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The Horrors and Aftermath of Colonization in Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden

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The novel Three Day Road by Canadian author Joseph Boyden, follows two narratives, one through the eyes of Xavier Bird, a soldier in the First World War along with his friend Elijah Weesageechak, and the second through Niska, Xavier’s aunt who recalls her childhood and adolescent years. The enriched novel can be analyzed thoroughly through the postcolonial lens. As the reader relives the war via Xavier’s dreams and flashbacks and Niska’s early years, they see explicitly the effects of European colonialism in the lives of Canadian Indigenous People. Xavier’s experience in the Great War is harsh as he encounters not only a cultural barrier, but also blunt racism and sheer hate from his peers. Joseph Boyden also navigates his readers through Niska’s childhood as she experiences discrimination and othering. All three characters further endure possibly the worst outcome of European imperialism, residential schools. The novel takes their stories to communicate the horrors and aftermath of colonialism, specifically the systematic oppression of the Indigenous People in Canada.

Joseph Boyden conveys the propaganda that postcolonialism brought of Indigenous People being less than human, through Xavier’s encounter with the white Canadian soldiers. He was primarily isolated from his troop. He could not fit in and was mocked for his inability to speak the English language. His existence was ignored unless he was getting kills for his side. The propaganda was observed in the novel when Xavier was ridiculed for his language barrier but an Italian-Canadian soldier also with weak English, was not. In reality it was the accent or language he was taunted for, it was his background and his Indigenous ethnicity. This becomes blunt to the reader when the Italian is not mocked for his accent due to his European descends. This highlights further the propaganda of the Indigenous being “bush people”; illiterate and uneducated. Moreover, in the Three Day Road, set in 1919, Xavier, under Canadian Law, is prohibited from voting. Xavier’s lieutenant, Breech, is reported saying, “that Indian blood, is closer to that of an animal than that of a man”. Since voting in Canada is a right for every Canadian, for him not being given this right goes to show how the Canadian government does not view the Indigenous as people. Xavier was fighting for a country that did not believe his voice and concerns were necessary. He put himself through not only physical trauma but also deep emotional trauma, killing people, performing acts that he did not have the heart to stomach and sacrificing his moral compass only to be disrespected by the government. Postcolonialism is observed in this as he does not have rights on his own land.

Additionally, postcolonial theory is seen in the novel through Niska’s encounter with the white men of Hudson Bay. Right from the introduction of the novel, Joseph Boyden illustrates the image of Niska arriving to a predominantly white town and being glared at by the city folks, thought of as less than them, a junkie and as lacking. Once again the propaganda that Indigenous People are animals and savages because their lifestyle is different from that of the Hudson Bay people’s. Colonialism brainwashed Canadians to belittle the Indigenous People and believe in the lie that they rely on and are a toll on the government. Unfortunately the ignorance remains a huge problem in today’s society, as some Canadians continue to believe that the Indigenous are handed money and given free accommodations. Moreover, the dehumanization of Indigenous People is most likely a leading factor in Niska’s rape. The sickening image that they are less than human, allows people to commit acts that no one would think to commit otherwise. Boyden most definitely played out this story to address the hundreds and thousands of Indigenous People that were assaulted throughout history anywhere white men had “dominance” over them, whether that be in schools or workplaces. The story also ties in directly with society today. A movement called the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women deals with the thousands of cases of Aboriginal women who have been killed or kidnapped that the police and authorities refuse to acknowledge.

Additionally, Joseph Boyden conveys postcolonialism in the Three Day Road largely through the practise of residential schools. These schools were religious institutes that operated to spread Christianity in the Indigenous community after the widespread of European conquest. However, unfortunately it was not as innocent as the government and church promoted it to be. It is seen in the novel through Niska’s experience in the school, she was forced to have her hair cut short, speak their language and behave as if she were not Cree. She was treated awfully, kept in a basement, denied food and water. Furthermore, the consequences of the residential schools were seen in Elijah’s character specifically and more clearly throughout the novel. The reader recognizes that Elijah has a lot of repressed past trauma. Although it is not declared explicitly, one could interpret that his thirst for cold-blooded murder of innocent people, stems from the treatment towards him and his peers at the residential schools. As a child, Elijah was sexually abused by the nuns, he presumably also saw many other children, quite possibly even younger than him be tortured constantly. In all likelihood, the treatment of Indigenous children in the schools caused Elijah to lash out the years of pain and suffering he had endured. He saw the war as a way to finally be able to let out the torment and the agonizing hatred he complied over the many years and obviously not in an appropriate manner. Joseph Boyden precisely illustrates how the effect of the schools steeps much deeper than bruises or broken bones, it is a psychological trauma that continues to corrupt a person well into their adulthood.

Joseph Boyden’s Three Day Road communicates the horrors and aftermath of colonialism, particularly the systematic oppression of the Indigenous People in Canada. The novel is rich with the experience of Indigenous Peoples and the repercussions they face because of European colonization. As the reader relives the war through Xavier Bird’s dreams and flashbacks, Niska’s storytelling and their time in the residential schools, they see explicitly the effects of European colonialism in the lives of Canadian Indigenous People. Boyden navigates his readers through Niska’s childhood as well as Xavier’s experience in the Great War as they go through different forms of constant discrimination and othering. The novel highlights key factors of the troubles that oppressed minorities face using the postcolonial lens. 

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The Horrors And Aftermath Of Colonization In Three Day Road By Joseph Boyden. (2021, August 06). GradesFixer. Retrieved October 19, 2021, from
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