By contributor Gordon Hak

Much good scholarship comes from a personal place. It is informed by emotion and experience, giving it resonance with wider audiences and providing unique insights into the world. But as well as portraying a particular reality, it can also serve as a mirror for others, forcing them to look afresh at themselves.

From the movie Behold My Wife (1920). Motion Picture News (March-June 1920).

Allyson Anderson, a faculty member in the First Nations Studies Department, is going to explore the complexities of identities and representations on Friday, November 20, in an illustrated talk entitled “Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves: The Contrapuntal Rantings of a Half-Breed Girl.” The talk is part of the Arts and Humanities Colloquium Series, and will be held in the Malaspina Theatre beginning at 10 am.

Anderson is a Métisse scholar whose roots reach back to Manitoba, the home of her ancestors, the Red River Métis. In her talk she is going to examine representations, or more appropriately, misrepresentations of the “half-breed girl,” both mixed-blood and historical Métis, in popular culture. Investigating these stereotypes will “expose some disturbing assumptions undergirding narratives of nation-building in Canada and the United States,” she says. “Reversing the imperial gaze demonstrates that representations often reveal much more about the perceiver than they do about the perceived.”

The “half-breed girl” is a stock character in the colonial imagination, though she appears far less often in pop-culture narratives than “the noble ‘Indian Princess’ and the ignominious ‘squaw,’” says Anderson. But when the character does appear, she embodies all of the social problems assumed to be the inevitable outcome of racial mixing, as well as of the modernization and urbanization of Indigenous peoples.

Historically, the social status of mixed-blood women varied around the world in the early years of colonization, depending on their role in their economies, which in turn was based on the status of women in local Indigenous societies before European occupation. In what became Canada, says Anderson, “Indigenous mixed-blood women enjoyed a degree of social status in fur trade and early colonial societies that was uncommon in colonies abroad.” What can be made of the unique position of these women at the intersection of race, class, gender, and culture? Challenging conventional readings of pop culture, Anderson argues that the image of the vilified “half-breed girl” is not grounded in historical fact, but rather “in the deeply rooted anxieties of Euro-settlers, anxieties generated by their appropriation of Indigenous lands and their protection of hierarchical privilege based on race, class, and gender.”

This talk draws on Anderson’s Ph.D. work, which she is currently undertaking at the University of Manitoba. She has previously earned degrees from Thompson River University and the University of British Columbia, and has been teaching at VIU since 1997.

The Arts and Humanities Colloquium is a successful lecture series that has been active since 2009. The goal is to expose students, the general public, and university personnel to the exciting, provocative research being done by Arts and Humanities faculty members. You can watch many of the earlier talks online at YouTube Colloquium Series Lectures—Arts and Humanities at VIU.

The free, illustrated Colloquium presentation on November 20 is open to all, and, it should be noted, students are especially welcome. There will be refreshments.

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