Questions from readers
Say, who is that in your avatar Slimboyfat? from brother I. M. Curious, USA.
That's Archibald Belaney aka Grey Owl. He was an English man in the early 20th century who emigrated to Canada, took on a Native American identity, and became an internationally celebrated conservationist. When it was revealed on his death that he wasn't really a Native American he lost public favour. Years after his death his star rose again as his conservation efforts were appreciated apart from his identity fraud and chequered life, and books were written and films made.
I like him for a number of reasons. I loved Native Americans when I was a wee boy. I read lots, tons of books about them, made my own bows and arrows and tipis, and played games involving them constantly. So the idea of a British person convincingly taking on the "Indian" way of life appealed very much to me when I heard about him from my grandad.
Plus in more recent years I am interested in the philosophical notion of authenticity and what it really means. I now doubt whether there is a meaningful distinction to be made between appearance and reality at all. Grey Owl appeared to be an articulate Native American interested in nature and conservation. He was convincing partly because he tapped into powerful stereotypes. In what meaningful sense was he a fraud? His rising star in modern culture in some ways mirrors our own questioning of the notion of authenticity itself.
Additionally in family folklore I'm told we have a connection with old Grey Owl. My great grandparents emigrated to Canada in 1930 and lived near Prince Albert in Saskatchewan for four years. My grandfather insisted his mother said she knew Grey Owl well in this period and he visited their lodge often. In fact my great aunt, my grandad's sister, strongly insinuated Grey Owl may have been my grandad's real father (born in 1932 near Prince Albert). True story? It doesn't sound likely. But not every implausible story is false just as not every convincing story is true. If they are meaningful distinctions.