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Adventures in Research Opus 4

By Lindsey Bannister 

September 24, 2015

This blog post is part of The Canada's Early Women Writers Project and the post originally appeared on the CWRC website. The Canada's Early Women Writers Project is a database containing biographical and bibliographical information about English language writers working before 1950.  The Project Director is Carole Gerson and the Data Entry Supervisor is Karyn Huenemann.  The end-goal of the project is to update and expand an older version of the CEWW database--currently housed in the SFU Library website. CEWW is part of the Canadian Writing Research Collaboratory

Days after his death, an article in the North Bay Nugget revealed the true identity of writer, lecturer and conservationist Grey Owl (Archie Belaney) (1888-1938). While Grey Owl publicly identified himself as the son of an Apache woman and Scottish man, he was, in truth, an English man fascinated by North American indigenous cultures.   Nearly forty years prior to this revelation, the Irish-born writer, explorer, and scientist Martha Craig (b. c1875) lectured to crowded halls and auditoriums in Toronto, New York and Washington D.C. as Princess Ye-wa-go-no-nee. “Will you believe me,” Craig asked an audience in Brooklyn, “when I tell you that in the life before this one, I was a Canadian Indian girl [?]”

Craig’s complicated life story is difficult to piece together. Newspaper reports detail the story of an intelligent child born in County Antrim in present-day Northern Ireland. Craig’s family sent her to England and France for formal schooling. The writer developed an interest in the sciences; however, she eventually pursued a career in journalism because it allowed her the freedom to travel. In the late 1890s, Craig left Ireland for the United States, where she might have encountered President William McKinley. Craig’s interest in indigenous cultures led her to Canada where, in Northern Ontario, she met Anishinaabe chief Buhgwujjenene (d. 1900) and (possibly) resided with the Ketegaunseebee or Garden River First Nation. According to an article in The Friend, Craig was adopted into the Nation and given the name Enookwashooshah meaning “Brave One.” (“Princess Ye-wa-go-no-nee” was later adopted as part of Craig’s on-stage persona.)

Martha Craig as Princess Ye-wa-go-no-nee, from the frontispiece to Legends of the North Land (c1910)

Two years later, in March 1902, Princess Ye-wa-go-no-nee entertained two thousand spectators in Toronto’s Massey Hall with a lantern show titled “1,000 miles in a canoe in the land of Hiawatha.” In 1905, Craig gained considerable attention for her trek to Labrador. Newspapers describe Craig as the first woman to explore Labrador. (In truth, Craig’s journey may coincide with Mina Hubbard’s own extraordinary expedition; in her journal, Hubbard refers to “Miss Craig,” a pesky journalist for Century Magazine.) Afterwards, Craig returned to the lecture circuit; however, her career then veered in an unexpected direction.

“All life is a vibration,” Craig explained to an audience in Brooklyn: “Through this vibration, […] it is possible to separate the soul from the body, or to live continuously. Therefore, […] it is a crime to die of disease or old age” (“Girl’s Weird Story about Reincarnation”). In this same lecture, she outlined her theories about reincarnation, describing her past life as Meta, the daughter of the chief of a Labrador tribe. The lecturer was an easy target for cheeky reporters but, incredibly, her inquiries into the nature of gravity and the aurora borealis garnered the attention of researchers at the Académies des sciences in Paris. Craig published her findings (First Principles: A Manifesto of the Vortex Theory of Creation, London: Harrison, 1906) in addition to her book of poems, Legends of the North Land (c1910?).

After 1907, Craig disappears from the public record. While a 1905 New York City census situates the journalist in Brooklyn, few details have emerged in regards to her later career. It is highly possible, given Craig’s frequent wanderings, that she might have left the United States, married, or assumed a new identity. Curiously, cataloguers at the British Library attribute a 1907 book, Men of Mars by “Mithra,” to Martha Craig. Is Mithra our writer?

Because of her brief association with Canada, we will include a short snapshot of Craig in our database. The writer’s connection with Canada might be fleeting; however, her unusual career gestures towards broader issues. Unlike Grey Owl, the writer did not conceal her true identity as Martha Craig of County Antrim, but she did use clothing in order to fashion an indigenous persona. In light of ongoing conversations about clothing, identity, and cultural appropriation, what does Princess Ya-wa-go-no-nee reveal about white settler representations of indigenous cultures? And how does Craig’s strange story tie into the larger legacy of colonialism?

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Craig, Martha. “My Summer Outings in Labrador.” Cosmopolitan (July 1905): 325.

“Don’t Die, Vibrate Away.” New York Times (12 December 1905): 7.

“Genealogy of the President.” Chicago Tribune (28 February 1898): 1.

“Girl’s Weird Story about Reincarnation.” Amador Ledger (15 June 1906): 1.

Hubbard, Mina. The Woman Who Mapped Labrador: The Life and Expedition Diary of Mina Hubbard. (Montreal, QC: McGill-Queen’s UP, 2005): 335.

“Noble Words of a Dying Indian Chief.” The Friend (22 December 1900): 178.

Lindsey Bannister is a third year PhD student who specializes in gender and early twentieth century Canadian writing.  Through her work as a Research Assistant with the Canada's Early Women Writers project, she has discovered many of the strange and wonderful facets of Canadian literary culture.