Paddling Her Own Canoe: The Times and Texts of E Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake)


333 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-8024-3
DDC C811'.4




Reviewed by Patricia Morley

Patricia Morley is professor emerita of English and Canadian Studies at
Concordia University and an avid outdoor recreationist. She is the
author of several books, including The Mountain Is Moving: Japanese
Women’s Lives, Kurlek and Margaret Laurence: T


Pauline Johnson’s name has entered Canadian history and consciousness
while, ironically, she has remained a shadowy figure. This important
study by two Canadian scholars fills a gap by providing a balanced and
impressive portrait of a Native woman who was not only a writer and
performer but also, as they demonstrate convincingly, “a figure of
resistance, simultaneously challenging both the racial divide between
Native and European, and the conventions that constrained her sex.”

Johnson’s dual heritage from an English mother and a Mohawk father
enabled her to blur the boundaries between the races and/or play either
role at will. Lady or savage? As Strong-Boag and Gerson put it, “By
claiming and expressing the sensibilities of both aboriginal margin and
European centre, Johnson ultimately confounds the simple dichotomies
that underpin Western consciousness.”

Five long chapters reveal a woman very conscious of her double heritage
and determined to exploit it, while at the same time seeing herself as a
New Woman, a serious poet, and “Canadian born.” Johnson celebrated
all the complexities caught and held in these words. Strong-Boag and
Gerson blame Malcolm Ross’s short anthology Poets of the Confederation
(1960) for Johnson’s erasure from Canada’s literary canon. Ross’s
anthology “reduced the complex field of early Canadian lyric poetry to
four of Johnson’s male peers.”

Paddling Her Own Canoe is a thorough and well-documented exploration of
Johnson, with a 33-page bibliography and an index. This scholarly
biography breaks new ground and weaves together neglected facts of
Canadian history.


Strong-Boag, Veronica, and Carole Gerson., “Paddling Her Own Canoe: The Times and Texts of E Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake),” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 14, 2024,