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.