Indicative of Pauline Johnson’s significance over more than a century is the extraordinary number of different ways in which she has been recognized. No other Canadian writer can lay claim to the multiplicity of forms of acknowledgement that Johnson has enjoyed through the interventions of fans, friends, writers, artists, musicians, publishers, journalists, biographers, scholars, and various government agencies. Their representations of Johnson range from essentialist portrayals of a romanticized “Mohawk Princess,” to depictions of a tragic figure caught between cultures, to celebration of an independent female writer, performer, and advocate of Aboriginal values. Johnson’s path to fame involves complicated networks of intervention, some continuous and some that were one-time opportunities. In general, with most forms of recognition there was considerable activity during Pauline’s lifetime and into the 1920s following her widely mourned death in 1913. However, from the 1930s through to the 1960s there developed a split between the enthusiastic fans who recited her poems and kept her books in print and the scornful masculine modernists who barred her from the higher canon of the literary elite. From the 1970s onward, feminist valorization of marginalized women and fresh interest in Aboriginal culture renewed interest on the part of playwrights, poets, musicians, and critics, both Aboriginal and non. This poster documents the different interventions of governments, publishers, theatre people, musicians, and writers, as well as the attachment of Johnson’s name to a World War I machine gun and to a Vancouver chocolate company.
Some of those who perpetuated Pauline Johnson’s presence were motivated by artistic inspiration, others by her political reach with regard to race and gender, and others by a desire to exploit her charisma in relation to their own agendas, whether to promote a chocolate business or to incorporate her into state-sanctioned interpretations of history (as with the postage stamp). For the general public, Johnson enabled the indigenization of Euro-Canadians seeking a point of identification with Aboriginal culture, while her own use of many genres inspired a range of artists, from musicians seeking song lyrics to performers seeking complex roles to inhabit. For Aboriginals, she offers a complex and compelling example. Above all, she was a remarkably talented and warm-hearted person who transformed her challenging historical and social circumstances into a rich cultural legacy.