Death by Landscape

by Margaret Atwood
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In "Death by Landscape" by Margret Atwood, is Cappie truly Aboriginal, or is she only pretending to be?

In "Death by Landscape" by Margret Atwood, Cappie pretends to be an Aboriginal or Indigenous leader before the campers depart on a canoe trip. She is engaging in a performance as “Chief Cappeosora.” Through the adult Lois’s recollection and assessment, Atwood clarifies that Cappie is not Aboriginal. Lois refers to the behavior of Cappie and “other people taking their [Native people’s] names and dressing up as them.” She calls this “stealing.”

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In Margret Atwood’s story "Death by Landscape ," Cappie is the camp director. Her late parents founded Camp Manitou in the early 1900s, and Cappie has kept it going. Lois recalls her as a person who anxiously desires that everything turn out well but who is also enthusiastic when...

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In Margret Atwood’s story "Death by Landscape," Cappie is the camp director. Her late parents founded Camp Manitou in the early 1900s, and Cappie has kept it going. Lois recalls her as a person who anxiously desires that everything turn out well but who is also enthusiastic when leading group activities. She is physically described as having a “plain face,” “fawn colored hair” and “overwashed skin.” Atwood does not specifically state what Cappie’s race or ethnicity is, but she makes it clear that she is not Aboriginal or Indigenous.

Lois vividly recalls Cappie’s use of multiple stereotypes about Aboriginal people’s appearance and manner of speaking. Cappie makes a ritual of sending off the campers on their canoe trip. This ritual involves her playing the character of “Chief Cappeosora,” which includes face painting with lipstick and ink, donning a headdress made of a bandanna and “frazzle-ended feathers,” and wearing a commercially produced blanket over her shoulders. She also pretends that the girls are boys and calls them “braves.” When she gestures with an upturned hand, the campers are supposed to say “How!”

As an adult, Lois thinks back on this performance as “a form of stealing.” She reflects on what she has since learned, such as not to use the label “Indian.” She believes that using imitation names and dress would cause more worries to Native peoples.

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