“Vitality . . . Waiting in the Wilderness”: The Construction of the Environmental Native in Christie Harris’s Art and Archive
AbstractIn lieu of an abstract, here is an excerpt from this article: Of the documents in the Christie Harris archive—an extensive collection of manuscripts, letters, diaries, and other documents housed in the University of Calgary Special Collections—one of the most striking is a caricature of Harris as Mouse Woman. This drawing, a kind-of tribute by Douglas Tait, the non-Native illustrator of many of her books, seems both appropriate and problematic. Harris has often been identified with her most famous character: in an essay in Raincoast Books’ recent reissue of Mouse Woman and the Vanished Princesses, Harris’s daughter Moira Johnston Black suggests that Harris might be Mouse Woman’s reincarnation (13). Harris herself strongly identified with the subjects of her stories, even contemplating in her 1994 essay, “Caught in the Current,” whether she could have been born a Native boy in a previous life (11). Because Christie Harris is without Aboriginal blood or background, however, her identification with Mouse Woman and her use of Native legends and myths are problematic. An exploration of Harris’s published and unpublished writings reveals that her Haida, Tsimshian, and Tlingit characters are more reflective of her life in twentieth-century Canada than of an insider’s depiction of Native culture. Harris’s retellings of Native stories represent her efforts to reclaim an environmental sensibility she feels is lacking in North America, and to instill more positive values in Canadian children.