James M Flaherty Research Scholarship 2019/2020 Visit Report
Re-telling (her)story. Indigenous Women’s Writing in Francophone Quebec
Scholar: Dr Julie Rodgers
Home Institute: Maynooth University
Host Institute: Université de Sherbrooke
Dates: 21st October to 29th November 2019
I arrived in Quebec on 19th October 2019 to commence my research on Indigenous Women’s Writing in Francophone Quebec on 21st October. I have been a scholar of Quebec Women’s Writing since my doctoral studies at Trinity College Dublin (completed in 2008) but I was unfamiliar with the field of Francophone Indigenous Literature in Quebec and the Flaherty Scholarship provided me with the opportunity to explore this incredibly important body of work. For the duration of my visit I was hosted by the Université de Sherbrooke which is seated on Abenaki territory. I chose this institution as it boasts an established community of scholars working on issues relating to Indigenous Studies and, furthermore, I was aware that the university had begun offering introductory classes to both the Abenaki language and culture. Another key factor in selecting this particular host institution were the strong links already in place between my own place of work (Maynooth University) and the Université de Sherbrooke, facilitated by the Flaherty scholarship programme in 2018. In 2018, Maynooth University was delighted to welcome Dr Marc Fortin and benefit from his expertise on ecocriticism and Indigenous literature in Canada while he worked on his own project relating to similar issues in Ireland. As a result of the success of this scholarly exchange, a new direction in my own research on Francophone Quebec literature began to take shape and, thanks to the Flaherty award programme in 2019, I was able to further develop this project by embarking on a research visit hosted by the Université de Sherbrooke where I was able to avail of expertise and materials that would not ordinarily be available to me in Ireland. During my time in Quebec, two major events took place that were key to my research. The first was the ‘Salon du Livre’ for Indigenous literature (Kwahiatonk) held between the 14th and 17th November. The second was the escalation of the Wet’suwet’en protests that I was able to follow closely while in situ. In particular, one of the authors selected for my research project, Natasha Kanapé Fontaine, was a prominent spokesperson for Indigenous rights throughout the crisis and I was able to gather an enormous amount of material from the media that I can now incorporate into my analysis of her work. Finally, while based at the Université de Sherbrooke, I was also able to attend literature seminars held at the nearby Bishop’s University, organized by former Craig Dobbin chair Professor Linda Morra and which featured invited writers on a regular basis.
La mémoire se transmet par le sang. Mémoire écorchée, démembrée, violée. Mémoire effacée de la conscience du peuple. Un grand vide se creuse d’une génération à l’autre. Lorsque le récit n’est pas raconté, il y a privation. Manque.
Natasha Kanapé Fonataine,
‘Prologue’, Nanimissuat Ile-tonnere (2018)
The project focused on the situation of Indigenous women in Quebec, the long political and cultural history of oppression, patriarchy, and colonization, and the absence and emergence of Indigenous women writing and publishing in Quebec and in French. The writers that I concentrated on were Natasha Kanapé Fontaine, Joséphine Bacon and Naomi Fontaine. The themes and topics that I examined included the following: ways of being and belonging to the land; cultural and linguistic transmission; the importance of generations and ancestors; systems of domination and subjugation; and, silenced and erased voices. In all texts that I studied, it became apparent that writing represents a clear means of negotiating and overcoming feelings of displacement within and alienation from their own territory and (her)story. It was also interesting to note that poetry and the spoken word emerged as the preferred genre for the articulation and exploration of female Indigenous experiences. Another angle to my work concerned the relationship of these Indigenous women writers to French, their decision to write predominantly through this medium as opposed to an Indigenous language, and how they positioned themselves in terms of Quebec identity. One of the main findings of this research project was the realization that Indigenous Women’s Writing in Francophone Quebec unfortunately remains a marginalized and poorly known literary field. And yet in light of the ongoing tensions between settler and Indigenous communities and the endurance of colonialist and patriarchal structures (manifested in disproportionately high rates of violence against Indigenous women), it is essential that scholars turn their attention to these voices in a bid to better understand the issues at stake and the urgent need for meaningful reconciliation. As my research in this area evolves, I would like to expand my corpus to include Rita Mestokosho and Marie-Andrée Gill.
A number of future events and collaborations have emerged from this very fruitful research visit facilitated by the Flaherty Award. Unfortunately, many of them have had to be postponed due to the outbreak of Covid-19, but it is hoped that we will be able to re-organise them in a timely fashion. Firstly, I was invited by Professor Patricia Godbout to return to the Université de Sherbrooke in March to give a talk on my work at the Centre Anne Hébert (rescheduled for October 2020). Secondly, I had arranged for Natasha Kanapé Fontaine to speak at the Franco-Irish Literary festival in Dublin at the beginning of April (rescheduled for March 2021). I had also organized for Natasha Kanapé Fontaine to give a seminar to students of Quebec literature at Maynooth University in April of this year (rescheduled for March 2021). Thirdly, I was due to give a presentation of my research at the biennial ACSI (Association des études canadiennes en Irlande) conference in Belfast in May 2020 (postponed possibly until September 2020 or later). In August 2020, I plan to launch a call for submissions for a special journal issue focusing on Indigenous Women’s Writing in Francophone Quebec which I will co-edit with colleagues from the Université de Sherbrooke, with a potential publication date of late 2021/early 2022. Finally, as of September 2020, I intend to incorporate Indigenous writers into the module that I deliver on Quebec Literature at undergraduate level at Maynooth University.
I would like to sincerely thank ICUF and the Flaherty award for granting me this wonderful opportunity to develop my research on Quebec literature in a brand new direction and I look forward to continuing and expanding this work in the future.