This site is devoted to the life and writings of Emily Pauline Johnson (also known as Tekahionwake). Johnson, the daughter of a Mohawk father and an English mother, was one of Canada’s most successful entertainers at the turn of the 20th century, and the first Native poet published in Canada. This site is an excellent resource for teachers because it provides access to a variety of different types of sources and perspectives through which to examine the writings, life, and historical context of this remarkable turn-of-the-century native Canadian writer.

Johnson was raised in relative economic privilege and isolation on an Indian reservation in Ontario. She considered herself (and was considered by the Canadian government) to be “purely native.” She wanted to reshape white society’s misperceptions of contemporary indigenous culture, even though her own experience of this culture was, in fact, highly atypical. As a young woman, Johnson began writing poetry, short stories, and essays that treated the experiences and history of Canadian natives in the great lakes region and the Canadian west. She was one of the few women of her era who was able to make an independent living through writing and literary performances. Although celebrated during her life and afterwards for her writing, she was perhaps best known by contemporaries for her speaking tours. Her poetic recitations, performed in both Western and Native dress, drew enthusiastic receptions for 17 years in much of Canada, New England, and London.

This user-friendly site, accessible to secondary as well as college students, contains an 800-word biography of Johnson’s life, transcriptions of Johnson’s writings (nearly 40 poems, eight essays, and five short stories), and a brief (and somewhat outdated) bibliography. There are scanned manuscript documents, contemporary reviews of her work, and letters from fans and critics. Also included are detailed descriptions of her career, family and friends, travels, and interests. The site features a discussion of Johnson’s connections to Native Canadian culture and identity. Finally, the site offers an archive of more than 70 photographs, postcards, reproductions of brochures and programs, and two Quicktime movies showing clips of Johnson’s buckskin dress at the Vancouver Museum and a descendant reciting her most famous poem, “My Paddle Sings.” The site unfortunately lacks a search tool to help users locate particular terms or concepts.

In discussions of Atlantic history and the history of the Americas, Canada’s past is often overshadowed by more prominent discussions of the U.S. and Latin American experiences. This archive provides teachers with a provocative case study from which to examine the history of women writers, indigenous people, and racial identity in this often neglected context. Teachers might use these materials to engage students in the discussion of both mixed race identity and the historic roles women have played as mediators between indigenous and European cultures. These resources would also allow for the creation of various intriguing exercises.

Teachers could use Johnson’s writings, biography, and visual images to examine how she asserted her “dual identity” in both white and indigenous cultures, or to discuss her attempts to translate native culture for white audiences. They could also compare Johnson’s own representation (or her marketers’ representation) of Native people—in her writing, clothing, and billboard advertisements—to the kinds of perceptions white audiences articulated about her in their reviews and letters. For more detailed studies, teachers might wish to contrast both of these views with historians’ discussions of the realities of native experiences in 19th- and early 20th-century Ontario and western Canada in such works as Olive Patricia Dickason’s general history, Canada’s First Nations: A History of Founding Peoples from Earliest Times1 or Charlotte Gray’s biography, Flint and Feather: The Life and Times of E. Pauline Johnson, Tekahionwake.2

1 Olive Patricia Dickason, Canada’s First Nations: A History of Founding Peoples from Earliest Times (Don Mills: Oxford University Press, 2002).

2 Charlotte Gray, Flint and Feather: The Life and Times of E. Pauline Johnson, Tekahionwake (Toronto: Harper-Flamingo Canada, 2002).