Reader accuses Margaret Atwood of cultural appropriation
Native stories need to be told by Native People [“ Mezzo finds power in flawed Pauline”, May 29–June 5].
I heard some rumblings that Margaret Atwood had been criticized for writing the aboriginal opera Pauline, based on the life of Mohawk poet Pauline Johnson. As a Native person and patron of the arts, I wanted to give Atwood the benefit of the doubt that a successful non-Native author could give justice to this historical story.
I attended the show excited to witness a celebration of life. Instead I was quickly reminded that operas generally focus on love and death, and this one was no different.
What saddened me most, though, was the condemnation of Pauline’s sister Eva who resurfaced in her life as a means of support. There were others in the poet’s life determined to exploit her—the fickle ex-fiancé, the manager to whom she promised to give all her money—but Atwood keeps the colonial standard of vilifying the Indian.
Cree author Tomson Highway, trained as a concert pianist, would have been a better choice to pen Pauline because he shares similar success in the non-Native arts world. Essentially, we need to tell our own stories because it’s not possible for Atwood to share our perspective. She still wants to blame the Indian, but we’ve outgrown that antiquated notion, and she needs to too.
> Kelly Roulette / Vancouver