Representation of the Encounter between White Settler-Invaders and Indigenous Peoples in Armstrong's History Lesson and Roughing It in the Bush

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Examine the representation of the encounter between white settler-invaders and Indigenous peoples in Jeannette Amstrong’s “History Lesson” and Roughing It in the Bush.

The Representation of the encounter between white settlers-invaders and indigenous peoples in Jeannette Armstrong’s “History Lesson” and Susanna Moodie’s Roughing it in the Bush differ greatly in a number of ways. Writing at different times, for conflicting purposes, from opposing points of view as well as utilizing different literary mediums- the resulting representation of the encounter between the white and indigenous groups are inherently contrasting. Depicted as a lesser, more savage race in Roughing it in the Bush as well as the victims of savagery and ‘civilisation’ in “History Lesson”, Native representation in the two works are particularly unalike, however settler attitudes in both are based upon discriminatory and racist ideals of the time, and this can be seen in their encounter. The role of religion also helped shape the natives’ encounter with the settlers, it is presented in a farcical way in “History Lesson” as well as in a somewhat ignorant fashion in Roughing it in the bush. Despite her at times belittling language, Moodie does express some respect and appreciation of the Natives’ characteristics, an interest that is non-existent in “History Lesson”, however despite her fair mindedness, her opinions are still tinged with racism and an overbearing white –supremacist sentiment.

Writing about her experiences in the 1830’s in Canada, Susanna Moodie’s Roughing it in the Bush is an account of life as a female settler at the time. Published as a guide to Britons considering emigrating, her writing is ethnographic, analysing various groups such as those immigrating to Canada, the settlers in Canada as well as the indigenous Natives. In the Chapter “The Wilderness & our Indian Friends”, Moodie is confronted for the first time with Native Americans, whom she describes as “a people whose beauty, talents, and good qualities have been somewhat overrated, and invested with a poetical interest which they scarcely deserve.” As her first utterance relating to the Natives, this opinion serves to be rather disparaging and surprising. As she believes they have received too much “poetical interest”, and their apparent positive qualities “overrated”. Moodie goes on to write, “Their honesty and love of truth are the finest traits in characters otherwise dark and unlovely.” Despite an attempt at complimentary writing, her Language here is highly belittling toward the Natives, and in their encounter it is clear she sees herself superior to them. Her use of “dark” refers to their mysterious personality as well potentially their complexion. The air of white settler superiority present in Roughing it in the bush is drastically magnified in Jeannette Armstrong’s poem “History Lesson”, however the Whites are portrayed as inferior in terms of actions. In contrast to Moodie, Armstrong is writing from the Native’s point of view, recounting the invasion of the white invaders following Christopher Columbus’s initial expedition to the Americas. Her writing serves as a counter-history, providing a version of events from the Natives view that have throughout history been seen as savage enemies of civilization. It is argued, “Throughout recorded time, empowered groups have been able to define history and provide an explanation of the present. A good example of this is the portrayal of wars between Indians and White by Canadian historians.” It is this notion of white dominating history that Armstrong challenges in “History Lesson”. In the first stanza, Armstrong writes;

Out of the belly of Christopher’s ship
a mob bursts
Running in all directions
Pulling furs off animals
Shooting buffalo
Shooting each other

left and right
Armstrong ironically depicts the white invaders as savages in this stanza, with little to tell between them and animals such as the...
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