Aboriginal Metallica

This set once more represents an aboriginal couple as adorable children, and with more or less the usual stereotype markers: both with chubby cheeks,  both with pigtails, both, this time, wearing headbands with a single feather, he in a loincloth, she in a fringed long-sleeved dress.  While the two figures are both the same  height, he is represented as sitting, she standing, which means he must be substantially taller than she is.  But putting that aside, there is something that makes them somehow more solemn and serious than my other cute natives: they are made of some kind of brass-like heavy metal.  It gives them weight, both literally, and somehow, more symbolically.  They seem Important.  Part of their Importance is the shields they bear, ceremonial regalia that makes them representatives of the province of Manitoba:  for him the provincial shield, and for her the crocus, the provincial flower.  And they are surprisingly detailed, even the backs:

But the weightiness disappears in another set I have:

This set appears to be the same couple, but this time, they are made of some kind of light plastic in a tinselly silvery colour.  They have lost their gravitas–not to mention some of their details; while it’s possible that they were made from the same mould as the brass-like pair, their relative crudeness suggests that they might have been made using something like a set of the brass pair as the base for a new mould.  And now they represent, not Manitoba in detailed imagery, but just CANADA in plain letters, as well as the mundane initials of the specific seasoning they are meant to dispense.

But while there’s some loss of seriousness and artistry, they remain triumphantly stereotypical, triumphantly happy to declare iconic representations of indigenous peoples, dressed as surely no specific Manitoban or Canadian First Nation ever dressed, as symbols of a province or of the entire nation: as signs of its northernness, perhaps, or its connection to the wild?  The paradoxical relationship between this co-option of a stereotype as a marker for a place, a representation of what identifies that place or makes it unique, and the actual often hostile colonial treatment of the real people the stereotype purports to represent is telling.


Published by pernodel

Children’s literature critic and author of books for children

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