sorts of challenges for Indigenous peoples. While being on the margins of the world has dire consequences, being incorporated within the world's marketplace has different implications and in turn requires the mounting of new forms of resistance.

- Linda Tuhiwai Smith Decolonizing Methodologies

Methodologies

Jeannette Armstrong's Whispering in Shadows, published in 2001, mounts a new form of resistance against the incorporation of Indigenous peoples into the world's marketplace by tracking specific and localized effects of globalization on Indigenous communities. The narrative arch follows the life journey of Penny Jackson, an Okanagan painter, poet, activist and single mother of three attempting to find her way out of "this huge darkness...looming world-wide and consuming everything good" (188). Through her national and international travel, Penny experiences the continuing "legacy of racial genocide" (Ryga 9) in a global age, but her actions also call to mind, as Thomas King puts it, "how traditional wisdom and customs can suggest ways to conduct oneself in the present" (111). Penny's life and work, especially her art and activism, much like Armstrong's own activist work and political leanings, articulate the particularities of what it means to exist as an Aboriginal woman in a global age. This paper considers the predicament of the Indigenous intellectual. More specifically it examines Penny's commitment to fighting globalization through her art and activist work as a call for a return to Aboriginal localism and as a model for recovering and maintaining the particularities of Indigenous difference in a global era.

In many ways, Whispering in Shadows continues the project of Armstrong's first novel Slash (1985). Like Slash, Whispering in Shadows represents another stage in the evolution of Native literature as written art form. In its address of national and international Indigenous oppression within our current phase of globalization, this text continues the process of decolonization. It is Native literature from beginning to end in that it focuses on the plight of Native peoples, but because it flirts with genre and resists easy assimilation, it does not fit into any existing mould of Native literature. Polyphonic in nature, it is both portrait of the activist and portrait of the artist, fiction and non-fiction.

To appreciate the complexity of Penny's strategies, it is important to contextualize localism and globalization. Locating globalization within a larger history, Stuart Hall explains that the newer and more insidious1 forms of globalization are based in global mass culture. Global mass culture remains centered in the West and relies on a particular form of homogenization. …

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