Burns Lake, 1967

Burns Lake, 1967 features a postcard written by Jackie and sent to Winnona in Vancouver. This 1997 work depicts enlarged versions of both sides of the card. The jagged contours of a mountainous landscape and the handwritten note are rendered in blue flock on white fabric. The postcard reads:

Well here I am doing Missionary work among the Indians. I’m teaching Kindergarten at Burns Lake & there kids can’t even speak English. It’s a Babine Dialect & it can be very upsetting when one 5 year old starts swearing at you in Babine. It’s a lot of fun & we all get drunk Saturday night.

“[D]oing Missionary work among the Indians” evokes all the political and social bankruptcy inherent in the treatment of the Aboriginal population. Promoting Christian values and Western culture in an attempt to assimilate the First Nations is now deemed misguided and ethnocentric. Although the writer seems appalled that the children “can’t even speak English,” that reference to getting drunk Saturday night encourages us to read “doing Missionary work” as a facetious remark. The tension or contradiction in Burns Lake, 1967 revolves around our contemporary understanding that this teacher enforces repressive social policy, yet her words express something of what it’s like to be a minority. She is, after all, isolated in a remote land and by a foreign language. Getting drunk is something we tend to associate with devastated native populations, not something we usually think necessary for those representing the dominant culture. Burns Lake, 1967 reminds us that although a structure of dominance is present, the “teacher” does not always rule the “students.”

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