New Breed Magazine Review - Honore Jaxon

New Breed Magazine
Reviewed by: Darren R. Prefontaine

The poseur or the imposter is a phenomenon that has existed throughout history. There is a well-documented history of publicly-renowned non-Aboriginal people posing as 'Indians', including but not limited to such historical figures as Grey Owl and Long Lance, and more recently, prominent and controversial American academics. This tradition has been reinforced by popular culture, particularly in such romanticized films as Kevin Costner's 'Dances with Wolves,' and by recent historiography (or the collection of written history) about the so-called 'White Indians'-Europeans who were adapted into First Nations bands after contact. William Henry Jackson fits into this category.

A brilliant but delusional figure, Jackson was one of Louis Riel's secretaries during the 1885 Resistance. As a Riel protégé he changed his name to the Gallic-sounding and presumably more Métis name, 'Honoré Jaxon.' Henceforth, he described himself in his long American exile (following a stint in an insane asylum), as 'a French Half-breed from the Northwest.' To his fellow English Canadians the fact that Jaxon was an Anglo-Protestant who identified with the Métis, and made his name French-sounding, clearly meant that he was insane -thus requiring time in an asylum to 'correct' himself. With Honoré Jaxon: Prairie Visionary, Calgary Historian Donald Smith -who has written about Grey Owl and Long Lance, history's most famous fake Indians -has written a masterful book.

Smith amply demonstrates that Jaxon, a deeply flawed but compelling individual, cared deeply for the Métis, and was adamant to the very end that the Métis were unjustly forced into the 1885 Resistance, and ultimately paid the price for the racist policies of the federal government. In clearly written prose, and in a dynamic storytelling ability lost to most Canadian historians, Smith writes a highly entertaining account of Jaxon's life. Engaging throughout, this book harkens back to the type of historical biography written by Donald Creighton, and focuses on Jaxon's inability to both make a consistent livelihood given his abilities as an orator, carpenter, contractor and organizer, and his growing delusion that he was Métis. Through each failed scheme, he kept his poor suffering wife Aimée, a fellow follower of the Baha'I faith, in a constant state of uncertainty.

The end came in the 1950s when Jaxon died a hobo's death in New York City, but not before his 'Métis Archives' was thrown in the dump by city sanitation workers. Smith convincingly argues that the collection was in the end of little value, but was, however, a poignant reminder of one man's consuming obsession.

Article by Darren R. Pr‚fontaine.

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