Pauline Johnson captured the hearts and imaginations of her audience. A talented writer, she possessed an uncanny ability to understand the needs, desires, and dreams of an unpredictable public. Early in her career, she recognized the power of combining theatre and literary endeavours to craft a vibrant and dynamic performance. Pauline developed a her stage persona by dressing in tradition First Nation garments and using her father’s artifact collection that included such items as wampum belts and spiritual masks in her presentations.
Living during the last vestiges of the Victorian Age, Pauline Johnson was not defined by gender, but by an acceptance of her humanity. While not directly involved, her activities positioned her in the forefront of the women’s suffragette movement. Despite forces for change, women had few options for self-determination in the late 1800’s. Society was doggedly rigid, accepting only those who would abide by clearly outlined rules of conduct. Choices were limited to matrimony, striving for equality, or living a life outside of conventional norms. Pauline Johnson’s unique ancestry offered a viable alternative. Two cultures, two societies and two worldviews provided the necessary foundation for moving freely within a confined social structure.
The Corn Husker
Hard by the Indian lodges, where the bush
Breaks in a clearing, through ill-fashioned fields,
She comes to labour, when the first still hush
Of autumn follows large and recent yields.
Age in her fingers, hunger in her face,
Her shoulders stooped with weight of work and years,
But rich in tawny colouring of her race,
She comes a-field to strip the purple ears.
And all her thoughts are with the days gone by,
Ere might’s injustice banished from their lands
Her people, that to-day unheeded lie,
Like the dead husks that rustle through her hands.
Emily Pauline Johnson