In Search Of April Raintree Essays

________________CM . . . . Volume VI Number 11 . . . . February 4, 2000

In Search of April Raintree: Critical Edition.

Beatrice Culleton Mosionier.
Winnipeg, MB: Portage & Main Press (Peguis Publishers), 1999.
343 pp., pbk., $14.95.
ISBN 1-894110-43-9.

Subject Heading:
Métis-Manitoba-Winnipeg-Fiction.

Grades 11 and up / Ages 16 and up.
Review by Joanne Peters.

*** /4

More than sixteen years have passed since the initial publication of In Search of April Raintree. Because it has been used as teaching text in junior and senior high schools and for university-level undergraduate and graduate courses in literature, women's studies, and Native studies, the story is well known. Due to their parents' alcohol abuse, Cheryl and April Raintree, two Metis sisters growing up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, are separated from each other and their family. Life in a variety of foster homes is typified by neglect, ill treatment, and shame at their Native heritage. Throughout much of the narrative, Cheryl maintains pride in her ancestry, but early on, April decides to deny her Native self as much as is possible. Over the years, distance develops between the two sisters. April's marriage to a wealthy white man offers a glamorous life in Toronto and financial comfort but emotional impoverishment. Divorcing her husband brings April temporary freedom and the opportunity to repair the breach which has developed between her and Cheryl. But Cheryl's pride has failed to sustain her; now a prostitute and alcoholic, she is not the sister April remembered. And, in a central and horrific accident of mistaken identity, April is confused with Cheryl and is brutally raped by a gang of young white men. She survives, but Cheryl does not, and the book ends with April's commitment to raise Cheryl's son with the pride and stability her sister could not provide. April's search for self is over, and her life begins anew.

The ten essays which follow the re-edited text cover a variety of issues: the nature of identity as a Native person in a largely racist white culture; April's story as a document of cultural displacement from one's heritage; the legacy of cycles of abuse, violence, and denial of human rights; the story as the lived experience of foster care, alcohol abuse, family violence, and suicide; history, as written by white historians and as told by First Nations tradition; censorship and the revision of the original text into April Raintree; and the book's place in Canadian Aboriginal literature. As well, Beatrice Culleton Mosionier contributes a short essay which details some personal family history and the story's raison d'etre. With the exception of Mosionier, all of the contributors are academics, most with interests in gender studies and/or native studies. As a result, the essays are definitely high-level discourse and are intended for an audience with more than average knowledge of textual reading. At the same time, the serious attention these critical essays pay to the book validates its importance as a central text in Native literature. The book certainly deserves a place in public and academic libraries, as well as in high school collections where the book is studied in upper grades.

Recommended.

Joanne Peters is the teacher-librarian at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364

TABLE OF CONTENTS FOR THIS ISSUE - February 4, 2000.

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. A little bit of History, who are the Métis?

3. Brief Summary “In Search of April Raintree” by Beatrice Culleton

4. Two sisters, April and Cheryl Raintree
4.1 The first years
4.2 The hard years
4.3 Becoming an adult

5. Some depictions of racism and victimization
5.1 The bus situation
5.2 Mother Radcliff
5.3 At the Party
5.4 The rape scene

6. Different developments of two lives, April and Cheryl
6.1 April
6.2 Cheryl

7. Conclusion

8. Personal Comment

9. Bibliographies

1. Introduction

In this junior essay “Two sisters, April and Cheryl Raintree” I will write about the following, the characters April and Cheryl Raintree in “In Search of April Raintree” by Beatrice Culleton have brutal experiences of victimization and each of them has great difficulties in working through them. I will discuss how the main characters deal with the experience of victimization, how they come to terms with it, or not as in the case of Cheryl, and finally how they grow beyond it. The term paper starts with a small history section, where the reader will get to know some interesting information about the Métis. After a summary of the story I will focus on the three steps of the girl’s life in growing up. In the main section, I will show and discuss with certain examples, how April and Cheryl are confronted with racism.

In detail, I also will point out how April and Cheryl, as an individum, come in terms with the experience of the brutal victimization. At the end I will show my own opinion within the conclusion, about the book, the author and the topic of this essay.

This essay is supposed to be a junior seminar paper, it looks more than it is because I have included a lot of citations out of the originally Text. I did this, that it is easier for the reader to understand the story and its mood.

I hope you will have fun, in reading this paper.

2. A little bit of History, who are the Métis?

They one and all look upon themselves as members of an independent tribe of natives entitled to a property in the soil, a flag of their own and to protection from the British government”

William Mcgillivray, Nor’ West Company Head, 1818[1]

The Métis are Canadian people of mixed blood, Indian and white. Their “mothers” were natives and their “fathers” were the traders and explorers who came far from France and Britain on their ships, this is now three centuries ago. The Métis have been often misunderstood, had to suffer with racism or have been ignored, although they played an important role in Canadian history. In the sixteenth century, trading companies had been formed and well dressed men went on an adventure to discover the new world. Far away from the country they came from the white traders and discoverers needed the Indians to survive. They exchanged goods with them and so some of the whites became friendly with them. Partly to help business, some of the foreign men took an Indian wife; the achievement was that an Indian wife was able to interpret for her husband. As well, white men who married the daughter of an Indian would have the business of the chief’s people and probably that of the neighbouring bands too. The children of a European man and an Indian woman were able to speak both of the languages. As soon as the boys were old enough some of them worked like their father for the companies. With it a new native work force of labourers, traders, canoe men and fur packers developed. Some of the Métis children were sent to France, Britain or Quebec to be educated, when they came back home, they often were hired as clerks by the fur companies. Some of the girls married their father’s fur-trade colleagues; most early western Métis lived the lifestyle of their Native mothers. Not only the fur trade grew and expanded, also the Métis did. From now on the Métis started to call themselves, “The new Nation”.

The Indians decreased, being killed in rebellions and wars, or they died as the result of European diseases. The Métis communities instead grew, they had not been affected so badly by the diseases, probably because they had a better access to the white men’s medicine, it also might be that their “mixed blood” provided some immunity.[2]

3. Brief Summary “In Search of April Raintree” by Beatrice Culleton

April Raintree, a twenty-four-year old Métis woman, tells the story of her and her younger sister Cheryl’s lives: As small children, April and Cheryl are taken away from their parents and are put into different foster families, where they make different experiences. While Cheryl is encouraged to be proud of her Native ancestry and develops a strong and confident identity, April suffers abuse and discrimination against her Métis identity, which leads her to feel a deep shame of belonging to the Métis people and the wish to lead a ‘white’ life. As a grown-up, April tries her best to succeed in white society and believes to have reached this goal when she marries the white lawyer Bob Radcliff. But her marriage fails due to the discriminating behaviour of her mother-in-law and due to the affair of her husband to another woman, and April must confess to herself that she does not fit into this white society either.

Meanwhile, Cheryl manages to find her father, and thus discovers the truth: Not only were April and Cheryl’s parents unable to take care for their children due to their addiction to alcohol, but their mother also committed suicide because she did not see another way out of depression and shame. These news destroy Cheryl’s self-identity and function as a trigger of her fateful development: The feelings of disappointment and shame lead Cheryl into a live of alcoholism and prostitution, which in turn results in the rape of April by three men who mistake her for Cheryl. Only when April learns that she was mistaken for Cheryl she recovers from that trauma. But Cheryl is not able to overcome her shame and victimization and finally regards suicide to be her last resort. Only after Cheryl’s death April learns about everything Cheryl had suffered from and also learns about Cheryl’s son. April decides to take care for Cheryl’s son and is finally able to accept her Native ancestry and to develop a proud and self-confident Métis identity.[3]

4. Two sisters, April and Cheryl Raintree

The characters of April and Cheryl are born of parents who were mixed bloods. The two sisters do not look alike at all, at the one hand there is a fair skinned April, taking after her mother’s Ojibwas and Irish background, heritage and bloodline. At the other hand there is Cheryl with a dark skin, she admires her father “mixed blood, a piece of this and a piece of that, and much of Indian”.

Not only their look is different, also the question what is meant by being a Métis differs.

For April being a Métis means:

- the native girl syndrome
- alcoholism, with it being drunk most of the time
- prostitution
- social outcast
- growing up with a bunch of lies
- being faced with racism to her and her family
- shame to be a Métis

[“Being a half-breed meant being poor and dirty. It meant being weak and having to drink. It meant living off white people. It meant being ugly and stupid. And giving your children to white people to look after. It meant having to take all the crap white people gave. Well, I wasn’t going to live like a half breed. When I got free of this place, when I got free from being a foster child, then I would live just like a real white person”][4]

Cheryl has a totally different opinion about being born as a mixed blood, for her it means:

- being pride of her family
- keeping up traditions
- “belonging”
- being glorious about her past
- honesty and authenticity

[ A book about Louis Riel?” I said and crinkled my nose in distaste. I knew all about Riel He was a rebel, who had been hanged for treason. Worse, he had been a crazy half-breed. …”So anything to do with Indians, I despised. And here I was supposed to be part Indian. I remember how relieved I was that no one in my class knew of my heritage when we were going through that period in Canadian history. ”He’s a Métis, like us,” Cheryl said proudly. “Mrs McAdams says we should be proud of our heritage. You know what it means? It means we are part Indian and part white. I wish we were whole Indians.”

I just about fell off my chair when I heard this.][5]

April and Cheryl have to come aware with both sites, they have to bring the two pictures, of being a Métis, together.

4.1 The first years

At the point where the father is no longer able to be self-sufficient and with it the family moves into the slums of Winnipeg, the story line begins.

The awareness of April, that her family is no different than any other family is rather a non-believable account of her becoming slowly but surely aware that alcoholism is the true illness of both her parents.

Culleton’s writing in the early editions shows the situation rather more actively than the two later revisions of 1992 and 1999. This is important because in the rewritten versions, the clarity of the effects of racism simply does not jump out of the story, to the readers mind and grab them, as they should.

All through the early chapters, the author keeps obscured to a certain degree, the effects of the racism in the story by limitation of it to its existence between April and Cheryl. As April becomes more and more aware of the family situation, especially when the authorities step in and take the two girls from their parents and place them into foster homes, the problems of the racism begin to appear. Being brought in the Dion home setting, April is accepted primarily because of the lightness of her skin (she is able to pass as a white girl; “pass” is a frequently used term).[6]

April grows up within the family, starts her education and her religious training, she becomes a Roman Catholic. The seeds of personal racism are sown within her young mind.

She takes on an air of superiority that has its effects much later in the book concerning her sister Cheryl’s, who has a much darker skin and a lack of ability to “pass” under any circumstances.

Much to April’s surprise, one must give credit for the pleasure she finds too, Cheryl is adapting to life within an Irish family despite her dark skin. That Cheryl’s quick mind appears so rapidly and at such a young age only depends on the latent racism with April; the author tries but fails to hide. One could say all seems well for the two sisters, in spite of only being able to visit each other and their parents infrequently. As the visits become longer, especially in visitations with the mother and father, April begins to realize her father’s true illness. She has to accept the fact that he is an alcoholic, at the same time she has to try to hide this information from her sister Cheryl.

When Mrs. Dion is stricken with a fatal and constantly illness, April must be moved from the Dion home. In her new foster home, a totally dysfunctional family replaces the loving atmosphere and surroundings controlled by the host mother.

The mother, along with her two children, makes life for April a living hell and as paradoxical as this is for her, she keeps it from Cheryl at all costs. Moreover, throughout this period both of the girls continue their education and religious training.

Finally Cheryl must, due to circumstances beyond her control, be forced to leave her foster home where she was nourished. The Canadian authorities place the two girls together at the foster home of April and at this point the plot thickens clearly.[7]

[...]



[1] Gordon Ternier, Irene: A People on the move the Métis of the Western Plains. P. 9.

[2] Campbell, Maria: Riel’s people (How they lived in Canada).

[3] Culleton, Beatrice: In Search of April Raintree.

[4] Culleton, Beatrice: In Search of April Raintree. P. 49.

[5] Culleton, Beatrice: In Search of April Raintree. P. 44-45.

[6] Culleton, Beatrice: In Search of April Raintree. P. 22.

[7] Culleton, Beatrice: In Search of April Raintree.

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