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Richardson writes during a period of history in which both the English and Indigenous peoples were wary of the deception of the other. As mentioned in the Introductory chapter the Indigenous peoples begin to recognize the full extent of their oppressor while the English are wary of the French supporting the Indigenous peoples in a rebellion, especially following the American revolution. This may explain why this theme is so rooted in Wacousta.


[edit] Introduction

The concept of deceit is one that has deep implications when looking at Canada’s colonial history and relationships between Canadian Settlers and Indigenous populations. It is even valid to say that Canada was founded because of deceit. As the son of a mixed heritage Indigenous mother and an British father, Richardson is able to use Canada’s first novel to make a commentary on what Canada is, not through the experience of one side, but through the experience of both sides, through the experience of a Canadian. Through this commentary he reveals the deep deceit that has played out in the formation of Canada and its society by examining the relationship between Indigenous and Canadian settlers and the new and largely unknown Canadian landscape.

Richardson utilizes this theme of deceit to not only advance the plot and keep the audience engaged and paying attention but also to draw attention to important ideas regarding the relationship between Indigenous and Canadian Settler relationships and how they are navigated. Explicit examples of deceit are really what drive the relationships among much of the characters, but from these are implicit themes that are important to understand the dynamic of the Canada in which we live and its deep history. In Volume 1 the relationship between Charles De Haldimar and Frank Halloway allows Richardson to make an important commentary on class, the concept of honour, and nobility. In Volume 2, the deception plays out with various attempts to draw out peace between the Indigenous peoples and British, however each side is cautious of the other due to a history of deceit, here the implications may be obvious as this is a clearly a reflection of what Indigenous peoples still face to this day and the difficult road to reconciliation due to the years of mistrust on both sides. Finally, in Volume 3, Richardson uses deceit to reach a climactic end, he utilizes the imagery of the unknown and new Canadian landscape to further develop the idea of deceit in the relationship between Indigenous peoples and the Canadian settlers.

[edit] Volume 1

Deceit throughout Volume One of Wacousta highlights the British soldiers having fear of the unknown within their new natural surroundings. Richardson uses deceit to show the challenges between settlers and the Indigenous. However, deceit is also used through some of the British characters simply for their own personal benefits. The portrayal of Frank Halloway indicates the issues of the upper class and how this impacts those of the lower class. This is evidenced when Halloway points to the fact that Ellen came from a lower status than him: "A marriage of affection,- a marriage with one who had nothing but her own virtues and her own beauty to recommend her, drew upon the displeasure of my family" (70). Halloway abandoned his past affluent ties and disguised himself as a lower class man in order to be with his true love. And, many characters use the element of disguise to portray themselves one way in order to benefit their own personal motives. The use of Charles de Haldimar’s body invoked fear and confusion among the British as well as gave strength to the Indigenous under Wacousta. The descriptions of the natural world emphasize the British’s fear of the forest. In the very first chapter of the text, Richardson alludes to the St. Lawrence containing "deceptive and almost perpetual fogs" (16). This description of the landscape emphasizes the theme of deceit by bringing in personification of the fog. The dreary atmosphere and the "deceptive fogs" will certainly prove to be a source of tension for the British.

Nature demonstrates a collective fear of the unknown for the British, as their enemy the Indigenous people know the ways of the land. The British feel safer within the confides of the fort. The natural world allows for the Indigenous to demonstrate their agency, giving themselves some power over the colonizers. Wacousta as a white man and the leader of the Indigenous people has the desire to challenge the British. He uses his disguise to create confusion and fear among them. He understands that they fear the natural world despite having more technology and weapons than the Indigenous people. Thus, why the last line of Volume One states Wacousta "fleeing in the direction of the forest" (128). Overall, the deceit present within Volume One of Wacousta is to emphasize the British fear of the unknown of the natural world, and the uses of disguise by various characters to achieve their motives.

  • All quotations in this section are taken from the Kindle edition of the text.

[edit] Volume 2

Deceit plays a large factor in the relations between the Ottawas and the British during Volume Two. Colonel de Haldimar often accuses the Indigenous people of being deceitful. One of the first examples is when de Haldimar says: ““Does the great chief of Ottawas, then, seek for peace in his heart at length?” Resumed the governor; “or is he come to the strong hold of Detroit, as he went to the other strong holds, with deceit on his lips?”” (160).

In this quotation, the Colonel is suspicious towards the chief and brings this up with an Indigenous warrior. There is some sarcasm in de Haldimar’s tone here, and it seems like his question is more rhetorical than anything else. Despite what the Indigenous person answers, de Haldimar has reason to believe that the chief will be deceitful and untrustworthy. This stems from anxieties towards the Ottawas, especially considering that they dwell in the forest, which has been labelled as unfamiliar and mysterious territory for the British.

In a conversation with the Ottawas, de Haldimar says: “The Saganaw knew that they carried deceit in their hearts, and that they never meant to smoke the pipe of peace, or to bury the hatchet in the ground” (181). The Colonel wants to gain the Ottawas trust. To do this, he makes himself seem like the hero who is letting the Ottawas go despite the Ottawas being “deceitful” people. The Colonel attempts to make the Ottawas uncomfortable with their ways. However, the British are not without deceit themselves. The Ottawas must decide whether or not to trust the Colonel and admit that they have been wrongfully deceitful, or they may suspect that this is all a tactic by the British, who are using their own methods of deceit.

An important moment in which the Ottawas plot to deceive the British comes with the chief’s plan to make his way into the council. The quotation says: “The red or war-pipe, was to be substituted as if by accident; and, for the success of the deception, they were to presume on the ignorance of their enemies” (198). The Chief’s elaborate plan includes faking a moment of surrender to the British. The Ottawas will pretend to be smoking the pipe of peace, but banking on the ignorance of the British, they will actually be smoking the war pipe. The Ottawas are directly putting deceit into action. And, they are using their enemy’s ignorance towards their own culture to do so. Deceit is advanced in Volume Two through the conflict between the Ottawas and the British. While volume one focuses more on the suspicions of deceit through a member one of the British’s own, this volume makes more work of demonstrating how the British already see the Ottawas as deceitful beings, and how the two parties make use of trickery against each other. Overall this volume reveals the tensions between the Ottawas and the British, and how both parties wish to outsmart one another.

  • All quotations in this section are taken from the Kindle edition of the text

[edit] Volume 3

Examining the concept of deception within the third volume of John Richardson's Wacousta expresses the unique perspectives of both the Canadian natives and European settlers. These perspectives depict a fear of the unknown as the negative aspects of contact between these two very different established civilizations played into an initial prejudice which would give the European settlers a negative perspective on the cultural and social aspects of the Canadian native tribes.

The first aspect of delusion that is evident within Volume Three is an internal prejudice and fear of the unknown that is expressed by the European explorers, as it is stated that; "The very appearance of the night, too, favoured the delusion. The heavens, comparatively clear at the moment when the canoe approached the vessel, became suddenly enveloped in the deepest gloom at its departure, as if to enshroud the course of those who, having so mysteriously approached, had also so unaccountably disappeared"(341). This quotation reflects the perspective of the Europeans, as they saw the natives of Canada as animalistic and savage, and even supernatural. The supernatural aspect to this fear fo the unknown is what gave credibility to the idea that the Canadian native tribes were something beyond, or less than, human.

The unique and foreign traditional aspects of Canadian native culture acted as a form of deception in an unintentional way, meaning that the fear of the unknown blinded both the Europeans as they saw anything outside of their reality as a threat. This is best captured within a quotation which states "The pallid mouth was partially enclosed, so as to display a row of white and apparently lipless teeth; and the features were otherwise set and drawn, as those of one who is no longer of earth"(345) as this insensitive description depicts the native warriors as savages and animals. The ignorance behind this statement reflects the European ideology, as they saw the native tribes of Canada as inferior to themselves even though this interaction and instance of contact was not a particularly negative one. The painted face of the native warrior automatically makes him an animal in the eyes of the Europeans, without any justification for negativity or discrimination. This instance of contact presents a unique form of deception, as the paint worn on the face of the native warrior masks him as something less then human in the eyes of the European settlers and this instance of prejudice would only advance to serious events where blood would be shed.

This misguided sense of fear resulted in eventual violence, where the description of the events reflects a clear bias in the narration of the characters on the European side as a surprise attack from Native warriors devastated their forces. The description begins by stating that;"The confusion and horror of the scene that met her eyes no language can render; blood was flowing in every direction, and dying and dead officers, already stripped of their scalps, were lying strewed about the room. Still the survivors fought with all the obstinacy of despair, and many of the Indians had shared the fate of their victims"(358) which reflects the character bias which would have been intentional from the author, as it would have reflected the ideology following this negative instance of contact.

[edit] Conclusion

Overall, Richardson’s Wacousta captures the theme of deceit throughout the entire text and details the implications and limitations for potential interactions between the Indigenous nations and settler communities. The theme of deceit is fundamental to the text not only to advance the plot and keep engagement with its audience, but also to draw attention to the complex navigations between Indigenous and Canadian Settler relationships. Volume 1 presents deceit in relationship regarding class and status, whereas both Volumes 2 and 3 shift their focus to encapsulate the role of deceit in Canadian native culture and detail how misleading information has affected and shaped the current attitudes towards Indigenous communities.

Not only does deceit function as an underlying message in this text, but also as a mechanism to drive the connections between other themes in the novel such as colonization and language. In several instances, colonialism prevents successful experiences of contact in a similar way that deceitful actions and attitudes serve as barriers to foster loyal and meaningful relationships. Rather than counteracting each other, these two themes arguably work together to expand on the perspectives of how contact was limited by barriers regarding people’s beliefs and values at this time. Likewise, the use of language exemplifies how and why Richardson’s novel was written in a time period that only valued the opinions and narratives of white people and disregarded the opinions of others. This connects to the idea of deceit as the most deceitful acts in the text were committed by settlers who possessed self-acclaimed superiority to Indigenous communities.

[edit] Works Cited

Richardson, John. Wacousta. 1832. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2014. Kindle edition.

Richardson, John. Wacousta; or, The Prophecy. A Tale of the Canadas. 1832. Toronto, Penguin Random House Canada, 2016. ‌

“The Gettysburg Cyclorama - Gettysburg National Military Park (U.S. National Park Service).” Www.Nps.Gov, 2 Dec. 2015,

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