When William Patrick Kinsella began writing stories about the Ermineskin Reserve in Alberta, Canada, he knew little about Cree culture, but he did research, collected news about Native American activities, and incorporated that knowledge into later stories. He also made narrator Silas Ermineskin a little older and wiser, and leavened his poignancy with increasing humor. As a result, the fourth book of Ermineskin stories, The Moccasin Telegraph, and Other Stories, seems richer than previous volumes.
Kinsella’s characters convey various aspects of Native American identity. Playfulness is conveyed by Frank Fencepost, who loves playing tricks on gullible white men. Respect for Native American heritage is embodied in Mad Etta, the wise old medicine woman, and Delores, who learns traditional Cree dances. Close connections to the land emerge in “The Ballad of the Public Trustee,” in which Silas sadly cannot prevent government seizure of an old friend’s property, and family ties are central to “Pius Blindman Is Coming Home,” in which an old woman stays alive hoping for her wayward son’s return.
Kinsella does not romanticize or idealize Native Americans. Characters display no environmental wisdom, spiritual insights, or mystical powers. Several succumb to alcoholism, gambling, or crime, and Chief Tom is vilified as an “apple” (red on the outside, white on the inside) because he adopts western dress and acquiesces to every...
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