Reminiscent of Sherwood Anderson’s classic Winesburg, Ohio (1919), the tales in The Moccasin Telegraph, and Other Stories are narrated by Silas Ermineskin, an eighteen-year-old Cree Indian from Hobbema, Alberta, who Kinsella previously utilized as a narrator in Dance Me Outside, Scars, and Born Indian. Silas, like Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, is a born storyteller, and he uses tough and funny broken English to narrate hilarious and heartbreaking stories about life on the reservation. The characters from the Cree Nation grapple with issues concerning tradition and the modern world, and Kinsella is deeply engaged by the question of what remains of native wisdom in Canadian Indian culture.
Silas studies tractor repair at the Wetaskiwin Tech School and is also apprenticed to Mad Etta, a four-hundred-pound Medicine Lady who doles out wisdom from a tree-trunk chair. He has ties to both the contemporary Caucasian world and to the life on the reserve, a conflict which proves central to stories such as “The Ballad of the Public Trustee,” “Where the Wild Things Are,” “The Mother’s Dance,” and “The Queen’s Hat.” Silas is often at the center of the mischief that occurs in these tales, but he is seemingly more concerned with the actions of his friends, particularly Fencepost Frank, a disobedient would-be con artist, and Mad Etta. Kinsella again expertly intermingles the tragic with the comic, and these stories become more about how the Cree people survive difficult situations through humor, trickery, love, and an appreciation of native wisdom. The stories also contemplate the bigotry that many North American Indians still encounter, and this too is dealt with in an enthralling and comical way.