The Resistance of Catharine Le Loup
As depicted in D’Arcy McNickle’s The Surrounded, Catharine Le Loup is a Salish woman who resists and struggles within the European invasion on her life and her Salish culture. Salish people are from the Pacific Northwest and in the book the Salish characters live in Montana on the fictionalized Flathead Reservation. In this novel the reader witnesses this powerful woman through a male gaze, the main character Archidle Leon, her son. Archidle may not clearly define his mother or her individuality or give examples of how Salish women are respected or treated in their culture, but we get to know her through his story. The reader is given room to view her outside of his gaze if they can see her beyond Archidle’s perceptions and deep into her experiences as her own person. Catharine is up against the most dominating and cruel forces she could ever encounter and in her strength, the betrayals she has endured and her independence she pushes back with a stronger fierceness.
Catharine Wolf, later to be baptized and known as Catharine Le Loup, is the first female character the reader is introduced to. She is the mother of the Archidle and is met after he comes home after a long journey from Portland, Oregon. She is always very excited to him, or any of her sons, return back home. It is quickly recognized that Catharine is closely connected to her Salish roots after her response to Archidle’s talk of travels and money: “When you come home to your Indian mother you had to remember that it was a different world…There would be fishing, riding, climbing a mountainside–those things you wanted to do one more time.” Her sons seemingly do not act grateful towards her. Referring to her as the: “old woman,” expecting her to feed them at their command; Archidle is immediately not happy with her when she is trying to be sweet and offers him a ‘welcome home’ celebration. The name Catharine Le Loup is already an example of the clash of Salish and white culture that she has had to navigate. Catharine was raised catholic. Her father, Running Wolf, later to be baptized as Gregoire, was the: “chief of his branch of Salish people…” and he was one of the Native men that were fooled into thinking the catholics (otherwise known as “black-robe fathers”) were going to make life easier and help their tribe fight for their rights. The reader does not know, as Catharine probably doesn’t remember, what her Salish name was before being placed into the catholic faith. They imposed their ways on her and her family, giving her a name after a catholic saint and taking her father’s name as her last name. Placing Catharine’s father’s last name at the end of her own is most likely not a Salish tradition and instead stems from the patriarchal system that defines itself in catholic ways. In something as natural and absolute as a name, the catholics have forced to complicate and belittle Catharine’s identity as a woman and as a Native American.Catharine was sent to a catholic school where she was raised by “the sisters.” They taught her duties a woman should know for her husband; how to cook and clean. When she was twenty she married Max Leon, a white man from Spain. He bought her all the things a woman could ask for: a rusty stove, kitchen ware, washing tubs and a butter churn. She describes her duties as a “nuisance” and wonders why the the “ladies in black robes” had ever wasted their time teaching her how to be a good wife and white woman. Catharine points out certain differences between her and her white husband. The way he wants to live in a big log cabin, instead of how she would rather live in a tepee, or the “exotic food” he desired to be “pampered” with, when all she wanted was meat and how he doesn’t want her family around: “That was contrary to the old way, because it was only right that if you could go and live with your relatives any time you got tired of you place, they in turn could come to you. A white man wanted his house to himself and you were not welcome there unless he asked you to come.” Throughout the book we see several sides of Catharine, her conflict between white culture and Salish culture, woman and wife and catholic faith and Salish beliefs . We see her attempting to reject the european life style that’s forced upon her, she is seen as a dedicated mother and exemplifies her own agency over and over. The reader can notice the themes of colonization taking over the Salish people’s lives and land. Catharine is an example of a woman who is forced into the european, 20th century idea of a woman by the catholics and her white husband. She is not treated the way she might be in her own culture and identified as a squaw, becoming invisible to the invading white culture.The first time Catharine shows her undeniable and compelling independence to the reader, is when she and Max go to court. She proves to him that he and the court system do not have power over her or an understanding of the person she is. Standing against him, claiming he is a criminal to get what she wants, risking her house, her financially supportive husband and even maybe her children, she fights. Catharine does not speak english in court so they hire a translator and even then she pretends she understands the translator. Even after Archidle throws her out of her own home and makes her live in a cold shack, she prevails and lives a life where she is her own. Another consequential scene that defines Catharine’s character separate from the european perspective and the male perspective, is when she kills the game warden with a hatchet after he shoots her son, Louis, to death. Archidle and her had gone into the mountains; Catharine insisted this may be the last time she could enjoy hunting in the mountains with the fresh air and “fresh venison cooking.” When her son is shot, Catharine doesn’t have to think twice about protecting or finding revenge for the death of her son. Both Archidle and the game warden would have never expected this outcome; the game warden already having dismissed Catharine, asking Archidle to tell the “squaw” to do the cleaning up, and Archidle never giving his mother credit for being someone to take action. Her action to murder could be seen as an act of heroic resistance to refusing the forced and expected submission by the white male law enforcers.Soon before Catharine dies she decides to become “pagan,” yet another aspect of her Salish identity and language having been robbed of her. Pagan is another white term, pagan is not what she is, it is the only language she can remember to describe herself, to understand herself. She gives up her catholic faith and wants to be free of it completely. In the last hours of her life she asks for Modeste, a respected spiritual man from her Salish community, instead of a priest, to be the one to help her into the next life. The way Catharine understands herself and her cultural identity has been shaped and formed from the white catholic perspective but with the hints of her other life, her other identity that she chooses to take on towards the end of her life saved her. Even with just the hint of Salish culture that was passed down and the bit she is still surrounded by, is enough to let her find her true self. Her pagan self, her motherly self and her lonely self. McNickle has written of a Native woman, from the 20th century, in a non-sexualized role, a complicated, free and powerful role.
Catharine stands out in The Surrounded because she doesn’t settle: she works for the life that could have been stolen from her, she fights to redeem herself, and she frees herself from submissiveness and blindness. Catharine is not the 20th century ‘squaw’ or ‘Indian princess’ that the Europeans attempted to force her into. She resists submission as a wife to her insolent husband by moving out of his big house and not eating his fancy food and she does not let the game warden get away with ruthlessly murdering her son. She is intelligent, rash, strong willed and comfortable to be alone. She fights against the oppression with her questioning and her fortitude. She stands strong against the figures of law who represent the violence, betrayal and the abduction done to her Salish people by white dominance. Catharine has negotiated her complex life as Salish woman in the 20th century by legitimizing her acts of violence upon participants of destruction of her life. Her home, her family and she herself have been surrounded, she has been forced to live and breathe in a controlled setting, in a life surrounded by laws and new, unwanted developments. Even deep in the woods where she can find solace, the white men are intruding, surrounding her every move until she is forced to kill or escape or begin to rename her identity, to protect herself, to regain her truth and to be an influence and protector of those she loves.