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Listening to Old Woman Speak: Natives and AlterNatives in Canadian Literature

While Canadian First Nations writers have long argued that non-Native authors should stop appropriating Native voices, many non-Native writers have held that such a request constitutes censorship. “Listening to Old Woman Speak” provides the historical context missing from this debate. Laura Groening examines issues of gender and genre, historical fiction and historical metafiction, and postcolonial theory to provide compelling evidence that it is virtually impossible to escape one’s own cultural conditioning. She concludes by “listening” to what First Nations writers have to say about cultural identity and the need to establish a healing aesthetic. rnrnGroening argues that what Frantz Fanon terms the “manichean allegory” has shaped European understanding of the New World to such an extent that the image patterns fundamental to the allegory continue to dominate depictions of Native characters. Although a world separated into two categories defined by light and dark, reason and emotion, mind and body, technology and nature, future and past is no longer also characterized as good and evil, revaluing the tropes has not made them disappear. And without their disappearance, good intentions notwithstanding, nonaboriginal Canadian writers will continue to portray Native characters as part of a dead and dying culture. Groening demonstrates that the real issue cannot be about censorship as censorship involves the abrogation of freedom, and the imagination is never truly free.

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