Representing the contact zone: Joan Isabel Sangster, ‘Law and Order in the Arctic: “The Smiling People” and RCMP’, Topia: Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies, 32, 2014


Abstract: Since the 19th century, Canadian culture has been rife with Mountie lore, and since the 1970s, many critics have deconstructed the Mountie myth, showing how this police force was romanticized in both non-fiction and fiction alike. This paper explores one example of such cultural mythmaking: a fictional television script about law and order involving Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in the Canadian North. “The Smiling People” was one episode in the 1959 television series, RCMP, produced by Crawley films, the BBC, and CBC, and shown in Canada as well as around the world. The RCMP series featured a small-town detachment of three RCMP men in northern Saskatchewan who sometimes ventured further north to bring their version of policing and justice to both whites and Aboriginal peoples alike. In the case of “The Smiling People,” an Inuit woman is charged with the murder of her husband; the episode covers the unfolding trial as the Mountie hero uncovers the truth about the murder. “The Smiling People” offers a story about the “contact zone” of white and Inuit which features the clash of cultures, the imposition of white values, yet the paternalistic, and ultimately ‘superior’ knowledge claims of white, southern legal practices. As such, it is an excellent example of the emerging cultural justifications for colonial consolidation in the North in the post-World War II period.

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