Grey Owl the Writer and the Myths
In the 1930s Grey Owl was considered the foremost conservationist and nature writer in the world. He owed his fame largely to his four internationally bestselling books, which he supported with a series of extremely popular illustrated lectures across North America and Great Britain. His reputation was transformed radically, however, after he died in April 1938, and it was revealed that he was not of mixed Scottish-Apache ancestry, as he had often claimed, but in fact an Englishman named Archie Belaney. Born into a privileged family in the dominant culture of his time, what compelled him to flee to a far less powerful one?
Albert Braz’s Apostate Englishman: Grey Owl the Writer and the Myths is the first comprehensive study of Grey Owl’s cultural and political image in light of his own writings. While the denunciations of Grey Owl after his death are often interpreted as a rejection of his appropriation of another culture, Braz argues that what troubled many people was not only that Grey Owl deceived them about his identity, but also that he had forsaken European culture for the North American Indigenous way of life. That is, he committed cultural apostasy.
“Given the contentious role of hybrid and mixed-blood identities, large cultural migrations, and cosmopolitan characters—all often simultaneous yet contradictory—Braz’s book is a very timely read.”
– Agnes Pawlowska-Mainville, The Canadian Journal of Native Studies
“This intensive examination of the writings of Grey Owl is a welcome addition to our knowledge of one of Canada’s most popular writers in the 1930s and redresses an imbalance. To date, the English-born Archie Belaney’s life story has received in depth examination, but his books and articles have been largely ignored. Readers will discover many new aspects of Grey Owl’s personality and character through a new understanding of his written words. This original and well-written study reappraises his contributions as a conservationist and nature writer.”
– Donald B. Smith, Professor Emeritus of History, University of Calgary
“An impressively researched and exceptionally well written study, Apostate Englishman is a deftly organized and presented study which is inherently fascinating, informative, and a work of impeccable scholarship from beginning to end. Very highly recommended for both community and academic library 20 Century Biography, Contemporary Cultural Studies, and Literary Criticism reference collections and supplemental studies lists.”
– Micah Andrew, Midwest Book Review
“Includes important literary analysis, colourful stories about the man and his life, and keen observations on the issues of indigenous status and cultural appropriation. The controversy that surrounded his identity in the wake of his 1938 death demonstrated that Grey Owl was more than just a man—in 1930 Canada, Grey Owl was also a brand.”
– Karine Duhamel, Canada’s History
“Offers a wide-ranging consideration of the life and work of the controversial man who became known as Grey Owl, Englishman Archie Belaney (1888–1938), who passed as part Indian and became a renowned Canadian conservationist and nature writer.”
About the Author
Albert Braz is an associate professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Alberta.