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Jolene Armstrong’s MARIA CAMPBELL: ESSAYS ON HER WORKS Reviewed in CanText

Jolene Armstrong is editor of Maria Campbell: Essays On Her Works (Guernica 2012) and Associate Professor in English and Comparative Literature at Athabasca University. We are incredibly charmed to discover that Maria Campbell: Essays On Her Works was reviewed in CanText: the Newsletter of the BCS Literature Group, along with two other Guernica titles (Africadian Atlantic: Essays on George Elliott Clarke by Joseph Pivato and Mary Melfi in Translation).

Jane Mattisson Ekstam (Associate Professor of English, Kristianstad University, Sweden) had this to say about Maria Campbell: Essays on Her Works:

Maria Campbell: Essays on Her Works contains six essays on writer, artist, broadcaster, community worker, Elder and social rights advocate Maria Campbell. The essays focus on Campbell’s concern as a Métis with racism and discrimination. They demonstrate how she speaks out against official histories of suppression and exclusion by exploring her belief that healing takes place through learning, through affirmation of identity and through writing.

The collection opens with an interview with Maria Campbell in which Susan Gingell explores issues of feminism and language. Campbell emphasises that women own half the language: “language comes from the Earth, and the Earth is our mother. A particular place on the mother, a particular landscape, makes me the being that I am” (31). If Campbell were to lose the language, she would become unbalanced. She would need to return to herself, to make the journey home. When the land no longer reflects one’s language, “then for sure we will be a conquered people” (32), explains Campbell. This premise forms the basis of the six contributions to the collection.

Melissa Lam’s opening essay “Blunt Constructions: Métis Literature in Canada” investigates Campbell’s use of autobiography, situating it in a larger tradition in which women’s autobiographies function as devices with which to respond to repressive histories and colonial discourses of oppression. Kerstin Knopf’s essay “‘Joseph you know him he don trus dah Anglais’ – Or: English as Postcolonial Language in Canadian Indigenous Films” explores the anti-colonial strategies employed in the film version of the Story of the Road Allowance People. Knopf demonstrates how language is used as a decolonising mechanism and a means of reclaiming self-identity. She argues that these strategies are used by filmmakers not only to resist and counter stereotypes but also to overturn practices of misrepresentation and oppression of cultural groups like the Métis. Knopf explores how film strategies aim to produce a different kind of representation of indigenous peoples which is in accord with indigenous values and traditions.

The final essay, Dylan Miner’s essay on “Halfbreed Theory: Maria Campbell’s storytelling as indigenous knowledge and Une Petite Michin”, is based on Campbell’s first novel Halfbreed, and explores her special way of structuring indigenous knowledge in opposition to hegemonic structures of knowledge gathering and knowledge legitimisation. Miner shows that Campbell’s text re-writes Métis history and experience as a site of resistance to European oppression. She summarises one of the most important elements of Maria Campbell’s oeuvre, thereby providing a fitting conclusion to the collection.

Maria Campbell: Essays on Her Works contains a brief biography of Maria Campbell, a comprehensive bibliography of her books, film, television and video productions, radio programmes, awards, her four honorary doctorates, as well as a survey of critical articles and reviews. The standard of scholarship in all six essays is high. At the same time, the essays are accessible to the general reading public, with the possible exception of Helen Hoy’s “‘When You Admit that You Are a Thief, Then You Can Be Honourable’: Native/Non-Native Collaboration in The Book of Jessica”, which is more complex. Jolene Armstrong’s excellent introduction and the interview with Campbell that follows it provide an excellent frame within which to read the essays. Maria Campbell: Essays on Her Works is a scholarly work based on a genuine passion for Maria Campbell, her works, ideals and contributions not only to Canadian literature but to Canadian society as a whole. It is warmly recommended to scholars as well as all interested in indigenous peoples, their identity and culture – and very specifically, their writing.

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