Research Notes: “‘Camp Nature’ Nerepis, N.B.” (poem on birch bark, 1900)

Loyalist City Coin in uptown Saint John is a great place to find regional materials long out of print, and last week I spent over an hour flipping through their document bins, pulling out whatever I thought might be of interest to friends and family. For myself, I was delighted to find Joleen Gordon’s book on Edith Clayton’s market baskets, which I hoarded from the UNB library for most of the duration of my PhD, perennially hoping for the time and opportunity to write something about splintwood basketry as an important literary tradition in Nova Scotia.

This poem, written on birch bark and dated August 7, 1900, also stood out to me.

1900 Aug. 7 “Camp Nature” Nerepis N.B.

We sit and look each other at
And feel that we could fly
Because we’re content and all that
Just having done blueberry pie

Mrs. McKenzie kind and good
Some luscious pies did make
And sent to “Camp Nature” in wood
One that just simply took the cake

As long as Mrs. Mack’s on earth
May she be blest with all that’s good
‘Tis wished of Pies there’ll ne’er be dearth
By those in “Camp Nature” in wood.

“Argole”

Provincial, county, university, and museum archives remain closed at this time, and so the amount of digging I’ve been able to do into the various contexts for this document remains limited. Perhaps unsurprisingly, my Google search for “McKenzie+Nerepis+Pie” was fruitless.

In an essay from The Creative City of Saint John, Donald McAlpine describes Camp Nature as a “summer retreat” on the Nerepis River that “was built between 1899 and 1902 by William McIntosh and Gordon Leavitt on property owned by McIntosh. The camp was the site of Natural History Society of New Brunswick outings, and both McIntosh and Leavitt pursued entomological activity in the surrounding area, Leavitt collecting species of sawflies new to science” (38). We know that Settlers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries sometimes wrote on birch bark: in 1862, for example, Alex Monro prepared the table of contents for his Native Woods of New Brunswick: – 76 Specimens on bark; and in the 1940s, some soldiers wrote letters home on bark, generally making use of whatever materials were available to them.

Image source: Rodney Arthur Savidge Milham Lecture, March 22, 2000. Link

If it is likely, then, that the date of 1900 on the poem is accurate, and that it was written by someone either summering or visiting at Camp Nature in Nerepis, then other Nerepis (or Nalihpick/N’welihpick, meaning “the place where I eat well”) contexts may be relevant. Micah Pawling has written about seasonal camps throughout the Wolastoqey homeland, and he cites the camp at at the confluence of the Nerepis and Wolastoq rivers as one of many instances in which, after the establishment of reserve lands, Wolastoqi people maintained connections with the southern river valley.

Image source: Micah Pawling, “Wəlastəkwey (Maliseet) Homeland:
Waterscapes and Continuity within the Lower St. John River Valley, 1784-1900
,” Acadiensis 46.2 (2017) Link

Anne Sacobie, who lived at St. Mary’s, is but one person who is said to have returned to the camp at Nerepis, along with other camps throughout the southern Wolastoqey homeland, for many years. The following image of her at Evandale is featured on an historical display midway across the Nerepis bridge, which I drove out to examine shortly after finding the poem:

Image source: Link

The Wolastoqey camp at Nerepis was active until the 1970’s. Its inhabitants would harvest fiddleheads, ash, and sweetgrass, trap muskrat, fish, and sell or trade materials with other local residents. I do not yet know to what degree the populations from Camp Nature and the Wolastoqey camp might have socialized, but it would not surprise me to learn that the inhabitants of the former benefited — in terms of both materials and information — from the proximity of the latter. At this point in my inquiry, all I can do is speculate, which is not especially useful.

When I first saw this poem in the bin, I immediately intellectually placed it in the tradition of awikhiganak, the writings on birch bark that predate European literary systems in this land. For the Wolastoqiyik, awikhigan had many uses, but one was to communicate survival information, including information about where to find food. I love this poem — about how to stave off blueberry pie scarcity — as an awikhigan, and I am pondering the degree to which this context remains intact and relevant whether it was penned by a Wolastoqi person or not.

Because there is a possibility, however small, that this poem was written by a Wolastoqi person, I am sharing this information early in the research process. It feels ethically ambiguous to keep it to myself, and certainly, if there is any chance that this is a piece of Wolastoqiyik material culture, then I would like to return it to a citizen of that nation as soon as possible. Please e-mail me at rbryant@dal.ca (or send me a message wherever we may be connected) if you have any thoughts or concerns about this aspect of the project.

If, as I currently suspect, the poem was written by a Settler, I am interested to pursue the questions of how Settler and Indigenous communities related to each other in Nerepis at the turn of the 20th century, and in what spirit Settlers in this region, including Monro and others, have participated in the tradition of awikhiganak.

Update: Shortly after publishing this note, I was grateful to hear from Peter Larocque at the New Brunswick Museum: “Just saw your research note regarding Camp Nature. I am not completely certain, but almost convinced that the author, Argole, is one of Camp Nature’s founders, Arthur Gordon Leavitt. ARGOLE is most likely an acronym using the first two letters of each of his names.”

Research Notes: Thomas Carleton, Charter of the City of Saint John (1785)

This evening I read the Charter of the City of Saint John (1785; reprint 1811) for the first time. Its author, Thomas Carleton, was the first Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick, and he oversaw the arrival of the Loyalists in the final decades of the eighteenth century. If you live in New Brunswick, you’ve seen his name everywhere — on school buildings, towns, and counties. The tallest mountain in the province is named after him.

But until tonight, I don’t think I’d ever actually read something that he authored. Two sections of this document jumped out at me. The first, from the preamble, articulates Carleton’s desire to unite “the inhabitants of the Town or District of Parr, lying on the east side of the River Saint John” with those “of Carleton on the west side thereof, at the entrance of the River Saint John aforesaid, both which Districts are in our Province of New Brunswick, in America.” He describes a people who “have, by their exertions, conquered many of the difficulties attending the settlement of a new country” and who are now “anxious to remove the remaining evils they at present labor under.” Those who know me will understand why I find this combination of language — America, evil, conquest — very compelling; but also, this does not strike me as Loyalist sentiment.

And then, much later, there’s this:

. . . for us, our heirs and successors, we do will and hereby declare, that although the people of colour are black persons now residing in our said City, and hereafter to come and reside therein, are by these presents excluded the privilege of being or becoming free citizens thereof, yet it is not our pleasure that those who should be found good, discreet and honest persons of that description, should be wholly deprived of the means of getting and having a comfortable support for themselves and their families; and therefore we do will and grant, that the Mayor of the said City, for the time being, may from time to time, as he shall think proper, by warrant under his hand and seal, license any of the said people of colour to reside in the said City, and to carry on any business or occupation which he shall think fit, and express in such license; and the same license and licenses at his pleasure to suppress, any thing herein contained to the contrary notwithstanding.

Some might argue that this kind of language and policy in a document from this era isn’t surprising — since, around the same time, U.S. officials drafted a Constitution that ascribed a value of “3/5 a person” to each black slave within its borders. But I can’t recall having read anything in the historiography of this region about municipal governments using licence systems to control the presence, movements, and actions of black people within or around major settlements, and I could not find similar sections in the town charters for Shelburne or Halifax. I have read work on “black codes” in both southern and northern states in the nineteenth century but nothing on similar laws in British America in the eighteenth century. I’d be happy to hear from any of my colleagues on this point.

An Act in further amendment to the Charter of the City of Saint John, passed in 1849, contains a section titled “Coloured persons may be made free.” That amendment reads, “Notwithstanding any thing in the said Charter to the contrary contained, any black person or person of colour may become a free citizen of, and be admitted to the freedom of the said City.”

Update: Zoe Jackson wrote a fabulous blog post on this topic last year that contains much more context and information. She writes, “the 1785 document can be considered one of earliest acts of institutional discrimination against Black individuals in Atlantic Canada. The Saint John Charter was based upon the 1686 Dongan Charter of the Province of New York, which officially incorporated New York as a city.”

More cultural storytelling in Peskotomuhkatik

This morning brought a new piece by one of my favourite local authors, Julia Wright — one about Margaret Atwood’s new novel, The Testaments, which apparently concludes with a scene on Campobello Island, a Canadian island that is connected by bridge to the state of Maine at the entrance of the Passamaquoddy Bay.

From Wright’s piece:

Kate Johnston, manager of marketing and visitor services at Roosevelt Campobello International Park, which preserves the summer home of late U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt and his family, called the literary salute “pretty cool.”

. . .

“Margaret Atwood has been pretty upfront about the fact that she is inspired by the events that have been happening in the United States.”

“Campobello is such an interesting place — so Canadian, but at the same time it has such a tie to the United States.”

McLean said that in the context of the plot, Campobello Island is the “perfect” setting for the novel’s conclusion.

The Testaments is not on my immediate to-read list, but I find these ideas very interesting, and I can’t help but wonder whether Atwood’s plot, and the mythologies upon which it presumably rests, engages or further obscures the actual place currently called Campobello.

Campobello is home to Friar’s Rock (or Skitap Man Rock), a “rock formation” on the sea coast that has “a Romeo and Juliet style story attached to it.” This story is from Passamaquoddy oral tradition, and you can read a version of it, as told by Donald Soctomah, in Siobhan Senier’s Dawnland Voices anthology. I am currently teaching an Indigenous Literatures course at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John, and I carefully walked my students through this story in class just last week.

In Soctomah’s telling, Campobello is not a fragment of New Brunswick or an island on the margin of Canada but rather a Passamaquoddy summer village where Passamaquoddy people have been gathering for thousands of years. Over the course of some of these summers, a young girl named Sipsis and a boy named Posu fall in love, but each winter they retreat to their respective families’ hunting camps. As Sipsis and Posu grow older, their families begin to notice and disapprove of their summer bond, and Sipsis is sent to live on an island across the bay. For every year after, Sipsis and Posu gaze longingly across the water, dreaming of one another.

Soctomah writes:

Years passed and time flew by; they each called to Gloscap to grant them a wish, and both asked that their love would last through eternity. He heard their songs of love and felt their passion, but their families did all they could to prevent this. One day Posu was walking along the shore and suddenly his wish was granted: he had become a large rock in the shape of a man looking across the Bay, and Sipsis on the shore of the other island at the same instant also became a large rock in the shape of a woman; she too was looking across the Bay to her love. Forever they would look across the Bay to each other as symbols of true love. (p. 179)

The Sipsis rock is on what some today call Moose Island, Maine; the rock is called Pilsqehsis Woman Rock. Here is a Google map image of how Campobello and Moose islands are situated in the bay:

Screen Shot 2019-09-21 at 11.59.39 AM.png

 

One island in Maine, another in New Brunswick. One rock formation in Gilead, one in Canada. But both islands are actually in Peskotomuhkatik, which is Passamaquoddy territory, home of the Passamaquoddy tribal nation. I have written elsewhere about how Canada and the United States (or northern Maine and southwestern New Brunswick) are violent impositions on Peskotomuhkatik. The borderline that non-Indigenous people drew through this territory after the American Revolution effectively clarified the spheres of dominance for two resource-hungry settler colonial societies but it failed to actually rupture this territory, where Passamaquoddy people have lived for centuries, where the rocks tell their own love stories, and where people and place are inseparable despite any and all artificially imposed divisions.

And so we, Settler people, are again telling stories about Peskotomuhkatik.

But what stories are we telling about this land and what it represents, and who are we to tell them? Do our stories actually have anything to do with Peskotomuhkatik, a place where Indigenous people have an average life expectancy of forty-eight years, or are we once again using Passamaquoddy land to tell our own stories about settler colonial political culture or about the supposed differences between Canadians and Americans? Historically, the stories that we have told about this place have been much louder in our shared public discourse than the stories of this place itself. I hope questions of Passamaquoddy cultural and territorial sovereignty do not get lost in conversations about Atwood’s widely anticipated new novel.

“One could not exist without the other”: A Review of Peter J. Clair’s Taapoategl & Pallet

Peter J. Clair’s Taapoategl & Pallet was published in the fall of last year by Chapel Street Editions out of Woodstock, New Brunswick, and it was recently named a finalist for a New Brunswick Book Award in the fiction category. A few days before last year’s Word Feast literary festival in Fredericton, I stumbled across a copy at Westminster Books and was thrilled to have found a new Mi’kmaw novel to read – the first, I think, but please correct me if I’m wrong, since Lorne Simon’s Stones and Switches way back in 1995. Here’s the image from the store that I immediately and excitedly texted to friends and colleagues across the northeast:

ClairClair is widely known as an ash splint basket maker, and his baskets have been exhibited in galleries across the continent. When he’s spoken about his baskets in the past, he’s done so in the context of “a pattern without a break, without a beginning or an end” – a style of weaving based on the form of the periwinkle, a member of the shellfish nation and a traditional Mi’kmaw food source.[i] He uses the same design principle in his novel, where the narratives of Taapoategl and Pallet are woven together, at times echoing or merging before receding back into their distinct times and places. And like Clair’s baskets, it’s hard to say where this story truly begins. Is it with Taapoategl at home with her family? With the arrival of the colonizers and the forced displacements of Mi’kmaq communities? With the first steps of Pallet’s quest? Or does the story begin much earlier, with the weathered writings on birchbark, with the creation story that is brought to gatherings and read to the larger community – the story that produces the world through which both of these characters move despite the distance of centuries?

This story reaches into the future and cycles back onto itself almost continuously; its pieces are carefully interwoven to produce a larger historical sense of trauma and loss but also of connection, recovery, and irrepressible “belonging-to.”[ii] I’m searching for a way to discuss what I love about this incredible novel without giving too much away. I love the revisions of beloved Settler mythologies – the stories Clair weaves into his narrative about Chief Membertou, about Marc Lescarbot’s Theatre of Neptune, and about the invention of hockey. And I love the descriptions of the early Mi’kmaw writing system, which developed gradually within the context of the nation so that families could communicate with each other across time and/or distance. The system reflects “the connection between the Nigmag and the world around them” just as the language of the people “comes from imitating the sounds and motions in nature, the calls of birds or the manner in which a fish gathers food.”[iii] In part, this is a novel about the connections that were lost or endangered when language and stories began to be lost or forgotten – the histories and contexts and links that re-emerge when scattered pieces of bark are sought, recovered, and threaded back together by the people of their original communities.

Pallet enacts one person’s role in this recovery process. As a Mi’kmaw man, he has a place in the story of his nation, and through his journey, he both creates and claims his own belonging. He travels through a territory in which figures from Mi’kmaw oral tradition are ever-present, occupying their places on the land as always, living their stories and waiting to reconnect and share with their kin. While the Settler society of this region has systematically denied the relevance of Wabanaki oral traditions to the patterns of daily life, relegating traditional Indigenous stories to the distant world of mythology and intentionally weakening the relationship between Indigenous peoples and their cultural worlds, Clair does the reverse work, restoring the immediacy of his nation’s stories to the land from whence they first emerged.

Here is an exchange from his first encounter with a traditional figure:

Pallet stumbles past the fire and goes to the river to wash his eyes. He regains some vision and now sees a shadowy image. He is not sure how many there are. He squints his eyes toward his campfire; there is a dark round cloud above it.

Admitting to his confused state he says: “Ok. I’m Pallet and I’m from Signigtog. I can barely make you out. All I see is a dark cloud of smoke. I am glad you are here. I have been alone for so long. Are you from Tlaagati? Are you here to help?”

“Don’t be jumping to conclusions. Don’t be too hasty. Rest your eyes, Nigmag. It’ll come to you. My name is Miigemooesso. . .”

[. . .]

“I’m just trying to be honest, but I’m not used to this sort of thing. I’ve heard stories . . . and I accepted the stories for what they were. I have to accept that you are here. You are not just a story anymore.”[iv]

It’s significant that Pallet is half blind in this scene, which takes place relatively early on in his quest. He’s recovering from a compulsion to dismiss the possibility of what is happening to him, and he’s learning to accept that these figures aren’t simply of stories that long ago reached conclusions. The stories and their characters are alive, unfinished, ongoing – Pallet is himself inside of stories, and part of his journey involves learning to accept his place in those stories.

His journey also involves the recovery of Taapoategl’s story and the contribution of a ten-year-old girl’s survival knowledge to the collective memory of the Mi’kmaq. Pallet works with the elders at a summer gathering to piece together the fragments of this story, messages on birchbark that Taapoategl left behind in hopes that her family would find them. And while this process of finding takes centuries, her people are unyielding in their recovery efforts, refusing and refuting the notion that a little girl and her story could be irrevocably stolen from the present and future of her nation.

Taapoategl gathers a pile of pine needles and carefully covers over the gravesite, arranging them so there is no sign of disturbance. Like the old Nigmag, Taapoategl hides the gravesite as best she can. Hopefully, she will not have to move it. She knows gravesites are sacred because they are the hidden portals by which we return to our origins. She has heard Nigmag say the portals to the past must be tended to. You never know when the past will visit the present, the two feed on each other; one could not exist without the other.[v]

Taapoategl & Pallet empowers the future of an already powerful Indigenous nation by tending to the portals between the past and the present. It speaks of a territory that has been exploited and defiled across centuries by a colonizing culture that has strewn artifacts and bodies in the wake of its attempts to scramble and destroy connections between the Mi’kmaq and the land that mothered them. Like the people who kidnap Taapoategl, we have tried to steal and contain Indigenous stories — to hide them away, to hoard them, to render them unintelligible to Indigenous peoples. And yet the land has always remained occupied by its own stories.

Searching for a sense of connection and purpose, Pallet moves through his homeland, guided by an understanding of protocol passed down by his grandparents and his community. What he encounters and enters into on his journey are the stories of the land — the stories that have produced his living culture and connected his people as a nation for millennia. And by joining these stories he finds the sense of “belonging-to” that he seeks.

You can purchase a copy of this important book through the publisher or on Amazon.

————————————-

[i] Janet Clark, Epogan: Recent Work by Peter J. Clair (Thunder Bay: Thunder Bay Art Gallery, 1997).

[ii] Peter J. Clair, Taapoategl & Pallet: A Mi’kmaq Journey of Loss & Survival (Woodstock: Chapel Street Editions, 2017), 2.

[iii] Clair, 118.

[iv] Clair, 22, 23.

[v] Clair, 143.

News & gratitude

Last month, Lara Minja of Lime Designs was honoured for the absolutely stunning work she did on my book, The Homing Place, which will be showcased during the 2018 Association of University Presses Book, Jacket, and Journal Show in recognition of Lara’s beautiful typographic design. Lara is a graduate of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, and I am so grateful for the work that she did with this project!

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Even more recently, the book was selected as a finalist for two regional awards: the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick Book Award for Non-Fiction and an Atlantic Book Award for Scholarly Writing. I was extremely surprised by these announcements, and more than anything else, perhaps, I am looking forward to the opportunity to meet and chat with other shortlisted authors at events in May and June. I don’t get out much these days. Peter J. Clair’s incredible book Taapoategl & Pallet, the best new novel I’ve read in some time, is a finalist for a New Brunswick Book Award in the fiction category, and there’s a question about periwinkles I’ve been dying to ask him.

My experience working with the team at Wilfrid Laurier University Press continues to be fantastic, and I’m grateful to Clare Hitchens for submitting my book for consideration in these competitions!

I’ll be reading from The Homing Place at the Central Branch of the Saint John Free Public Library on Tuesday, May 8 at noon as part of the Atlantic Book Awards Festival (the event  will be co-presented by Fog Lit Festival).

The Lone Mitten

the-education-of-augie-merasty-a-residential-school-memoir1My students will begin grappling with The Education of Augie Merasty: A Residential School Memoir tomorrow evening, and one of our many topics of conversation will be this striking book cover, which features a photograph of a single green mitten, taken by Alan Clarke.

In the second chapter of the book, Augie describes being sent out of school with another boy and made to walk for about 20 miles in a -60F windchill — their “punishment” for having each lost a single mitten on the previous day. It’s a distressing story of two “very nervous and scared” ten year old boys, alone but for each other in the middle of a vast frozen lake, each clutching a stick to protect against the wolves. When the boys eventually return to the school without their lost mittens, they are beaten.

Today it’s not uncommon to see lone mittens or other articles of clothing laying lost on the ground in parking lots or beside sidewalks or roadways. There’s even a Facebook group dedicated to images of shoes found lost on the side of the road. Some people are deeply fascinated with the lost-clothing phenomenon and can’t help but wonder or imagine how the items came to be lost.

Personally, when I see an abandoned shoe or glove on the side of a road, I think, with some amount of trepidation, what happened? There’s a story here — but if I’m being honest, I don’t especially want to know what that story is. I am not curious, I do not wish to know more, and I quickly avert my eyes. Because I always fear that it might be a sad or an upsetting story — like an abduction, an assault, or an accident. I don’t want to know what potentially horrible thing that lost piece of clothing might mean to somebody, somewhere.

So I have been thinking today about this photograph and about its efficacy as a representation of Settler Canada’s desire to avert its eyes from the history and legacy of the residential schools. Maybe we see the mitten and we look away because, if we’re being honest, we’d rather not know its story. And maybe our lives would be easier or happier if we didn’t have to think too hard about the mitten or about what it means to somebody, somewhere — if we didn’t have to connect it to a story of little boys, cold, alone, afraid.

Merasty’s memoir is powerful and it deserved powerful cover art, so kudos to the design team at the University of Regina Press.

Teaching Mihku Paul’s “The Water Road”

Mihku Paul gave me this beautiful copy of her poem “The Water Road” after I organized a reading for her at the Saint John Free Public Library several summers ago. This now hangs in my kitchen and I look at it when heating bottles of milk for my babies. It’s one of my favourites of hers, but also, more generally, one of my favourite things ever written about the Wolastoqiyik homelands.

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And because it’s featured in the wonderful Dawnland Voices: An Anthology of Indigenous Writing from New England (ed. Siobhan Senier), I have the privilege of discussing it with students this week in a third-year Indigenous Literatures course at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John. To some degree, the poem is a response to The Old Meductic Fort and the Indian Chapel of Saint Jean Baptistea paper that was read before the New Brunswick Historical Society by Rev. W.O. Raymond in 1897. Raymond refers to a tributary of the Wolastoq River that the Maliseets call “Madawamkeetook, signifying ‘rocky at its mouth,'” and also to a report penned by Abraham Gesner — the Settler geologist who invented kerosene — who noted, in his survey of Wolastoqiyik portage paths, that the “‘solid rocks'” between Meductic and Tobique had been so well travelled that they were “‘furrowed by the moccasins of the native tribes.'” Gesner’s writings on these trails are themselves fascinating, filled with detailed references to awikhiganak, the images inscribed into tree bark that helped Wabanaki peoples navigate dense forests.

Against this incredible image of people traveling, for centuries, down worn and familiar passages, echoing the footsteps and movements of their ancestors, mapping and inscribing their land with their bodies, and leaving written messages, warnings, and instructions for one another along the paths, Raymond consolidates his simplistic idea of wandering nomads. He describes “the Indians of the Maliseet and Micmac tribes” as “a race of nomads, wandering about from one camping ground to another, as necessity or caprice impelled them.” Paul counters his vision of aimlessness with an exploration of her own personal reasons for travelling the water road. Her poem moves from Madawamkeetook down the Meductic trail to the Chiputneticook lakes at the Maine border and to Mattawamkeag, an eastern tributary of the Penobscot — where, Paul writes, “a girl became a woman.”

Screen Shot 2018-01-25 at 3.30.45 PMPaul herself grew up primarily in Old Town, Maine, but she also spent portions of her childhood among family at Indian Island, which stretches for miles along the Penobscot River. An enrolled member of the Kingsclear First Nation in New Brunswick, her family’s life in Maine was born of her grandfather’s struggles in the New Brunswick residential school system — experiences that ultimately caused him to flee the province before Mihku’s mother was born.

Paul’s poem speaks of someone who “became a woman” along the Penobscot, but whose “body craves the past, its water seeking / The cool flow, ancestral memory, / Where tributaries meet, flooding / Undernourished roots that cling to her edges / Eroded year by year with forgetting.” And so she follows the “map / Flowing inside [her body]” — from Penobscot to Mattawamkeag, to the Chiputneticook lakes, and up the water road to Meductic, where furrowed rocks speak of old life ways and the purposeful movements of a people who always find their way home.

 

Introductory remarks for The Outside Circle – September 26, 2017, Lorenzo Reading Series, University of New Brunswick (Saint John Campus)

It is my privilege this evening to welcome Dr. Patti LaBoucane-Benson and Kelly Mellings to UNBSJ and to the land that the Wolastoqiyik people call Menahkwesk. So as a Settler New Brunswicker and perpetual guest myself, I welcome you in the traditional spirit of the pre-confederation treaties that first bound my ancestors to the Wabanaki nations of the northeast as neighbours. These treaties tell us how to be together here in this territory and in this room as members of distinct nations, how to share space, and how to extend fairness and gentleness to one another. So I hope I can do them justice!

We’re here together tonight to learn more about this beautiful graphic novel, The Outside Circle, which was published by the House of Anansi in 2015. This is on the one hand a painful story about intergenerational or historic trauma – about the most visible symptoms of trauma, like addiction, violence, and self-destructive behaviour. It’s about the ugly realities that the EuroWestern genocide of Indigenous peoples continues to produce within and without the urban spaces of Settler Canada.

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And it’s a story about healing and love. The kind of love that made me cry in front of my three-year-old while I was sitting on the sofa last week, otherwise quietly reading – and he said, “Mama, what is you doing?” and I thought to myself, “I’ll share this with you someday when you’re older, and it will help teach you about the important difference between a symptom and a character trait. It will help teach you to extend tenderness to people who are hurting.”

This is a story about the intergenerational love that has endured in Indigenous communities and in Indigenous bodies despite horrible violence and unspeakable trauma. The powerful love that remains between an Indigenous man named Pete and his community, between Pete and his elders, his family, his ancestors – the love between Pete and the bear who helps show him who he is and where he fits in his communities and in the important work of Indigenous recovery and resurgence.

And so we are here together to learn more about this difficult, painful, beautiful story.

I’m going to get out of the way here in just a moment, but I want to mention one more thing. You’ll often hear people say that in contemporary works of Indigenous literature, oral and alphabetic traditions occupy the same space. Probably because I work primarily on the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, it’s never before occurred to me how wonderfully this idea is represented by the graphic novel form – where you are essentially reading an alphabetic and a material text side by side and simultaneously. Sometimes the non-alphabetic, the visual, just takes over and tells the story for a while, and as a reader, even one who is perhaps otherwise totally immersed in EuroWestern norms and notions of literacy, it feels like the most natural thing in the world. As a reader, you just follow along, constantly and intuitively moving between alphabetic and material literacies in the context of a single story, and what an incredible way to teach the intimate interplay between traditional Indigenous and EuroWestern forms of literature.

There is something beautiful, too, I think, in the fact that the words of this story were produced by a Métis woman, and the images by a Settler Canadian man. At the end of the novel there’s a section of thanks, and Kelly thanks all those who “changed how I think and feel about First nations people. I hope my art has shared what I have learned.” I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this since I first read the novel last week. About the tender interplay between these beautiful images and these powerful words. About how Patti trusted Kelly with this story, and through his artwork, he said, I’m listening. I care about understanding, about getting this right, and I hear you.

I see this exchange now in every panel – an Indigenous woman saying, this is the story. It’s an important story. And a Settler man saying, I am listening. Let me show you, through my art, just how hard I am listening.

So let’s listen too. Please join me in welcoming these storytellers.

MIKWIDIHAMIN — Refusing to Remember a Passamaquoddy Artist

I’ve been working on a short piece about this fabulous Passamaquoddy picnic basket, which is part of the Wabanaki collection at the Fredericton Regional Museum.

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The basket is clearly the handiwork of Tomah Joseph, the iconic Passamaquoddy artist whose creations on birchbark “often included the phrase mikwid hamin, which means ‘recall me in your mind’ or ‘remember me.'”

But through a Google search last week I stumbled upon an interesting description of the basket from a website associated with the Atlantic Canada Visual Archives, which was a joint initiative of the historian Margaret Conrad, a former Canada Research Chair in Atlantic Canada Studies, and the Electronic Text Centre at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton (now called the Centre for Digital Scholarship).

Here is a screenshot of the website’s description of the basket:

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I was surprised by this attribution, so I immediately reached out to Micah Pawling, whose current work focuses on Sabattis Tomah. Micah replied to my e-mail almost immediately, raising a number of red flags and asking a series of important questions:

In 1884, Sabattis Tomah was about 12 years old. Did he sign the basket? What are the other images on the piece? Can one rule out that the basket was not made by his father, Tomah Joseph? Both Sabattis Tomah and Tomah Joseph were from Motahkomikuk (Indian Township), not Sipayik (Pleasant Point). I wonder about the details of allegedly breaking the law (in Maine)?

In short, the description appears to be a total fiction, and in that sense, I find its level of detail to be deeply unsettling. It’s as though someone invented these narrative details, almost at random, to create an illusion of truth, indeed to bury the truth — but why?

Mikwid hamin, the basket asks. Please don’t forget me. But we forget anyway, almost as an act of petulant defiance. You can’t tell me what do to.

Here, then, is another example of Settlers acting as poor stewards of Indigenous cultural materials. I’ll be traveling to the Fredericton Regional Museum at some point in the next few weeks to take a look at the basket in person, and I’ll be interested to see how it has been represented in that venue. I’m hopeful that someone at the museum will also be able to speak to where this description originated.