Devil in Deerskins: Anahareo and Indigenous Writing

I recently read Devil in Deerskins: My Life with Grey Owl the autobiography of Anahareo (1906-1985).  Anahareo was a Mohawk environmentalist, writer, and activist.  She is perhaps most well known for her marriage to Grey Owl, also known as Archie Belaney, the internationally acclaimed author who claimed to be of Scottish and Apache descent, but who’s roots as an Englishman were revealed after his death.

The original version of Devil in Deerskins was published in 1972.  The University of Manitoba Press republished Anahareo’s autobiography in 2014 as part of it’s First Voices First Texts series.  This series aims to republish critical editions of books by important under-recognized Indigenous authors and place these texts within their cultural contexts.  The republished version of Devil in Deerskins was edited and includes an afterword by Sophie McCall.  The critical comments by McCall add value to the discussion of Anahareo as an important historical figure in her own right and the republishing aims to introduce a new generation to Anahareo and Grey Owl.

McCall’s afterward rightly points out how Anahareo has most often been defined by her relationship with Grey Owl and at times has been “overlooked as an Indigenous writer because of her family’s history of displacement and relocation.” McCall’s close examination of Devil in Deerskins highlights the depth of Anahareo’s Mohawk heritage and the influence it had on her way of life and writing.  This is brought out through a discussion of Anahareo’s relationship with her Grandmother, her beading, her use of traditional medicine, and the use of oral history to impart traditional knowledge.

Prior to reading this book I knew very little about Anahareo other than her relationship with Grey Owl.  Anahareo is far more than the supporting figure that history has whitewashed her into.  She received the Order of Nature from the International League of Animal Rights in 1979 and in 1983 received the Order of Canada.  Her contributions to environmental, social, and animal rights go far beyond her relationship with Grey Owl and she was one of the first Indigenous women to publish a full length memoir in Canada.  Her autobiography is well worth a read if you are interested in early environmentalism or indigenous literature.

Anahareo’s use of place in her life narrative and her ability to recreate landscapes inspired me to look up some of the locations she mentioned in her autobiography. The cabin which Anahareo describes in her memoir as the spot Grey Owl picked to settle and begin creating a beaver sanctuary in 1931 still exists in Prince Albert National Park in Saskatchewan. The main cabin known as Beaver Lodge was built on the shoreline of Ajawaan Lake with a beaver lodge integrated into the design.  A larger cabin for Anahareo, her daughter Shirley Dawn, and visitors was nearby in 1932.   The Parks Canada description of the Cabin focuses largely on Grey Owl with just one or two mentions of Anahareo.  I would be interested to know what interpretive materials are at the site itself and how they depict Anahareo.


The Mark Twain Project and the Autobiography of Mark Twain

The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 2  was published in October 2013 in print and digital form.  Twain dictated much of his autobiography during the later years of his life.  He insisted that the lengthy work not be published until 100 years after his death. The first volume of this complete authoritative autobiographical series was published accordingly in 2010.

The second book in a three volume set picks up where his dictation left in April 1906 and continues until February 1907.  The writing reflects a stream of consciousness writing style and often wanders off in various directions at once.  Many of the entries begin with reference to contemporary events, newspaper articles, or letters, which Twain then expands on, rants about, or analysis.  The work includes many personal reflections, political views, and discussions of his contemporaries.  These often scathing comments highlight Twain’s reasoning for a long publication ban.  He spares no feelings when discussing those he dislikes.

Twain’s writing is often self centered and vain but you can’t help but being drawn into his world.  The pages are infused with his famous humor and wit.  Twain is also very open about the fact that he is selective about what is being dictated and that he is presenting himself in a good light. The Autobiography is not at all what I expected as it is more personal recollections of events or people that are often disconnected from each other.  There is no overarching ‘great man’ narrative or grand story propelling the work.  But, the nontraditional format does allow Twain’s personality to come forth and reveals previously unpublished insights into the life of Twain.

Samuel Langhorne Clemens, Seattle Tacoma, 1895

To call Mark Twain a prolific writer might be an understatement.  Born in 1835 as Samuel Langhorne Clemens, the man published over 30 books and over 300 articles in his lifetime.  He also penned a massive amount of material that was unpublished at the time of his death. 

Some of this unpublished material was later published under a series of editors selected by Twain or his daughter Clara.  And the bulk of it was eventually donated to the University of California in 1949.  Since this time a series of editors at Berkley have worked diligently to edit and publish parts of the Twain papers.  In 1980 Robert H. Hirst took over as editor of the project and expanded the scope of the project to be as comprehensive as possible, aiming to collect everything Mark Twain wrote.

In 2001, the Project began incorporating digital components into its work. This movement allowed for the digital markup and encoding of Twain’s writings, the digital publication of his works, continuous updating of publications.  One of the best features of this movement online is the ability to compare transcriptions of texts (eg. original manuscript vs. typescript) and the hyperlinking of references and emendations.

I enjoyed the print edition of the Autiobiography but I did find myself frequently wishing the notes were more accessible.  The 733 page volume contains roughly 450 pages of the autobiography with the rest being notes and index.  The notes provide a lot of insight and context to the news clippings and people referenced by Twain.  However, flipping back and forth between the main text and the line notations can be disruptive while reading.  The digital version’s feature which hyperlinks notations and places the explanatory notes next to the main text is much less cumbersome.