Native Literature in Canada: From the Oral Tradition to the Present


213 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-19-540796-2
DDC C810.9'897




Reviewed by Beverly Rasporich

Beverly Rasporich is an associate professor in the Faculty of General
Studies, University of Calgary, and the author of Dance of the Sexes:
Art and Gender in the Fiction of Alice Munro.


The postmodern context for scholarship in Canada is allowing the
established literary canon to be reshaped. In particular, the writing of
minority groups is moving from the periphery to the centre. Petrone’s
valuable historical study of Indian and Métis literature in Canada is a
major step forward in establishing and bringing to the attention of
scholars and teachers the literary traditions of the Native peoples.

This is a wonderfully comprehensive text, beginning with the ancient
oral traditions and narratives and concluding with the period between
1980 and 1989, which surpassed even the 1970s in the creative
outpourings of such literary talents as Tomson Highway, Lee Maracle,
Daniel David Moses, and Lenore Keeshig-Tobias.

Petrone well understands that European esthetic standards have been
missapplied to oral and literary expressions of Native culture. She
attempts to redress this failing by placing Native literature within a
revisionary historical and cultural context, and by exploring European
ethnocentric prejudices and approaches. This text will become a classic,
one that will provide an intelligent foundation for future study. As
Petrone explains, “what are needed today are gifted and trained
scholar/poet/translators who are not only completely bilingual in
English and an Indian language but are also familiar with specific
cultural contexts for the retranslation of texts from the Jesuit
Relations to the present and for the translation of a large body of
manuscript texts that lie buried in repositories.”

If this study is not the last word on Native literatures, particularly
in regard to esthetic valuing, neither is it a dry academic treatise. It
is very readable, with a great many excerpts from Native oral and
written works, and some interesting photographs of Native authors such
as Peter Jones, George Copway, Pauline Johnson, Maria Campbell, and Ruby
Slipperjack. Contemporary poetry is especially well represented with
examples from such notable poets as Duke Redbird, Beth Cuthand, Rita
Joe, and Jennette Armstrong.

Petrone has done a great service to the Native peoples and the artists
whose sensibilities are shaped by Native culture and of their minority
experiences. By surveying three centuries and examining a variety of
genres (orations, sermons, petitions, letters, journals,
autobiographies, travel and journalistic writing, short stories, novels,
poetry, drama, traditional tales, and essays), she has established the
existence of a major literary current in the Canadian mainstream of
Native literature.


Petrone, Penny., “Native Literature in Canada: From the Oral Tradition to the Present,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 24, 2024,