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"We want you to take a picture."
January 22, 2013 12:00 PM   Subscribe

This iconic photo of the first Aboriginal woman to enlist in the Canadian Women’s Army Corps was used as a recruitment tool, and "appeared all over the British Empire [in 1942] to show the power of the colonies fighting for King and country." Its original caption in the Canadian War Museum read, "Unidentified Indian princess getting blessing from her chief and father to go fight in the war." Its current caption in The Library and Archives of Canada reads: "Mary Greyeyes being blessed by her native Chief prior to leaving for service in the CWAC, 1942." But as it turns out, the two people in the photo had never met before that day. They weren't from the same tribe or even related and Private Mary Greyeyes was not an "Indian Princess." 70 years after the photo was taken, her daughter-in-law Melanie made sure the official record was corrected. Via

The Department of National Defense shows the photo on their website with the following caption:
Private Mary Greyeyes, Cree from Muskeg Lake, Cree Nation, Canadian Women's Army Corps.
Library and Archives Canada (PA-129070)
In 1946, Mary shipped back to Canada and was discharged. She returned to the Muskeg Lake reserve. One day, during a federal election, her old sergeant and a couple of Mounties showed up. They said, “Mary, you’ve got to come and vote.” The deal was, Indians who had served in the war could vote, if they gave up their treaty rights:
So Mary says to them, she says, “Can my mom vote?”
And they said, “No, she didn’t fight in the war.”
She said, “Well, what about my cousins over there, can they vote?”
And they said no. They said, “C’mon Mary, you gotta come, we’ve got the photographer.”
And she said, “All those years, I said nothing. Now I’m saying no.”
And that’s the real story of Mary Greyeyes.
posted by zarq (13 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite

 
Nobody in Canada was ever an "Indian princess," to my knowledge. Not an surprising little piece of patronizing bigotry from the 40's. Glad the story's been set straight.
posted by Devils Rancher at 12:15 PM on January 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


The great writer, essayist and humorist Thomas King, in The Truth About Stories, discusses how what is commonly thought of "native identity" is a construct of the now-dominant culture in North America.

You can listen to his Massey Lecture here.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:24 PM on January 22, 2013 [10 favorites]


What a great story. My favourite part is the conversation between Mary and Harry (the "chief" in the photo--who wasn't a chief at the time; he was a councillor). Canada's treatment of Aboriginal people has often been such a strange mixture of romanticism and cruelty. The fact that Aboriginal people fought for Canada and then upon return were treated as second class citizens pisses me off to no end.

Seconding KokuRyu's recommendation of Thomas King's Massey Lecture. It's wonderful; King is a terrific storyteller and speaker.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:40 PM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


The fact that Aboriginal people fought for Canada and then upon return were treated as second class citizens pisses me off to no end.

It's appalling that the government kept and keeps trying to swindle them out of their treaty rights. The biggest one-sided ripoff deal in the history of mankind and we can't even stomach honouring the ridiculously cheap treaty terms we forced them into agreeing to. I wish them the best of luck with the "Idle no more" protests.
posted by srboisvert at 12:51 PM on January 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


Idle No More is very powerful and inspiring, but, dammit, I have to turn the radio off when I hear the leadership airing grievances in public, just when they need to be united - when the public spotlight is focused on them for a brief time before moving on elsewhere.

On the other hand they behave just as unsophisticated as politicians do in rural BC, so there's that.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:56 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


For some great perspective on the Indigenous experience in the first world war, read Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden.
posted by dogbusonline at 1:40 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Idle No More is very powerful and inspiring, but, dammit, I have to turn the radio off when I hear the leadership airing grievances in public, just when they need to be united - when the public spotlight is focused on them for a brief time before moving on elsewhere.

A united front would probably be more successful, but we're talking about more than a million people (according to the 2006 census) from literally hundreds of different communities, each with different wants, needs, and cultures. I think it's pretty reasonable that a fully united front is going to be difficult to create.

That said, I think there is general agreement on some of the broader issues around the environment and opposition to the omnibus budget bill.
posted by asnider at 1:52 PM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I regularly read The Tyee and yet I missed this story. Thanks for posting.
posted by metaname at 2:21 PM on January 22, 2013


Idle No More isn't doing a great job at getting the message out. We were discussing it in the office and one guy thought it was an environmental movement aimed at stopping cars idling if stuck in traffic jams.
posted by arcticseal at 2:45 PM on January 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is such an interesting story and the writer's voice and relationship to her mother-in-law come through the text very well. Thanks for posting.
posted by Cuke at 5:16 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Now I'm saying no.

Good for you, Mary Greyeyes. You owe them nothing.

The white women didn’t want her in the barracks and so Mary boarded outside the barracks.

I'm sure there were women who were just fine, or indifferent to her being in the barracks. But shitheels seem to prevail.
*sigh*
posted by BlueHorse at 5:17 PM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, any time anything credits someone as an "Indian Princess" wrt Native Americans/First Nations, you can immediately discount the validity of the source. And judge them.
posted by elizardbits at 5:33 PM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I witnessed this nasty thing about treaty rights in northern Wisconsin. The local Ojibway had rights to spear/arrow fish the lakes, and white sportsmen weren't allowed to do that. So they would throw fits about it, and the media would raise the cry of how unjust it was.

I mean, spearing some walleye was sufficient to brew hate for a class of people. Never mind that the Ojibway people had basically just given away the iron-rich, heavily forested land, only reserving the fishing rights. White folks chopped down the forest and mined out the iron ore, then complained when the natives came to take some fish.
posted by Goofyy at 8:18 AM on January 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


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