“In search of April Raintree” is a story written by Beatrice Mosionier that explains the life of April and Cheryl, who grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba as sisters. The Métis sisters are separated from their family and taken into two different foster homes. They struggle to find their way in life and slowly create a bong among themselves as they equally try to blend in into society. They find the environment hostile and indifferent to their course of finding their own identity. One of the sisters finally embraces her Métis background while the other tries to distance herself completely. April was concerned about blending into the white society while Cheryl wanted to embrace her Metis origin and help other children like her by becoming a social worker. In the end, there is victory for both of them and they overcome tragedy to realize their dreams. April’s struggle for self-identity is the main theme of the novel with her transition from neglecting her Metis background and finally accepting it being the highlight of her self-identity struggle.
The foundations of April’s identity struggles arise from the debate on her actual national and racial identity. To understand April’s search for identity, it is important to contextualize her place in society. She came for the tribe of Metis who are indigenous occupants of Canada that originated from Europe. The word Metis implies “mixed-blood” or “mixed-ancestry”. The Metis people were often shunned and disliked in Canada due to their cultural attitudes and distinct mannerisms (Sawchuk 36). April asserts the fact that Indians are shunned in the society and the Metis people are considered as Indians in her community.
From the beginning of the novel it is clear that the national and racial identity of April and her sister is put to question. April describes her father Henry Raintree’s origin as “of mixed blood, a little of this, a little of that, and a whole lot of Indian (Mosienior11),” her mother Alice, on the other hand, was “part Irish and part Ojibway” (Mosienior11). April’s last name Raintree also reassembled Indian names. Mainly, this implies that April could have been biracial since her mother and father came from different racial backgrounds. Again, it also justifies her identity struggles as she tries to distance herself from the rejected and hated Metis tribe.
April’s identity is drawn from the fact that she is from the Metis tribe. Interestingly, from the time she was a child, she viewed the Metis children as murky and unclean and the white children as more favorable. Similarly, as she grew up she always felt more white than Indian while her sister Cheryl connected more with their native community. April also had a light complexion hence she would easily pass as white. She distanced herself from anything Metis since society had made her believe that the whites were more superior than her native people. But at this time, children, especially of Metis and Indian origin, drew their identity from their fathers and their father’s background. The Raintrees were one of the few mixed-race lineages dating two to three generations from the Norway House (Sawchuk 43). Therefore, despite her disregard for her heritage, April was a half-breed.
“I wasn’t a half-breed,” April says, “just a foster child, that’s all. To me, half-breed was almost the same as Indian” (Mosienior38). In this regard, April tries to run away from her identity and to inhibit stereotypes that are against her identity. She also believes in the stereotypes against her Metis people by disassociating herself since she believes in the stereotypes that are implicit about the Metis. She says this while trying to counter the belief by her foster mother Mrs. DeRosier who claims that “I know you half breeds, you love to wallow in filth. You step out of line once, only once, and that strap will do the rest of the talking” (Mosienior 37). She also resists the idea of being Metis when her mother in law claims that the Raintrees are “not Indians but half-breeds, which is almost the same thing” (Mosienior 115). April goes out of her way to prove that she is not “half-breed” through the work that she performs while at her foster home. While her foster mother depicted hybrids as disobedient she tries her best to prove otherwise.
The dehumanization and maltreatment that April goes through at her foster home make her internalize the prejudices about half-breeds and begin to see herself as one. When her sister gives her a gift of a book about Louis Riel during her birthday, she reiterates what Mrs. DeRosier always claimed about half-breeds by saying “I knew all about Riel. He was a rebel who had been hanged for treason. Worse, he had been a crazy half-breed” (Mosienior 42).
Throughout the novel, it seems like April’s identity lies with her sister Cheryl. When she was trying to distance herself from the “half-breeds” she kept off her sister as much as she could if only to hide her secret. However, after her divorce, she moved back to Winnipeg where she got to interact with her sister more and her views about the Metis began to transform. April’s divorce was also a significant part of her identity because she came to realize that she did not belong to the white community after the cruelty and discrimination that she went through in the hands of her mother in las and the unfaithfulness of her husband. There was a particular pattern for native Metis girls which are drawn by Mrs. Semple. She refers to it as the Native Girl Syndrome (Mosienior48). These native Metis girls usually got a lot of opposition from the society, got pregnant, lacked opportunities to build their careers and get steady jobs hence they got into drug abuse and prostitution. They would also live with abusive men and sometimes got to prison for their petty crimes such as shoplifting. April did not want their lives to turn out like this. However, Cheryl took the path of the native syndrome and fell into the trappings of alcoholism. April found herself immersed in the life of her sister as she took care of her and she began to recognize the struggles of the Metis and recognize her native culture. She regained her confidence and passion for the Metis after the loss of her sister. She started to care more about her people and resolved to make sure that alcoholism does not destroy them anymore. Evidently, it is through Cheryl again that April is able to reclaim her identity (Molin 42).
April went through a progressive and tumultuous identity journey that defined her life and that of her sister. While she belonged to the deprived Metis community, she often distanced herself from it because she was ashamed and aware of the prejudices that they faced. She tried to run away from her reality by concealing her biracial status but the discrimination and maltreatment she went through got her to the realization that she did not fit into the white culture that she so desired to belong hence she went back and embraced her roots after losing her only sister, Cheryl.
- Molin, Pauline F. American Indian Themes in Young Adult Literature. Scarecrow Press, 2005.
- Mosienior Beatrice culleton. In search of April Raintree. Portage and main press, 1999
- Sawchuk, Joe. The Metis of Manitoba: Reformulation of an Ethnic Identity. Peter Martin Associates, 1978.