Discuss the representation of Native people in the play Walsh by Sharon Pollock.
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There are differing views of the Native Americans presented in Pollock's Walsh.
Most of the "Indians" are similar to those of any race: they fight to defend themselves, and they are realists that work hard to survive— even in the face of adversity.
Louis is a Metis scout, extremely knowledgeable about other tribes, and human nature. Of Walsh he says:
He care a lot and so he yell a lot, eh?
He also tells Clarence that books can be harmed by the elements and be gone ("pouf!"), but what must really be studied is what is in one's head and heart, and getting along with one another, and with the world at large. Louis is a realist as well. He knows that the Indians that live at Fort Walsh will never be able to farm, just as Walsh knows. But Walsh also believes the Indians must prepare for change. Louis responds, the stage directions note, almost gently:
Ever since he was born, he has eaten wild meat. His father and his grandfather ate wild meat. He cannot give up quickly the customs of his fathers.
Louis walks between the world of the whites and the Indians: he understands Walsh's concerns, but also knows that change takes time. We also see with the washtub incident that the ways of the white man sometimes puzzle him. If someone has a tub, why is a second one needed?
Crow Eagle cannot perceive growing his food: he takes pride in how he has always lived. When Walsh suggests that he learn to farm for the time when the buffalo disappear, Crow Eagles says:
I do not wish to be servant to a cow.
He also takes a settler's washtub. She has two, so he does not see anything wrong with this—in fact, he is puzzled. When he is told he must pay for the tub, he agrees:
I do not understand it, but I will do it. If the White Forehead Chief says it...I will do it.
Gall is a member of the Hunkpapa Lakota. He speaks candidly with Walsh:
...this trouble was not begun by us. The Longknives have come out of the night and for campfires they have lit our lodges. Our women weep and the nostrils of our babies must be pinched lest they cry out and give us away.
At the Little Big Horn, Gall says that when Custer attacked their camp, they fought only to defend themselves and their families. Now they are hunted like animals and have crossed the border into Canada.
Sitting Bull is a man of honor and wisdom, respected by his people. He responds positively to Walsh's trust in him; listening to other tribes, he discovers that Walsh is "the Indian's friend." But he is wise in recognizing that the words of governments cannot be trusted. While the U.S. President encourages the Sioux to return, Sitting Bull says that Crazy Horse believed their words—he was murdered. The Sioux chief will follow the laws of Canada, and not return southward.
White Dog is an exception—antagonistic toward Walsh, but he respects Sitting Bull. He backs down and makes peace.
In speaking of the Indians, Harry says the "friendlies" lived near forts to show their goodwill: they were killed. Custer then attacked the "hostiles," like the Sioux who rose up to defend themselves against an underserved attack by the murderous Custer—a man who ambushed Indians where they could not escape, attacked in winter when the Indians did not fight, and would descend in the early morning hours while the Indians and their families slept. Harry's report seems to infer that the Indians suffered not because they were evil, but because they were not familiar with the unethical methods of the whites.
Pollock gives a dual representation of Indigenous peoples of Canada. The representations differ depending upon whose point of view is describing or discussing the Indigenous peoples. For instance, when Harry speaks of Sitting Bull and the Sioux, they are represented as unintelligent and hostile.
HARRY: And the Injuns at the Little Big Horn weren’t friendly. They were hostile as hell. Sittin’ Bull and the Sioux had listened to the ‘merican government ... – bein’ savages they weren’t too familiar with governments and all, so it was an understandable mistake.
On the other hand when sitting Bull speaks, he represents himself and, by extension, the Sioux people as reasonable, intelligent, longsuffering and as defeated, though having acted in their own best interests.
SITTING BULL: In the beginning … was given … to everyone a cup. … A cup of clay. And from this cup we drink our life. We all dip in the water, but the cups are different … My cup is broken. It has passed away.
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