Three Day Road: Identifying Racism Towards Indigenous People

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During World War I, Canada’s Indigenous and First Nations communities had always been the target for racism by European settlers. The novel ​Three Day Road​, written by critically acclaimed author, Joseph Boyden uses the literary lens of critical race theory to further focus on racism in the Indigenous community. Boyden uses three main focuses to emphasize racism in the novel: alienation of Indigenous people, treatment at residential schools and treatment by The Hudson Bay people. Through this, one can see how the Indigenous Peoples have been a major target for racism from white, European settlers. 

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Firstly, Boyden starts the novel off with Niska, a Cree Canadian woman walking through a white-dominated town to get to the train station, where her beloved nephew, who is coming back from the First World War, is awaiting her. As Niska walks through the town, she feels all eyes on her. She feels as if she is the odd one out; alienated from the rest of society. Niska says “They stare [the wemistikoshiw] and point and talk about me as if they’ve not seen one of me before”. Here, it is blatantly obvious that Niska feels alienated from the rest of society, all because she doesn’t share the same skin colour and values as the white people in the town. You can also see how the white people, or as Niska describes, the wemistikoshiw, make their pointing and staring obvious. So obvious that Niska notices. This is clear alienation and a clear intent to show Niska that she does not belong in the town. Niska continues to walk through the town and says “I must look like a thin and wild old woman to them, an Indian animal straight out of the bush” (Boyden 3). In this quotation, we see that Niska thinks that in white people’s eyes, she looks like an animal that belongs in the wild and does not belong in a “civilized,” white town. Again, it is clear to see how alienated the First Nations felt from the rest of society. 

Secondly, as the story progresses, we see an unfortunate interaction between Xavier, Elijah and “the man in the uniform”. Elijah and Xavier are getting into a train with the rest of their troop when the man in the uniform says to them “No Indians in this car. You belong four cars to the back”. Here, the man in the uniform denies Elijah and Xavier access to regular car in the train solely because their skin is not white. The man in the uniform refers to Elijah and Xavier as “Indians” in an arrogant and disgusting way, as if them being Indian is something that changes the fact that they are still human. Through this, it is obvious that Boyden was making the readers see how racist European settlers and people of white colour were towards Indigenous people. Lastly, Lieutenant Breech is a recurring character who is openly racist towards Xavier and Elijah both. Often ridiculing them for being Cree Canadians; as if it is something they could control. As Xavier and Elijah are appreciated for their war talents by McCann, and since McCann is smitten over Elijah and Xavier’s talent, he further tells Lieutenant “Bastard” Breech. “McCann reports our talent to Lieutenant Breech. Elijah tells me that Breech says that it is our Indian blood, that our blood is closer to that of an animal than that of a man”. Here, despite being two of the best snipers in the troop, Lieutenant Breech still cannot appreciate their talent without identifying their race. Instead of applauding them for their good work, he compares their blood to a wild animal because regardless of their efforts in the war. This is a clear example of how Xavier and Elijah feel alienated from the rest of the troop, just because they are of Cree Canadian decent. Overall, through alienation Niska, Elijah and Xavier face throughout the book, we see how indigenous people and communities have been a target for racism from white, European settlers. 

It is known that the purpose of residential schools was to eliminate all aspects of Indigenous and First Nations culture. Boyden addresses the very real issue of residential schools and how indigenous children were treated at residential schools in ​Three Day Road​. Firstly, we see this through Niska’s time at residential school. For example, Niska’s experience in residential schools is not pleasant at all. Niska describes a part of it as, “The nuns would wake me in the middle of the night and drag me to a brightly lit room where I was made to repeat words over and over again until I pronounced them correctly. When I was caught speaking my tongue, they’d force lye soap and not give me anything else to eat for days.” 

Here, it is clear to see that Niska’s experience in residential schools was nothing but unpleasant. They would [the nuns] would wake her in the middle of her sleep just to forcefully make her learn a language that she did not want to learn. Instead of making it a choice for Indigenous people, it became an obligation. The english language was so forced upon them that if Niska was caught speaking her native tongue of Cree, she would have soap put into her mouth and would be forced to starve for days. Boyden uses this example with Niska to point out the very real issue of racism in the Indigenous community and how they were treated at residential schools. Secondly, it is known that indigenous women often grow their hair out up till their waist as a way to represent their culture. Unfortunately, at her time at residential schools, Niska’s way of representing her culture and pride was taken away from her, all to show that white people are more superior than Cree Canadians. ​“​They were going to remove the black hair that reached to my waist as a symbol of​ ​wemistikoshiw​ ​authority” (Boyden 93). In this quote, Niska explains how to show superiority towards the white people and how the white people live. In the residential school she goes to, she is stripped away of anything that identifies her as a Cree Canadian. Anything aside from her skin colour. Through this experience that Niska shares with us, it is easy to see that the point of residential schools was to terminate indigenous culture. 

Lastly, ‘The old Cree are heathen and anger God,’ she says. ‘The Cree are a backwards people and God’s displeasure is shown in that He makes your rivers run backwards, to the north instead of to the south like in the civilized world’. In this quote, one of the nuns that work at the residential school, Sister Magdalene, is telling Xavier about how Cree Canadians anger God. She claims that God hates Cree Canadians so much that he makes their rivers go in the opposite direction than they are supposed to which is wrong. She claims that the Cree way of living is uncivilized, like Cree Canadians and Indigenous Peoples are not human like the rest of society. This furthermore proves that treatment at residential schools was cruel, unusual and openly racist towards Cree Canadians. At last, through the treatment Niska, Elijah and Xavier received during their time at residential schools, we see how the Indigenous Peoples have been a major target for racism from white, European settlers. 

Throughout ​Three Day Road​, white, European settlers are referred to as The Hudson Bay People. The Hudson Bay People are portrayed as really racist in the novel. Firstly, in the novel, when Niska’s father was being threatened by the police to be taken away into custody for killing Micha’s wife and child. When the news broke to the tribe that Niska’s father might be taken away, Niska says, “Wasn’t it the wemistikoshiw who were on out land? Was it not they who relied on us?”. In this quote, Niska is confused because The Hudson Bay Peoples feel superiority towards the Cree Canadians. Even Niska knows that The Hudson Bay People have used the Indigenous population solely for their [The Hudson Bay People] advantage. At first, it was the European settlers were the ones who relied on Indigenous people for hunting, food, water, shelter, etc and now, the European settlers disregard Cree culture and do what they want, even though Indigenous Peoples have different laws and rules than from the rest of society. This is an example of racism because of how The Hudson People disregard Cree culture. 

Secondly, there is another interaction between the Cree Canadians and The Hudson Bay People in which the Cree are called poor by the white people. A European settler says, “Do ye bring furs to trade me, or are ye like the rest of them devils that expect to live on credit?” (Boyden 91). In this quote, the The Hudson Bay People are calling Cree Canadian poor people who can’t afford to buy anything without getting it on credit. He refers to them as ‘devils’ which is itself racist to refer to an entire race as devils. Lastly, it is also important to note that the Cree Canadians have a difficult time hunting animals for food or trade because The Hudson Bay people have no regard for their [Cree Canadian] lives. “The Hudson’s Bay Company had instilled in the Cree a greed for furs that nearly wiped out the animals, and because of this the time finally came when even the most experienced of the bush men and women were faced with the decision to move to the reserve or die of hunger” (Boyden 90). 

Here, it is shown furthermore that The Hudson Bay People disregard Cree Canadian lives just so The Hudson Bay People can live comfortably. The Hudson Bay People hunt in the Cree Canadian land and hunt so much that not even the greatest hunters in the Cree tribes can gather any food from any animal. This is a complete disregard of an entire races’ life. The Hudson Bay People disregard the Cree Canadians because The Hudson Bay People are racist. Furthermore, through the treatment Niska, Elijah and Xavier received during their time at residential schools, we see how the Indigenous Peoples have been a major target for racism from white, European settlers.

In conclusion, through the events that have occurred in Joseph Boyden’s ​Three Day Road, ​It is clear to see how First Nation and Indigenous communities have been a target of racism from European settlers. Joseph Boyden used critical race theory to point out racism in the novel to furthermore relate it to reality. All in all, through the treatment Niska, Elijah and Xavier received during their time at residential schools, one can see how the Indigenous Peoples have been a major target for racism from white, European settlers. 

Works Cited

  • Boyden, Joseph. ​Three Day Road​. Penguin Random House Canada Limited, 2005
16 August 2021

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