By: Srijani Datta, Assistant News Editor
SFU associate professor Deanna Reder and PhD student Alix Shield discovered a complete manuscript of Métis author Maria Campbell’s 1973 classic memoir Halfbreed, including two excised pages from all prints of the book so far. Shield, who made the discovery, discussed the significance of the finding in an interview with The Peak, on June 21, National Indigenous Day.
The two pages, marked in the manuscript with two large red crosses over them, described sexual assault allegations against an RCMP officer that took place when Campbell was 14 years old.
Shield made the discovery on October 18, 2017 in publishing company McClelland & Stewart’s fonds while visiting the McMaster University archives in Hamilton as part of a month-long research trip. Shield mentioned that, due to previous archival works, she and Reder both knew that a particular “incident” involving the RCMP had been cut from Campbell’s manuscript as the publishers thought it to be too “libellous.” She stated, “[Once I] knew that something like that existed, I would try my best to find it.”
Shield explained that even though Campbell herself wanted to talk about the assault in her memoir and had received the support of her legal counsel to do so, the pages were never published. Discussing the reason why the pages were not published, Shield said, “All of the letters between the editors and publishers showed that the decision was made out of fears that the RCMP could get an injunction and attempt to halt the book’s publication. This would mean that all of the money that they (the publishers) had put into the project would go nowhere.”
“The decision to not include the passages was really an example of non-Indigenous editors [and] publishers coming in and making the decision on behalf of the Indigenous authors, which in itself is one example of a larger problem of Canadian publishing, especially in the 20th century,” continued Shield.
“McClelland & Stewart’s decision to remove [the pages] from her memoir took away her power and voice as an Indigenous woman writer.” – Alix Shield
She added that “despite Campbell’s insistence on including the pages, because it was such an important part of her life, McClelland & Stewart’s decision to remove it from her memoir took away her power and voice as an Indigenous woman writer.”
Reder and Shield published an article in the journal Canadian Literature discussing the whole process and making the pages public with Campbell’s permission. Shield told The Peak that “throughout the whole process, Deanna and I have been trying to make Maria feel that her book has been restored to the form that she had intended. The whole process of publishing the article with the excised passages [was] done carefully, respectfully, and with her permission.”
Since the discovery, Shield reports that different publishing houses have expressed interest in republishing the book with the two excised pages. “At this point if Maria wants to republish it, [and] I think she will, there will be a sense of resolution. All those who have read her book so far and have been inspired by it, will be able to read it as a whole, and I think it will bring more peace to Maria at the age of 78,” said Shield.
Shield explained how McClelland & Stewart’s act of deciding for Campbell was indicative of a problem in the field of publishing where non-Indigenous publishers and editors who “could not understand or relate with the writers [. . .] often engaged in destructive editorial practices which ended up shaping the way that books like Halfbreed [were] read.”
Shield mentioned that she wanted to address this problem in her own research on Canadian Indigenous literature as a PhD student: “In my work I want to do something that matters and give credit to writers and storytellers who should have been given credit many years ago. Because I identify as a settler scholar, it is really important to me to keep my positionality in mind with regard to the materials I am working, because that is part of the attempt to decolonize the scholarly system.”
“It is time that the story came to light and the book was restored to its original form, as the author had intended it be,” said Shield.