The Fencepost Chronicles Essay - Critical Essays

W. P. Kinsella

The Fencepost Chronicles

In an earlier but similar work, DANCE ME OUTSIDE, W.P. Kinsella wrote about Indian life on the Ermineskin Reservation and tried to “inject a little humor and humanity into situations that at first glance appear to be lacking in both.” His latest collection of thirteen stories, THE FENCEPOST CHRONICLES, is an extended and even more hilarious working out of this vision.

Silas Ermineskin’s wry narrative appropriately begins in “Truth,” a story documenting his and Frank Fencepost’s experience in managing the Hobema Wagon Burners hockey team. The reader learns the “truth” about who is really to blame for starting the riot in Saint Edouard’s Hockey Arena when the Saint Edouard’s team, the Bashers, play against the Wagon Burners and become upset when Silas and Frank, to reverse a losing streak, use their friend, massive Mad Etta, as a goalie.

Silas and Frank do not confine their adventures to hockey, nor to the reservation and the nearest town. In “Beef,” they become instant businessmen and cattle ranchers when Frank decides to write to the Ottawa government to take advantage of their recent attempt to redress past wrongs against the Native Americans by offering four hundred head of cattle per person in the tribe. Frank is the only one to apply, so when the cattle arrive, all on the same day, Silas dryly observes that “It seem some clerk in the Government in Ottawa add an extra zero to our order. And there is 4000 cattle arriving instead of 400.” Nature must take its course in this unexpected boon, and the problem solves itself, according to Silas, “sort of like a flood water recede slow until you never know the water been high at all,” even though the effects linger.

THE FENCEPOST CHRONICLES is genuinely humorous and this is what humanizes and balances the entire collection of stories. In the true trickster mode, Silas Ermineskin and Frank Fencepost (with occasional help from their friend the medicine woman, Mad Etta) negotiate the interconnected worlds of the reservation and of white culture. Silas’ sage narrative about being drawn into Frank’s imaginative dealings with both worlds makes for a refreshing, witty look at contemporary Native American life.