Overlapping Time and Place

Early Modern England’s Girlhood Discourse and Indigenous Girlhood in the Dominion of Canada (1684-1860)

in Girlhood Studies
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  • 1 McGill University haidee.lefebvre@mail.mcgill.ca

ABSTRACT

For nearly two hundred years, Indigenous girls and young women were at the heart of Canada’s fur trade. As wives to British fur traders and as daughters of these unions, they liaised with traders and tribes. Although wives and daughters were viewed initially from an Indigenous perspective they gradually lost their separate identities as traders increasingly held them up to European ideals. Simultaneously, England’s fascination with girls and girlhood fluctuated between seeing girlhood as a gendered life-stage leading to matrimony on the one hand, and girlhood as a rhetorical device unhindered by biology or chronology on the other. In my article I link these two contexts so as to interpret Pauline Johnson’s essay, A Strong Race Opinion. Her essay criticizes contemporaneous Anglo-Canadian authors for depicting Indian heroines in an artificial light rather than as flesh-and-blood girls. My interpretation considers girlhood from an Indigenous perspective as a unique, distinct, and natural identity.

Prologue

I wrote this article on traditional Haudenosaunee territory.1 As an outsider, I acknowledge traditional territory to uphold an ethics of responsibility (Walia 2014) that begins with understanding myself as benefitting from the illegal settlement of Indigenous peoples’ lands and the unjust appropriation of their resources and jurisdiction. Another way I approach this responsibility entails seeking out perspectives on girlhood by and about Indigenous girls and young women. Undoubtedly, I produce yet another non-Indigenous perspective. However, my intention is to respond to the experiences, perspectives, and voices of actual Indigenous people. I define the term Indigenous according to José R. Martínez Cobo for whom Indigenous communities, peoples, and nations share certain features such as an historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies; an identity distinct from nation-states; an existence based on their own cultural patterns, social institutions, and legal systems; and a determination to “preserve, develop and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity” (2004: n.p.). I recognize that different conventions exist for identifying the original people of Turtle Island (a term used by some to refer to North America). In this article I use Indigenous to indicate a collective tone and intention, or to address themes that are more or less common to the more than 600 First Nations living in land now called Canada. Depending on the content, I use the terms Aboriginal, Indian, and Native.

My article hangs on one essay, A Strong Race Opinion: On the Indian Girl in Modern Fiction published in 1892 by Emily Pauline Johnson Tekahionwake2 (1861–1913), the daughter of a hereditary Mohawk chief and an upper class Englishwoman. Tekahionwake witnessed settlers displacing fur trade society and transforming Indigenous society in part by subjugating Indigenous women. Her essay provides a detailed account of the fictional Indian maiden who supplanted these individuals in the public imagination; her creation of this imaginary construct symbolizes, for me, the removal of Native women and girls from white settler society. To contextualize her essay, I associate early modern Britain with the Dominion of Canada (Dominion) between 1500 and the mid-eighteenth century. I link these places and times by intersecting Britain’s public discourse about girls with the crucial role Indigenous girls and young women played in the trans-Atlantic fur trade.

Following Peterson and Afinson, rather than collapse into one term the “numerous fur trades, differing over time and across a vast cultural and ecological landscape” (1985: n.p.) situated on Turtle Island, I use the terms fur trade and Indian trade. These two terms distinguish one storyline from the other. In “The Fur Trade Mode of Production,” Patricia A. McCormack (2010) separates the aboriginal mode from the capitalist. Indian trade signifies the historical moment when Indigenous peoples produced food and pelts for their use-value while controlling the means of production. Also, it foregrounds the perspective that trade with Europeans was one aspect of Indigenous life (Peers 2007). Further, Indian trade symbolizes a narrative absent in mainstream discourse as a result, largely, of the suppression of “Native historical consciousness” (Wickwire 1994: 3) in archival spaces (see, too, Fraser and Todd 2016). The term fur trade indicates the period during which the means of production were controlled by Europeans, and Natives produced goods for their market value. It also evokes the inextricable link between Hudson’s Bay Company territories and the Dominion’s emergence as a colonial nation-state. Fur trade symbolizes the grand narrative that seeks to validate the Canadian nation state by excluding Indigenous realities, perspectives, voices, and bodies.

In Turtle Island, the French trade ran along the St. Lawrence and Ottawa Rivers, as well as in the eastern Great Lakes region. The English trade operated out of Hudson Bay; all 3.9 million square kilometres came to be known as Rupert’s Land (Smith 2006). For over 300 years the beaver trade connected North American and European markets. According to British export data, from 1700 to 1770 exports grew from 69,500 beaver hats and felt hats, respectively, to 21 million combined beaver and felt hats (Carlos and Lewis 2008: n.p.). My article concentrates on the temporal interlude identified as Contact and Cooperation by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (Erasmus and Dussault 1996), a time when British traders acknowledged Aboriginal nations as “relatively strong, organized and politically active and astute” (96). Despite misunderstandings and negative judgments, both groups were intent on making sense of each other’s behaviour and motives; after careful study, each learned to please and manipulate the other. Richard White (1991) perceived this interlude as the middle ground—a place and a process of mutual recognition and accommodation between Algonquian-speaking Indians and the French, the British, and the Americans. Germaine Warketin (2003) transposed the middle ground to Canada, specifically Rupert’s Land between 1684 and 1860—the approximate historical moment when Indigenous girls and young women “occupied an influential position as ‘women in between’ two groups of men, a situation which could be manipulated to their advantage” (Van Kirk 1999: 73). Intermarriages advanced trade relations between tribes and traders while placing wives in the role of cultural liaison between the two. Additionally, marriage increased the husbands’ knowledge of Indian life, thus ensuring their means of survival.

Tekahionwake’s essay was the sole primary source I could find that responded to the question of how Indigenous girls and young women themselves define girlhood. Briefly, she describes girls as individuals, not personalities; specifically, Indigenous girls had tribal distinctions and characteristics, many spent their adolescent lives in settings rich in community, culture, and family. The historical elements that contextualize Tekahionwake’s essay provide tantalizing glimpses into possible ways in which England’s ideas of the girl as an identity and a social condition intermingled with the historical interval during which the Dominion developed fully from its Indian trade origins. Countless Indigenous girls and young women appeared in and contributed to the trans-Atlantic fur trade; most of their stories are unavailable because, as far as I know, they were neither recorded nor passed on as lore. Nevertheless, Sylvia Van Kirk’s (1999) authoritative work frames tribal women and their daughters as essential economic partners on whom British traders depended for, as Peterson and Afinson put it earlier, “their skills as provisioners of small game, fish, and cultigens, as makers of snowshoes and moccasins, as house-builders, transporters, guides, interpreters, and, occasionally, traders” (1985: n.p.).

In this article I consider the intermarriages between traders and Indigenous young women. For well over a century, Aboriginal and European societies defined marriage “as being openly recognized and characterized by mutual consent, cohabitation, and public repute as husband and wife” (Van Kirk 2002: 2). I speculate that initially these marital unions were in dialogue with England’s discourses and representations of girlhood.

Theorizing Girlhood: From Subversive to Empathic

Jennifer Higginbotham contends that in sixteenth and seventeenth literary and cultural constructions gender and social hierarchies formed a triangular relationship between and among men, women, and boys while dividing the female life cycle into three categories—maid, wife, and widow. Unlike the male/female binary, this early modern British binary defined men against women and boys: mature men occupied the highest tier in the overall social hierarchy while women and boys occupied similar subject positions below them. Higginbotham goes on to point out that childhood was considered generic and feminine, experienced by boys and girls alike. The eventual boying and girling of children differentiated the category into a sex-gender system. Since sexual behaviour and gender characteristics were organized into patterns that accommodated the patriarchal world and its system of social control, girls were lumped into the category of women. Although women were constructed as progressing from virginity to marriage to widowhood, girls did not fit into the sex-gender system because they could be “anyone from a female infant to an unruly adult” (2013: 8). Girlhood as a concept opened up the possibility that life stages did not automatically follow a linear progression; it created an imaginary space in which girls and young women could both move between and subvert categories of female identity. Female characters such as the notorious sixteenth-century pickpocket Moll Cutpurse (whose real name was Mary Frith) and Middleton and Dekker’s (1611) eponymous Roaring Girl were, as Higginbotham puts it, “not only sexually, but also more importantly, socially and politically resistant to occupying their womanly place within the social hierarchy” (9). Girls exposed the limitations of the sex-gender system because they did not correspond to the reified female categories that stabilized it. They disrupted the system by offering alternative constructions of female identity that cut across age, race, class, and context.

Higginbotham (2013) lists definitions for girl and girlhood from early modern England’s autobiographical writings, dictionary entries, legal and medical texts, and prose and dramatic works. Deanne Williams explains that the array of meanings “offer[ed] a range of possibilities and contexts to Shakespeare as a playwright, and to his readers and audiences that were … creatively and imaginatively enabling, and ultimately generated a set of compelling and influential girl characters whose cultural afterlives extend to the present day” (2014a: 6). Shakespeare’s representations of girl characters were both creative inventions and depictions of historical girls such as Queen Elizabeth I, to a discussion of whom I will return presently. These characters were distinct from boys, daughters, and women; often they resisted “promiscuous service” and the confines of “demure submissiveness” (Williams 2014b: n.p.). For example, in Pericles, Prince of Tyre, Marina’s storytelling skill deters men who have come to the brothel to purchase her virginity, a skill Shakespeare described as “virginal fencing” (quoted in Williams 2014a: 106). In Romeo and Juliet, by refusing to marry Paris, Juliet distances herself from constrictive social and familial expectations. Angered by her refusal, her father labels her behaviour peevish, a term then used for inexperienced youth who eventually become dependable adults.

Williams suggests that Queen Elizabeth’s difficult childhood may have been bearable because her education offered “consolation and distraction from her troubles as a child” (2014a: 93). As a princess, she was raised as a prince in the sense that she received an extensive education that included history, philosophy, religion, as well as French, Greek, Italian, and Latin. Some considered her intellect superior to the learned men of her time. Thomas Heywood’s two-part play If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody (1605–1606) dramatized Elizabeth’s traumatic girlhood. Composed and performed shortly after her death, it was a runaway theatrical success. Heywood’s play informed many of Shakespeare’s representations of girls who overcame physical, mental, and emotional hardship by relying on survival skills other than “canny manipulations of a courtship scenario” (2014b: 96). If You Know Not Me and the subsequent plays it apparently inspired Shakespeare to write presented audiences with girl protagonists who braved troubles far more complex than wedding a suitable husband. One of the first girl characters Shakespeare modelled after Elizabeth’s arduous girlhood is Marina in Pericles, Prince of Tyre. Marina’s father abandons her, she receives a princely education, survives kidnapping by pirates who sell her as a prostitute, and as mentioned above, proves herself adept at warding off sex trade customers. The success of Pericles, Prince of Tyre surpassed that of If You Know Not Me; audiences flocked to the theatre to watch Marina wield forcefulness, intellect, and will to alchemize personal tragedy into victory. Their affective response to a protagonist who circumvented marriage, who was neither man, woman, nor boy demonstrates a high regard for stories “in which girls forge and articulate their own independent, relationship to the world” (208).

Indigenous Girls and Young Women: From Sought After to Exiled

In the early 1600s as a host of ideas about youth and girls circulated in England, early Europeans were entering into existing inter-tribal networks and alliances (Miller 2009). Initially, explorers and traders depended on Indigenous hosts and guides for their physical and economic survival (Rice and Snyder 2008). Soon, European men became dependent on the traditional hunting, gathering, and manufacturing skills of Indigenous women, and “on their abilities as interpreters, cultural mediators, and guides to further the trade” (Stevenson 1999: 56). Intermarriages between British traders and Indigenous young women formed the basis of the Indian trade (Van Kirk 1984, 1999). These unions provided access to trade networks and a domestic life with children, and a wife who was also a remarkable business partner. Indigenous wives “possessed a range of skills and wilderness know-how that would have been quite foreign” (Van Kirk 1984: 10) to white women; they proved more valuable than European wives. For a brief time, traders appeared to have viewed Indigenous women in the context of Indigenous society that esteemed both male and female gender-linked roles.

In the early 1700s, an overwhelming number of intermarriages between traders and young Indian women occurred; by the end of this era, the availability of mixed-blood daughters from these unions contributed to the rejection of Indian women as potential wives. Many Indigenous mothers taught their mixed-blood daughters native skills, while their fathers taught them about European culture and determined their religious and secular education. Often, these daughters adapted more easily to white culture than did their full-blooded Native sisters and relations. Fathers convinced incoming traders that entry into fur trade society could be achieved by marriage to their daughters. Unlike their mothers, whose marriages cemented trade alliances, these daughters “served to cement ties within fur trade society itself” (Van Kirk 1984: 12). As traders increasingly married mixed-blood daughters, the Indian trade deteriorated. Because of this, by the 1850s Indigenous people were increasingly marginalized from the fur trade (Forsyth 2005). Simultaneously, the introduction of white civilization coincided with the decline of the fur trade society.

The arrival of British women intensified racial prejudice toward Indigenous and mixed-blood young women. In some places, genteel white wives became status symbols that augmented class distinctions. Mixed marriages continued until such time as the “lovely, tender exotics” (Van Kirk 1984: 12) adapted to the harsh fur trade environment, an adaptation that was delayed partly by the lack of a meaningful social or economic role for British women to fulfill. Once again the purpose of intermarriages shifted. During the early years of Indian trade expansion, these unions brought traders into tribal kinship systems that consisted of well-established military and trade alliances among Indigenous nations. Over time, a complex network of fur trade families connected the American West, the Far North, the Great Lakes region, and Western Canada (Peterson and Afinson 1985). Initially, Indigenous women cemented the Indian trade; by the early 1800s, their daughters cemented ties to fur trade society. In 1869, the Indian Act accorded status to men with Indian blood belonging to a particular band, while women’s status came from their husbands. Marriage to a nonstatus male meant that legally an Indian women ceased to be an Indian and both she and her children lost all rights related to Indian status. By the time Tekahionwake was born, intermarriage was in the service of colonialism because it expelled women from their Indigenous cultures (Van Kirk 2002).3

Indigenous Girlhood: Interpreting A Strong Race Opinion

The Indian Girl in Victorian Canadian Literature: Dishonorable, Detestable, Dead
Published in 1892, A Strong Race Opinion: On the Indian Girl in Modern Fiction criticizes the Canadian literature of the time. Tekahionwake systematically deconstructs the concept of the Indian maiden created by Anglo-Canadian writers—a one-dimensional character lacking tribal specificity and individuality whose suffering, predictably, from unrequited love for a white man leads to her suicide by drowning. Tekahionwake’s article, like much of her other work, “confronts white arrogance and ignorance” (Gerson and Strong-Boag 2002: xxi). She contrasts the American book heroine whose individual personality graces womankind with the only Indian girl in Canadian Indian literature. Although we meet the fictional Indian girl as a Shawnee, as a Sioux, as a Huron, her name is always Winona, or something that sounds like it. Lacking tribal distinction and a human prototype,

[Winona] is merely a wholesome sort of mixture of any band existing between the Mic Macs of Gaspé and the Kwaw-Kewlths of British Columbia, yet strange to say, that notwithstanding the numerous tribes, with their aggregate numbers reaching more than 122,000 souls in Canada alone, our Canadian authors can [extract] from this huge revenue of character, but one Indian girl, and stranger still that this lonely little heroine never had a prototype in breathing flesh-and-blood existence (Johnson 2002: 178)!

At a time when narrative conventions cast most heroines in roles closely attached to family and motherhood, when most young women were stereotyped in similar ways—chiefly ending up as brides—Winona is detestable and dishonorable. She exemplifies the Indian maiden who betrays her people. Desperately in love with the young white hero at war with her tribe, she lies to her father and other chiefs, then betrays them by confiding their military secrets to the young man. Inevitably, the hero rejects her. Finally, Winona “betakes herself to a boat, rows out into the lake in a thunderstorm, chants her own death-song, and is drowned.” Tekahionwake explains that not only do Canadian authors create a character “despised by her own nation and disliked by the reader” (180), they take away the Indian girl’s reputation, love, and life. Winona has been manoeuvred into a position that is outside the social relations she desires and the ones she belongs to by birth. Tekahionwake does more than satirize the fictional Indian heroine portrayed in the popular literature of her time—she questions attempts to exile or expunge Indigenous women from the coerced settlement of the newly founded Dominion (Goeman 2013). The conventional depiction of the Indian girl predicts that Indigenous girls and young women will experience the demise of their reputations, the decay of love, and the extinction of Indigenous girlhood. Tekahionwake calls attention to Eurocentric plot conventions that culminate in the Indian heroine’s death. Building on Williams’s (2014a) claim that the cultural afterlives of Shakespearean girls extends into the on-going present, I want to suggest that Winona could denote any one of the known missing and murdered Indigenous girls and young women. Currently over one thousand cases have been documented; the oldest known case, reported fifty-two years after the publication of A Strong Race Opinion, dates back to 1944 (NWAC 2015). Eerily, Tekahionwake’s essay appears to have foreshadowed this Canadian crisis. She demanded more than the cessation of inaccurate depictions of Indian girls—she sought to keep them alive.
Indigenous Girlhood: Distinct, Unique, and Natural

A Strong Race Opinion can be interpreted as Tekahionwake’s version of Indigenous girlhood. Although much of the article decries the representation of the fictional Indian maiden, she includes several descriptions of a plausible Indigenous girl living in the newly founded Dominion. Tekahionwake declares that “the real wild Indian girl … is the most retiring, reticent, noncommittal being in existence” (Johnson 2002: 179). She depicts two types—the Indian girl as either “the quiet sweet womanly woman she is, if wild, or the everyday, natural, laughing girl she is, if cultivated and educated” (183). Perhaps Tekahionwake distinguished between, on the one hand, girls and young women raised according to tribal customs and, on the other, those who, like herself, grew up in a social context that combined European and Indigenous cultures. Tribal characteristics can refer to egalitarian relations characterized by the principle of autonomy that gave individuals decision-making power over their own lives and activities, and prevented either sex from controlling the other. For Tekahionwake, Indigenous girls’ and young women’s individuality stems partly from their tribe’s unique attributes. However, what mattered was depicting the fictional heroine as “natural, even if the author is not competent to give her tribal characteristics” (183). When authors are unable to depict an Indian girl with tribal characteristics, Tekahionwake recommends that the girl be shown to possess natural talent. In all likelihood, Tekahionwake associated the notion of natural with that of personality, describing it as “one of the most charming things to be met with, either in a flesh and blood existence, or upon the pages of fiction, and it matters little to what race an author’s heroine belongs, if he makes her character distinct, unique and natural” (177). At a time when Canada was emerging as a modern colonialist nation in which “[w]hite women had little or no voice, and native women even less,” (Collett 2001: 360), Tekahionwake preferred a female identity based on traditional matriarchal power and agency (Goeman 2013), a female identity that included the right to speak with influence and to make choices.

Discussion

My article shapes a debate by establishing an intersection between early modern British culture and Indian trade society in order to interpret Tekahionwake’s essay. I open an imaginary space in which prior to sailing across the Atlantic Ocean to Turtle Island some traders frequented theatres that featured Shakespeare’s plays. By 1730, his plays “constitute[d] about a quarter of the entire repertoire of the London stage” (Bate 2007: n.p.); at the height of his popularity, his influence outstripped that of his contemporaries. Many plays were performed for audience members of both sexes from all social classes such as trade workers, merchants, and the wealthy (Estill 2015); possibly, some traders applauded Marina in Pericles, Prince of Tyre, or the similarly feisty girl characters of The Tempest, and The Winter’s Tale. Plausibly, certain British traders were exposed in some manner to the idea that girlhood was a fluid category, a provisional free space in which girls used “female creativity” (Bicks 2014: n.p.) to resist or rewrite social conventions whereby girls progressed into domesticity and, throughout their lifetimes, obeyed patriarchal will. If this were the case, a few may have agreed with Shakespeare’s “compelling and influential vision of girlhood” (Williams 2014a: 208) such that upon encountering Indigenous girls and young women, these traders could have experienced them as individuals with minds and lives of their own. Perhaps the traders’ exposure to the plays and the public discourse about girlhood may have played a small part in their decisions to enter into public and private partnerships with the young women. Moreover, I extend my speculation further to suggest (cautiously) that as they learned to live on Turtle Island, traders could have related, personally, to the threats they had observed being made to the girls in Shakespeare’s late plays, as well as identifying with their triumphs. Williams views early modern conceptions of girlhood as performative, illustrated by boy actors who originally performed Shakespeare’s girl characters. She comments that the figure of the girl and the subject of girlhood “become inhabitable as an identity and relevant beyond the limits of gender as well as age, accessible to boys and men, while also remaining as a significant part of a woman’s history and identity” (2014a:14). For example, Marina survives abandonment, attempts on her life, and kidnapping. Eventually, she is freed from a brothel by a man who later proposes marriage. Here, I carefully suggest that some British traders may have found that they shared something in common with Marina—threats to their lives, and marriage to someone who rescued them from a precarious situation. Although I can only guess at why some British traders appeared more open to experiencing Aboriginal girls in their own form, their debt of gratitude has been archived. For example, John William Matheson, “sometime Dean of the Diocese of Rupert’s Land” (Taylor 1984: 49), proclaimed, “We must never forget, it was the Indian wives who taught the white man how, like an Indian, to wrest with his naked hands, a livelihood from this harsh and barren land” (23). Recent scholarship reflects both the gratitude traders felt toward their wives and daughters and the lack of gratitude that has persisted in the master narrative that depicts Canada’s triumphant nation-building. When we compare actual girls and young women to the book-made girl, the incongruence between the esteemed credible Indigenous female and the discredited Indian heroine in the fiction of Tekahionwake’s time becomes evident.

Van Kirk (1999) argues that the fur trade provided economic advantages to Indigenous women who safeguarded their position through acts of loyalty. In 1814, a peaceful resolution was achieved following a raid on traders’ canoes because Lady Calpo, a well-connected Chinook, taught traders how Chinooks resolved conflicts. In his 1824–1825 journal, Governor George Simpson credited Lady Calpo with informing him of “more of the Scandal Secrets & politics both of the out & inside the Fort than any other source” (66). Citing several instances in which Indigenous women operated as informants, Van Kirk (1999) points out that Lady Calpo was not the only woman to warn traders of her tribesmen’s treachery. I found traces of these acts of loyalty in Tekahionwake’s essay in her reference to Wacousta; or, The Prophecy: A Tale of the Canadas published in 1832 by John Richardson. She recounts how de Haldimar manipulates Oucanasta, the regulation generic Indian heroine, who is madly in love with him “to the extent of making her a traitor to Pontiac inasmuch as she betrays the secret of one of the cleverest intrigues of war known in the history of America, namely, the scheme to capture Fort Detroit” (Johnson 2002: 180). Oucanasta is the antithesis of Lady Calpo. Although Lady Calpo’s motivations are unknown, Richardson reduces this heroine’s to a response to a thwarted courtship. This book-made Indian girl has endured in the public imagination for much longer than has Lady Calpo, a fact confirmed by both the absence of Indigenous girls’ voices and perspectives in archival records and by their contemporary lack of social standing. In the 1980s, scholars addressed the former, as we have seen in Van Kirk’s gender- and group-specific analyses of girls and young women’s roles in the trans-Atlantic fur trade. Unfortunately, we have yet to shake off the use of narrative devices that eventually reduce specific Indigenous girls and young women to a book-made Indian girl.

In 1794, Mary Mackagonne (Swampy Cree) married Peter Fidler, a chief trader for Hudson’s Bay Company. The couple travelled everywhere together; to make room for trade cargo in the company’s brigade, Mary often paddled her own canoe. When they lived in the Atahbasca district between 1801 and 1805, she managed the fishing for the post. In 1810, when fishermen deserted the trading post, “Mary virtually saved the English from starvation because she was the only one who knew how to mend and set the nets” (Van Kirk 1999: 60). Mary and Peter had 14 children, of whom 11 were alive when, in 1821, they were legally married within a week of Peter’s having learned that he would be pensioned (Allen 2015). Peter did not want to return to England without Mary; Rupert Taylor (1984) states that “no one could have been more loyal, helpful or devoted to him in his earlier conflict and struggles than his wife. To leave her was unthinkable” (96). The record shows that “Peter Fidler of Manitobah, & Mary, an Indian woman of the same place” were married August 14, 1821; signed Peter Fidler, Mary X her mark” (102).

Mary’s story—both the recorded and the undocumented—brings to mind several points discussed earlier. First, Mary was an invaluable partner in Peter’s trade, travel, survival, and, indeed, the recipient of his genuine affection. Second, she contributed to the fur trade. Third, in the marriage record her race has precedence over her name, almost becoming her surname. This propensity carries over into academic texts where she is referred to as Mary an Indian, a Cree, or a Swampy Cree. Notably, some genealogical websites refer to her as Mary Mackagonne while others describe her as mixed-blood (see, for example, Still 2015). Furthermore, every author I have come across documents what is said and thought about her rather than citing Mary’s actual words and thoughts (just as I have done). Being spoken of in the third person places Mary at a distance from events and from readers; the same can be said for the innumerable Indigenous girls and young women we catch glimpses of in the fragmentary archived evidence. The accumulated effect creates an anonymous generic fur trader’s Indian wife and emphasizes her exchange behaviour related to the trade economy—fishing, canoeing, saving the traders, and bearing children of mixed ancestry. Ironically, despite our best intentions and cornered by a history owned by Euro-Canadians, our narrative method leaves us vulnerable to the accusation Tekahionwake levelled at the fiction writers of her time in that we reiterate an incompetent description of Indigenous girls and young women that lacks tribal characteristics, innate qualities, and individuality.

How can we learn from Indigenous girls and young women about their perspectives on the fur trade? Laura Peers’s Playing Ourselves: Interpreting Native Histories at Historic Reconstructions contains a script for a trading session involving a trader, Freda, an older Ojibwa woman, and a young Ojibwa male translator. During the session, Freda criticizes the trader for bartering with stained ribbons. When the trader makes excuses about the six-week canoe journey to transport the goods, she asserts that her unstained furs have also come from far away. Freda then declares that to trap and skin the animals for their furs, she “works more than you people do,” implying that her goods have greater value. A skilled negotiator, Freda counters each offer to her advantage. At one point, unable to reach an agreement, Freda “stomps over to the trader and snatches back her furs, starts walking away [and] says something in disgusted tone in Ojibwa” (2007: 76); the trader acquiesces. At another time, she threatens to trade upriver to which the trader responds, “Well, now, let’s not be hasty” (77). According to Peers, most Native interpreters blend research on their tribal and family histories with historical information, academic publications, and training material. These sources inform their portrayals of specific ancestors or composite characters. Peers asserts that Native interpreters “are ambassadors, not actors; they represent their communities, past and present” (66). They represent people of the past while they are being themselves; they act on behalf of, make present again, and stand for “historic Native ways of life … us[ing] embodied knowledge of what happened to the people who lived that way, and to their descendants” (67). Freda subverts and fits into female identities constructed by scholarship on Indigenous women’s role in the fur trade. Freda knows the market value of her goods and she controls the negotiations. Clearly, she considers herself equal—possibly superior—to the trader when she criticizes, stomps, snatches, and speaks with disgust. Also, Freda has an assistant, a young male who neither speaks for nor about her. In this context, the young man conjures up the boy actor performing a Shakespearean girl character; in the trading scenario the translator performs what Van Kirk, as mentioned above, described as the “women in between” role (1999: 73). Finally, Freda seems to satisfy Tekahionwake’s criteria—possessing innate qualities and natural talent, she has personality. Freda is distinct, unique, and natural; she represents the historic and ongoing instability of girlhood. Alternative perspectives on girlhood remind us just how mercurial are the meanings and usages of the term girl. My article provides what are, for me, fascinating examples that provide opportunities for theoretical debates about girlhood; these small glimpses reveal Indigenous girls and young women who have never waited—or wanted—to be defined by the male, colonial, or academic gaze.

A Strong Race Opinion addresses the omission of Indigenous girls and young women from the public imagination, despite their vital contributions to Canadian society. Tekahionwake herself subverts the one-dimensional character created by Anglo-Canadian writers, as do the wives, daughters, and grandchildren who participated in the Indian and fur trades and who belonged to the societies they helped create. To date, scholars consider colonialism crucial to the subjugation of Indigenous women, and, while I agree with their assessment, I wonder about the historical moment when Indigenous females were not necessarily targets of colonialism. In particular, too intense a focus on the subjugation of Indigenous females may run the risk of minimizing the positions of strength they maintained for centuries. Scholarly attention to what girls and young women said and did about the evolving social relations between Indigenous and Euro-Canadian society may illuminate understandings that have contemporary relevance. Perhaps, comparing the status of women in Indigenous and European societies distracts our attention from the possible ways in which Indigenous girls and women actualized alternative identities in both these social contexts. It seems feasible that for centuries Indigenous girls and young women living on Turtle Island realized identities that originated from the material conditions of their everyday life. Constructions and conditions of girlhood change constantly, and often, like sand dunes, unpredictably; when girls and young women themselves own their own histories, they provide insights into the shifting nature of girlhood.

Acknowledgment

This research was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. I would like to thank Claudia Mitchell for her helpful input when I was developing the ideas presented here. Also, I am immensely grateful to Timothy Dougherty for his invaluable support in relation to earlier drafts of this article. Finally, I would like to express my gratitude to Ann Smith for her editorial mentorship; my article is far superior to earlier versions as a result of her suggestions, demands, and probing questions.

References

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  • Collett, Anne. 2001. “Red and White: Miss E. auline Johnson Tekahionwake and the Other Woman.” Women’s Writing 8, no. 3: 359374. doi: 10.1080/09699080100200140

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Erasmus, Georges, and René Dussault. 1996. Looking Forward, Looking Back. Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. Vol. 1. Ottawa: Minister of Supply and Services Canada.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Estill, Laura. 2015. “Was Shakespeare as Popular in His Own Time as He is Now?British Council. https://www.britishcouncil.org/voices-magazine/was-shakespeare-popular-his-own-time-he-now (accessed 19 April 2016).

    • Export Citation
  • Forsyth, Janice. 2005. “After the Fur Trade: First Nations Women in Canadian History, 1850–1950.” Atlantis 29, no. 2: 112.

  • Gerson, Carole, and Veronica Jane Strong-Boag. 2002. “Introduction: The Firm Handiwork of Will.” Pp. xiiixliv in E. Pauline Johnson, Tekahionwake: Collected Poems and Selected Prose, ed. Emily Pauline Johnson, Carole Gerson and Veronica Jane Strong-Boag. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Goeman, Mishuana. 2013. Mark My Words: Native Women Mapping Our Nations. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

  • Fraser, Crystal, and Zoe Todd. 2016. “Decolonial Sensibilities: Indigenous Research and Engaging with Archives in Contemporary Colonial Canada.” http://www.internationaleonline.org/research/decolonising_practices/54_decolonial_sensibilities_indigenous_research_and_engaging_with_archives_in_contemporary_colonial_canada (accessed 19 April 2016).

    • Export Citation
  • Higginbotham, Jennifer. 2013. “Introduction.” Pp. 116 in The Girlhood of Shakespeare’s Sisters: Gender, Transgression, Adolescence. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. doi: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748655908.003.0001

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Johnson, Emily Pauline. 2002. “A Strong Race Opinion: On the Indian Girl in Modern Fiction.” Pp. 177184 in E. Pauline Johnson, Tekahionwake: Collected Poems and Selected Prose, ed. Emily Pauline Johnson, Carole Gerson and Veronica Jane Strong-Boag. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • McCormack, Patricia A. 2010. “The Fur Trade Mode of Production.” Pp. 2548 in Fort Chipewyan and the Shaping of Canadian History, 1788-1920s: “We Like to be Free in This Country.” Vancouver: UBC Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Martiníez Cobo, José R. 2004. “The Concept of Indigenous People.” Background paper prepared by the Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/workshop_data_background.doc (accessed 14 February 2013).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Miller, Jim R. 2009. “Aboriginal-Crown Treaty-Making in Canada: A Many-Splendoured Thing.” Pp. 314 in Aboriginal Policy Research: A History of Treaties and Policies. Vol. 7, ed. Jerry P. White, Erik Anderson, Jean-Pierre Morin and Dan Beavon. Toronto, ON: Thompson Educational Pub. http://apr.thompsonbooks.com/vols/APR_Vol_7Ch1.pdf (accessed 17 December 2014).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC). 2015. “Fact Sheet Missing and Murdered: Aboriginal Women and Girls.” http://www.nwac.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Fact_Sheet_Missing_and_Murdered_Aboriginal_Women_and_Girls.pdf (accessed 26 April 2016).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Peers, Laura L. 2007. Playing Ourselves: Interpreting Native Histories at Historic Reconstructions. Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press.

  • Peterson, Jacqueline, and John Afinson. 1985. “The Indian and the Fur Trade: A Review of Recent Literature.” Manitoba History, no. 10: n.p.. http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/mb_history/10/indianfurtrade.shtml (accessed 17 April 2016).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rice, Brian, and Anna Snyder. 2008. “Reconciliation in the Context of a Settler Society: Healing the Legacy of Colonialism in Canada.” Pp. 4361 in From Truth to Reconciliation: Transforming the Legacy of Residential Schools (2nd impression), ed. Marlene Brant Castellano, Linda Archibald and Mike DeGagné. Ottawa: Aboriginal Healing Foundation.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Seton, Ernest T. 1913. “Tekahionwake (Pauline Johnson).” P. 9 in The Shagganappi. E. Pauline Johnson. Toronto: Ryerson Press.

  • Smith, Shirlee Anne. The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2006–, s.v. “Rupert’s Land.” http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/ruperts-land/ (accessed 18 April 2016).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Stevenson, Winona. 1999. “Colonialism and First Nations Women in Canada.” Pp. 4980 in Scratching the Surface: Canadian Anti-Racist Feminist Thought, ed. Enakshi Dua and Angela Robertson. Toronto: Women’s Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Still, Gary. 2015. “Peter Fidler (1769–1822), Mary Mackagonne (1775–1826).” http://www.peterfidler.com/peter-fidler.php (accessed 17 April 2016).

    • Export Citation
  • Taylor, Rupert Leslie. 1984. The Native Link: Tracing One’s Roots to the Fur Trade. Victoria, BC: Pencrest Publications.

  • Van Kirk, Sylvia. 1984. The Role of the Native Woman in the Fur Trade Society of Western Canada, 1670–1830. Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, 7, no. 3: 913. doi: 10.2307/3346234

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Van Kirk, Sylvia. 1999. Many Tender Ties: Women in Fur-Trade Society, 1670–1870. Winnipeg: Watson & Dwyer.

  • Van Kirk, Sylvia. 2002. “‘From Marrying-In’ to ‘Marrying-Out’: Changing Patterns of Aboriginal/Non-Aboriginal Marriage in Colonial Canada.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 23, no. 3: 111. doi: 10.1353/fro.2003.0010

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Walia, Harsha. 2014. “Decolonizing Together: Moving Beyond a Politics of Solidarity Toward a Practice of Decolonization.” Pp. 4451in The Winter We Danced: Voices from the Past, the Future, and the Idle No More Movement, ed. Kino-nda-niimi Collective. Winnipeg, MB: ARP Books.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Warketin, Germaine. 2003. “Discovering Radisson: A Renaissance Adventurer Between Two Worlds.” Pp. 75104 in Reading Beyond Words: Contexts for Native History, ed. Jennifer S. H. Brown and Elizabeth Vibert. Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • White, Richard. 1991. The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650–1815. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wickwire, Wendy C. 1994. “To See Ourselves as the Other’s Other: Nlaka’pamux Contact Narratives.” Canadian Historical Review 75, no. 1: 120. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.3138/CHR-075-01-01

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Williams, Deanne. 2014a. Shakespeare and the Performance of Girlhood. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave.

  • Williams, Deanne. 2014b. “Introduction: Girls and Girlhood in Adaptations of Shakespeare.” Borrowers and Lenders: The Journal of Shakespeare and Appropriation 9, no. 1: n.p.. http://www.borrowers.uga.edu/1366/show (accessed 13 April 2016).

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Notes
1

I have chosen not to italicize Haudenosaunee or Mohawk names later in this article, since such italicization signifies foreignness and this runs counter to the sensibility that informs this article.

2

I use Pauline Johnson’s Mohawk name to honor her final request documented by Ernest Thompson Seton in his introduction to a collection of her stories. She asked, “Forget that I was Pauline Johnson, but remember always that I was Tekahionwake, the Mohawk that humbly aspired to be the saga singer of her people” (1913: 9).

3

For a compelling argument about the links between settler colonialism and marriage, see also Mishuana Goeman’s analysis of Tekahionwake’s “A Red Girls’s Reasoning” (1893) and “As It Was in the Beginning (1913).” These two short love stories portray “a respectful and self-possessed Native woman who refuses to acquiesce to settler law—or to her husband” (2013: 50). The protagonists, mixed-blood daughters whose fathers are white fur traders and whose mothers are Indian, represent Native women driven out of their rightful places in fur trade society.

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Contributor Notes

Haidee Smith Lefebvre’s research and publication areas focus on hip-hop and Indigenous girlhood. A doctoral candidate at McGill University, her qualitative inquiry applies visual methodologies to analyze a collection of paintings about girlhood created by various Indigenous artists. She seeks to better understand how female artists infuse girlhood with sovereign identities. The project includes a peer-review board consisting of Indigenous young women to sustain a community-based approach.

Girlhood Studies

An Interdisciplinary Journal

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  • Bate, Jonathan. 2007. “A Man for All Ages.” The Guardian, 12 April. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2007/apr/14/classics.shopping (accessed 14 April 2016).

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  • Bicks, Caroline. 2014. “‘Making the Stage My Profession’: Girlhood and Performance in Mary ‘Perdita’ Robinson’s Memoirs.” Borrowers and Lenders: The Journal of Shakespeare and Appropriation 9, no. 1: n.p.. http://www.borrowers.uga.edu/1383/show#references (accessed 13 April 2016).

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  • Carlos, Ann, and Frank Lewis. EH.Net Encyclopedia, 2008–, ed. Robert Whaples, s.v. “Fur Trade (1670–1870).” http://eh.net/encyclopedia/the-economic-history-of-the-fur-trade-1670-to-1870/ (accessed 15 April 2016).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Collett, Anne. 2001. “Red and White: Miss E. auline Johnson Tekahionwake and the Other Woman.” Women’s Writing 8, no. 3: 359374. doi: 10.1080/09699080100200140

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Erasmus, Georges, and René Dussault. 1996. Looking Forward, Looking Back. Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. Vol. 1. Ottawa: Minister of Supply and Services Canada.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Estill, Laura. 2015. “Was Shakespeare as Popular in His Own Time as He is Now?British Council. https://www.britishcouncil.org/voices-magazine/was-shakespeare-popular-his-own-time-he-now (accessed 19 April 2016).

    • Export Citation
  • Forsyth, Janice. 2005. “After the Fur Trade: First Nations Women in Canadian History, 1850–1950.” Atlantis 29, no. 2: 112.

  • Gerson, Carole, and Veronica Jane Strong-Boag. 2002. “Introduction: The Firm Handiwork of Will.” Pp. xiiixliv in E. Pauline Johnson, Tekahionwake: Collected Poems and Selected Prose, ed. Emily Pauline Johnson, Carole Gerson and Veronica Jane Strong-Boag. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Goeman, Mishuana. 2013. Mark My Words: Native Women Mapping Our Nations. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

  • Fraser, Crystal, and Zoe Todd. 2016. “Decolonial Sensibilities: Indigenous Research and Engaging with Archives in Contemporary Colonial Canada.” http://www.internationaleonline.org/research/decolonising_practices/54_decolonial_sensibilities_indigenous_research_and_engaging_with_archives_in_contemporary_colonial_canada (accessed 19 April 2016).

    • Export Citation
  • Higginbotham, Jennifer. 2013. “Introduction.” Pp. 116 in The Girlhood of Shakespeare’s Sisters: Gender, Transgression, Adolescence. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. doi: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748655908.003.0001

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Johnson, Emily Pauline. 2002. “A Strong Race Opinion: On the Indian Girl in Modern Fiction.” Pp. 177184 in E. Pauline Johnson, Tekahionwake: Collected Poems and Selected Prose, ed. Emily Pauline Johnson, Carole Gerson and Veronica Jane Strong-Boag. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • McCormack, Patricia A. 2010. “The Fur Trade Mode of Production.” Pp. 2548 in Fort Chipewyan and the Shaping of Canadian History, 1788-1920s: “We Like to be Free in This Country.” Vancouver: UBC Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Martiníez Cobo, José R. 2004. “The Concept of Indigenous People.” Background paper prepared by the Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/workshop_data_background.doc (accessed 14 February 2013).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Miller, Jim R. 2009. “Aboriginal-Crown Treaty-Making in Canada: A Many-Splendoured Thing.” Pp. 314 in Aboriginal Policy Research: A History of Treaties and Policies. Vol. 7, ed. Jerry P. White, Erik Anderson, Jean-Pierre Morin and Dan Beavon. Toronto, ON: Thompson Educational Pub. http://apr.thompsonbooks.com/vols/APR_Vol_7Ch1.pdf (accessed 17 December 2014).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC). 2015. “Fact Sheet Missing and Murdered: Aboriginal Women and Girls.” http://www.nwac.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Fact_Sheet_Missing_and_Murdered_Aboriginal_Women_and_Girls.pdf (accessed 26 April 2016).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Peers, Laura L. 2007. Playing Ourselves: Interpreting Native Histories at Historic Reconstructions. Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press.

  • Peterson, Jacqueline, and John Afinson. 1985. “The Indian and the Fur Trade: A Review of Recent Literature.” Manitoba History, no. 10: n.p.. http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/mb_history/10/indianfurtrade.shtml (accessed 17 April 2016).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rice, Brian, and Anna Snyder. 2008. “Reconciliation in the Context of a Settler Society: Healing the Legacy of Colonialism in Canada.” Pp. 4361 in From Truth to Reconciliation: Transforming the Legacy of Residential Schools (2nd impression), ed. Marlene Brant Castellano, Linda Archibald and Mike DeGagné. Ottawa: Aboriginal Healing Foundation.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Seton, Ernest T. 1913. “Tekahionwake (Pauline Johnson).” P. 9 in The Shagganappi. E. Pauline Johnson. Toronto: Ryerson Press.

  • Smith, Shirlee Anne. The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2006–, s.v. “Rupert’s Land.” http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/ruperts-land/ (accessed 18 April 2016).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Stevenson, Winona. 1999. “Colonialism and First Nations Women in Canada.” Pp. 4980 in Scratching the Surface: Canadian Anti-Racist Feminist Thought, ed. Enakshi Dua and Angela Robertson. Toronto: Women’s Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Still, Gary. 2015. “Peter Fidler (1769–1822), Mary Mackagonne (1775–1826).” http://www.peterfidler.com/peter-fidler.php (accessed 17 April 2016).

    • Export Citation
  • Taylor, Rupert Leslie. 1984. The Native Link: Tracing One’s Roots to the Fur Trade. Victoria, BC: Pencrest Publications.

  • Van Kirk, Sylvia. 1984. The Role of the Native Woman in the Fur Trade Society of Western Canada, 1670–1830. Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, 7, no. 3: 913. doi: 10.2307/3346234

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Van Kirk, Sylvia. 1999. Many Tender Ties: Women in Fur-Trade Society, 1670–1870. Winnipeg: Watson & Dwyer.

  • Van Kirk, Sylvia. 2002. “‘From Marrying-In’ to ‘Marrying-Out’: Changing Patterns of Aboriginal/Non-Aboriginal Marriage in Colonial Canada.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 23, no. 3: 111. doi: 10.1353/fro.2003.0010

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Walia, Harsha. 2014. “Decolonizing Together: Moving Beyond a Politics of Solidarity Toward a Practice of Decolonization.” Pp. 4451in The Winter We Danced: Voices from the Past, the Future, and the Idle No More Movement, ed. Kino-nda-niimi Collective. Winnipeg, MB: ARP Books.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Warketin, Germaine. 2003. “Discovering Radisson: A Renaissance Adventurer Between Two Worlds.” Pp. 75104 in Reading Beyond Words: Contexts for Native History, ed. Jennifer S. H. Brown and Elizabeth Vibert. Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • White, Richard. 1991. The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650–1815. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wickwire, Wendy C. 1994. “To See Ourselves as the Other’s Other: Nlaka’pamux Contact Narratives.” Canadian Historical Review 75, no. 1: 120. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.3138/CHR-075-01-01

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Williams, Deanne. 2014a. Shakespeare and the Performance of Girlhood. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave.

  • Williams, Deanne. 2014b. “Introduction: Girls and Girlhood in Adaptations of Shakespeare.” Borrowers and Lenders: The Journal of Shakespeare and Appropriation 9, no. 1: n.p.. http://www.borrowers.uga.edu/1366/show (accessed 13 April 2016).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation

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