Pauline Johnson, (1861 -1913) the Metis poet from a First Nations reserve in Ontario, was portrayed as a drunk with a British accent in a comedy sketch on CBC in Regina in late July. The program drew an official complaint, filed with the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code against CBC Regina’s Noon Hour Edition program.
Aboriginal, anti-racism and social action groups in Regina are outraged at the portrayal of Pauline Johnson. The poet of the late 1800s was depicted as “just another drunk Indian woman,” said Connie Deiter, a spokesperson for the ad hoc coalition.
Deiter, a First Nations writer in Regina, said the CBC acted “irresponsibly” by airing the two-minute segment. CBC is “trusted by the Canadian public,” and should not have aired the piece.
Deiter is demanding an apology, especially to aboriginal women. “It was insensitive and denigrating that she was made to sound drunk, and was profiled as a well-colonized Aboriginal with a cultivated British accent,” Deiter said.
Bill Gerald, Director of Radio and TV for Saskatchewan, called the reaction “unfortunate,” and said the two-minute radio satire was “not meant to single out any ethnic group…nothing was directed at any particular race.”
Gerald said the piece was meant to be satirical. “Satire can be subjective,” he explained. “It was meant to be comedic, and as comedy it failed.”
Pauline Johnson was the daughter of a Mohawk Native-Canadian father and an English mother. She used the Mohawk name Tekahionwake.
In the vignette, however, she was portrayed as a Victorian woman with a British accent, complaining about being sent to Regina for a reading tour in February, 1895.
In the segment, read by a male, Dwayne Brenna, Department Head for Drama at the University of Saskatchewan, the character’s speech becomes progressively more slurred as if she was drinking.
“This program was introduced as entertaining and humorous, and then lead to a drunk Aboriginal icon who is well-respected role model in her community. Humour is not humour if it belittles and denigrates a person or a community, and it is obvious this was the intention,” Dieter said.