By Carole Gerson 
Current interpreters of L.M. Montgomery’s stories are attempting to bring them up to date by inserting new characters from marginalized cultural groups. Early in 2019, the producers of the “Anne with an E” television series announced that they “are looking to cast a Mi’kmaq girl between the ages of 10 and 13 years old to play Ka’twet’s, the eldest daughter in a Mi’kmaq family of characters that are new to the series.” While Montgomery’s private writings and scrapbooks show that she was not unaware of Native people, including the popular Mohawk poet Pauline Johnson (1861-1913), their presence in her publications was marginal and reflected common tropes of white engagement with Indigeneity, often contrasting a heroic past with a degraded present. This pattern began with one of her first pieces, written in 1891 while she was spending a year in Prince Albert SK with her father’s second family. Titled “A Western Eden,” her essay describes a quest for the “dusky warrior” of the past who “belongs to an extinct species now.” Over the course of her career Montgomery would set a handful of stories in the West, in which passing references to “Indians” contribute regional colour.
Closer to home, rare appearances of Native people in Montgomery’s PEI and Ontario fictions reiterate conventional cultural assumptions that range from the pejorative to the romantic: from little boys devising games of “Indian ambush” to the Story Girl’s erroneous explanation that the name of Shubenacadie commemorates a pair of tragic Native lovers, Shuben and Accadee, whereas its actual Mi’kmaw meaning refers to a place where wild turnips or potatoes grow. Especially intriguing is the peculiarly named “Squaw Baby” of the story titled “The Cheated Child,” a little girl whose real name is never revealed. Continue reading