What has Basil H. Johnston contributed to Native American literature?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Basil H. Jonhston is considered one of the "most successful and widely read" Canadian Native American writers ("Deemed 'authentic': Basil H. Johnston"). His writing career began in the 1970s, a period in Canada "now recognized as a time of Aboriginal culture renaissance" ("Deemed 'authentic'"). He was born in 1929 on the Parry Island Indian Reserve in Ontario, formally called the Wasauksing First Nation ("Basil H. Johnston"). While he did take a break from secondary school, he eventually graduated valedictorian from the Garnier Residential School for Indian Boys and then earned a Bachelor of Arts with Honors from Loyola College in Montreal. He started a teaching career and then became an ethnologist for the Ethnology Department of the Royal Ontario Museum. Ethnology is a field George P. Murdock, an American anthropologist at the University of Pittsburgh, founded in 1962 with the goal of conducting the "broadest range of general cultural and social anthropology" ("An International Journal of Cultural and Social Anthropology").

As an ethnologist through the ethnology department, Johnston was given the edict to publish many short stories, essays, articles, poems, and books with the aim to "record and celebrate His Ojibwa culture," particularly the Ojibwa language and mythology ("Basil H. Johnston"). His works especially speak of the "cultural and linguistic clash" between Native Americans and "government administrators, educators, and missionaries." His works also serve to show just how complex and diverse Native American life is and to put an end to stereotypes. Through the department, he published his first essay "Bread Before Books or Books Before Bread" in the anthology The Only Good Indian: Essays by Canadian Indians, an essay that speaks of the cultural clashes leading to the debasement of Native American culture. He further wrote the Ojibway Language Course Outline and the Ojibway Language Lexicon. He further published 15 books written in English and 5 written in Ojibwemowin aimed to "show that there is much more to North American Indian life than social organization, hunting and fishing, food preparation, clothing, dwelling and transportation," all of which is generally and briefly studied in schools. Hence, Johnston is esteemed for contributing many works to the Native American literature genre that educate about and preserve Native American culture and language, plus put an end to stereotypes.

rachellopez | Student

Basil H. Johnston was born on the Parry Island Reserves in Ontario, Canada, in 1929. He graduated from college in 1954 and his main concerns became preserving his native culture. He wrote stories of his tribe while also being funny. He was an ethnologist, nonfiction writer, essayist, short story writer, autobiographer, educator, and a member of the ethnology department at Royal Ontario Museum.