ReReading Catharine Parr Traill: Stranging the Familiar is a decolonizing memoir and a Truth and Reconciliation project, building on the life jolt Dorothy experienced on re-reading CPT’s 1852 children’s story Canadian Crusoes: A Tale of the Rice Lake Plains during the pandemic lockdown. Sixty-five years after last hearing her father read it aloud over several successive Sundays, Dorothy owns the “truth” of her unaware complicity in Canada’s colonization project. She exposes the colonizer messages in Canadian Crusoes—messages that support white supremacy and the Doctrine of Discovery, which must have been “read” into her very cells as a child. Dorothy faces up to the contradictions that her revered “floral godmother” represents. Without missing a beat, CPT moves from racialized stereotypes of Indigenous Peoples as stupid, uneducable, dirty, bloodthirsty, and uninventive to her positive portrayals of the Mohawk maid Indiana whose Indigenous knowledge carries the three Settler Canadian Crusoes through three winters on the Rice Lake Plains.
Author and Nature artist Dorothy Lander grew up on the Rice Lake Plains in the 1950s and early 1960s, beginning a lifelong practice of collecting and preserving plant specimens and learning their names, as had pioneer, botanist, and literary powerhouse Catharine Parr Traill (CPT) a century earlier. The land where the Traill family lived in the octagonal Tower (the provenance of Tower Farm, later Tower Manor) and attended Anglican worship services at the Valley of the Big Stone has been part of the Lander family lineage since 1874. The outdoor worship services in 1846 preceded the first service in the wooden chapel of St. George’s in Gore’s Landing, which the Traill family attended in January 1847. The publishers (HARP Publishing The People’s Press) chose St. George’s Chapel to release the book ReReading Catharine Parr Traill to acknowledge this history—and on National Truth and Reconciliation Day (Sept. 30), as an opportunity to strengthen right relationships between Indigenous and Settler Peoples. The grave of CPT’s grandson Henry Strickland Atwood, who died in January 1864 aged three, is in the churchyard and was the site for a symbolic gesture of Every Child Matters on Sept. 30, 2021. When the book is released on Sept. 30. 2022, we will mark the day with a procession of Indigenous and Settler children bearing baskets of orange and white flowers to Baby Henry’s grave.
Dorothy’s singular effort of producing a “settler accountability narrative” blossomed into a Truth and Reconciliation project when several citizens of Alderville First Nation added their contributions. Notably, Maurice Switzer, whose grandfather Moses Muscrat Marsden was chief of Alderville 1905-1909, wrote the Foreword to ReReading Catharine Parr Traill.
Could Catharine Parr Traill be time-transported into modern-day Canada, I believe she might well support the need for Reconciliation between Indigenous peoples and her immigrant descendants.…The Dorothy Landers of this country are the real “allies” required by Indigenous peoples if Reconciliation is to succeed. As citizens in a country of which they want to be proud, they want to learn everything they can about its past – warts and all – so they can have a baseline against which to measure improvement over past practices.
Koren Smoke operates a tattoo and art studio at Alderville First Nation. Artist and ecologist Rick Beaver recommended Koren to Dorothy, which led to Koren contributing five spectacular illustrations to ReReading Catharine Parr Traill. The All My Relations image re-casts the Mohawk girl Indiana and re-imagines the Canadian Crusoes narrative.
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