We have showcased many talented groups of Indigenous writers here on the blog, including Métis writers Katherena Vermette and Cherie Dimaline. Today, we are highlighting three more Métis writers, who should be on your to-read list.
(Image from CBC)
Maria Campbell is often spoken of as an inspiration to contemporary Indigenous authors; this is because her “memoir was one of the first books written by an Indigenous writer to be published in Canada.”[I] The memoir, Halfbreed, was published in 1973, and “exposed the brutal realities of life for Aboriginal women in Canada. It also revealed the angst, anguish, dislocation, and desperation of a nation impoverished economically and spiritually.”[ii]
Early in 2018, Indigenous Studies Professor Deanna Reder and her Assistant Alix Shield made an important discovery about the book. While researching the book’s publication history, they came across deleted passages in an old manuscript.
Marked with big red Xs, they describe in graphic detail the time three Mounties came to Campbell's home when she was 14 years old. One of the officers, wrote Campbell, dragged her to her grandmother's bedroom and raped her.[iii]
It is not surprising that passages like this were excluded in the early 1970’s; it just wasn’t worth the risk. Luckily, there may be a possibility of republication with the redacted text included. The publisher, McLelland and Stewart, has said that “we'll be reaching out to Ms. Campbell to explore whether it would be possible to publish a new edition of her groundbreaking book."[iv]
Let’s hope that we can soon read Campbell’s work as she originally intended.
(Image from Warren Cariou)
Warren Cariou’s work is various, and it all ties closely to his Métis roots in Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan. He is a Professor at the University of Manitoba, where he teaches and holds a Canada Research Chair in Narrative, Community and Indigenous Cultures. Further, “his books, films, photography and scholarly research explore themes of community, environment, orality and belonging in the Canadian west, with particular focus on the relationships between Indigenous people and non-Native people.”[v]
He is best known for his collection of short-stories, The Exalted Company of Roadside Martyrs (Coteau Books, 1999), and his memoir, Lake of the Prairies (Anchor Canada, 2003). Both have been nominated for several awards, with the latter winning the Drainie-Taylor Biography Prize in 2003.
“Powerful, funny, moving and personal, Lake of the Prairies is a richly layered exploration of the ubiquitous childhood question: where do I come from?”[vi] This question is complicated for most of us, but even more so when your Métis past was hidden for much of your life. With identity as a central theme, Cariou not only uncovers his past, but must also reconcile his own prejudices about it.
(Image from CBC)
Beatrice Mosionier was raised in foster care from the age of three, and never desired to be a writer; however, after the deaths of her two sisters, she “decided to write a book to understand why her sisters committed suicide, and why her family had lived with poverty, alcoholism and racism.”[vii ] In Search of April Raintree was first published in 1983, with a 25th Anniversary edition released in 2008 (Portage & Main Press).
Two young sisters are taken from their home and family. Powerless to change their fortunes, they are separated, and each put into different foster homes. Yet over the years, the bond between them grows. As they each make their way in a society that is, at times, indifferent, hostile, and violent, one embraces her Métis identity, while the other tries to leave it behind. In the end, out of tragedy, comes an unexpected legacy of triumph and reclamation.[viii]
The book has become a Canadian classic, and is taught in high schools and university classes across the country.
Mosionier has gone on to write several more books for children, teens, and adults. In 2009, she released Come Walk with Me, a Memoir (Portage & Main Press), which answers the lingering question from April Raintree: how much of April’s life is true to Mosionier’s?
The Métis people arose from a complicated joining of Indigenous Canadians and Europeans, and the authors above all explore their place in that world from different perspectives. Still, the common thread of understanding oneself through history stays strong, and is one that we can all learn from.
To find Métis-authored books for all ages, visit Pemmican Publications, whose mandate is to “promote Canadian Métis writers and illustrators through stories that are informed by Métis experience.”
[v] Warren Cariou
[vi] Penguin Random House
[viii] McNally Robinson