The Least of the Mohicans?

With some trepidation I’ve been watching Hawkeye And The Last of the Mohicans. Trepidation, because it was made in 1957 and clearly is going to warrant TPTV’s Contains Racist Language And Depictions title card; however, it’s one of the oldest, if not THE oldest, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation television programme still viewable, so I felt I should give it a try for historical reasons.

My takeaways:

  1. While the brownface is indeed shocking to a modern audience (Cec Linder in makeup and a war bonnet as an “Indian Chief”, no kidding), and the depiction of Native culture ridiculous (e.g. Hurons living in tipis), one point in its favour is that the Native characters are all given fully rounded characterisation and interesting motivations; their resistance to colonisation is presented as fully legitimate, and they have as complicated internal power politics as you can depict in a 30-minute episodic series. So not to apologise for, or forgive, the other parts, but at least it didn’t go the route of having the Natives as the unreasonable faceless horde of cowboy movies or Laura Ingalls Wilder.
  2. Clever old CBC, making a “settlers and Indians” series which is set before the American revolution, and in a vaguely defined “Huron territory” that could be anywhere from New York to Eastern Ontario. That way you can sell it on both sides of the border without having to deal with the sticky political wicket of rebellion against/loyalty to the Crown.

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Fiona Moore

Academic, anthropologist and SF writer, living, teaching and working in a global city.

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