Academic journal article Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada

"Well Done Old Half Breed Woman": Lydia Campbell and the Labrador Literary Tradition

Academic journal article Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada

"Well Done Old Half Breed Woman": Lydia Campbell and the Labrador Literary Tradition

Article excerpt

SOMMAIRE

Lydia Campbell (1818-1905), une femme ecrivain du Labrador d'ascendance inuit et anglaise, publia par tranches en 1894 et 1895 son autobiographie Sketches of Labrador Life by a Labrador Woman. L'oeuvre de Campbell remet en question plusieurs idees recues en lien avec la litterature autochtone, notamment le schema typique de l'ecriture aborigene qui oppose le Blanc a l'Autochtone ou encore le colonialisme a la resistance. Au lieu de mettre l'accent sur cet antagonisme, cet article tente de replacer Campbell dans les coutumes indigenes et la tradition litteraire du Labrador en explorant les contextes historiques et culturels dans lesquels l'auteure oeuvra ainsi que l'influence qu'apporta son livre parmi les Metis inuits du Labrador. A propos de sa double identite d'Inuit et d'Anglaise, on fait valoir que Campbell se forgea une image qui ne manqua pas de positivite ni de cohesion. On souligne en outre que sa connaissance de l'alphabet, au lieu d'etre un signe d'assimilation a la culture coloniale, s'avera plutot etre un outil qu'elle percut comme sien et qu'elle utilisa a ses propres fins pour instaurer une tradition d'ecriture qu'elle transmit a la posterite.

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In 2009, Lydia Campbell (1818-1905), a Labrador writer of Inuit and English parentage, was designated by the Canadian government as "a person of national historic significance." (1) However, as one blogger from Labrador commented, "We all knew she was significant 'round these here parts for quite some time." (2) For the Inuit and Inuit Metis of Labrador, (3) Campbell's 1894-5 autobiography, Sketches of Labrador Life by a Labrador Woman, has had a long-time and profound impact in terms of local identity, sense of history, and practices of reading and writing. While this significance has been recognized within the context of Newfoundland and Labrador studies, Campbell's work is little known outside the province and has generally not been recognized within the field of Canadian Aboriginal literature. (4) This is unfortunate, because Campbell's writing challenges many common critical assumptions about Aboriginal literature, particularly the oppositional framework that sees Aboriginal writing as primarily defined by a tension between the "white" and "Aboriginal" worlds, or between colonialism and resistance. Lisa Brooks has argued that, by focusing on this oppositional Native/white framework, critics have "failed to see a full picture": "Most critics have portrayed early Native writers either as individuals 'caught between two worlds' or as 'subjects,' who, even as they may have resisted or challenged the colonial world, struggled to exist within it. The degree to which they were corrupted by writing, by Christian religion, and by their presence in European circles is almost inevitably raised." (5) This focus on colonial influence, Brooks continues, obscures the ways in which Aboriginal writing "is part of an extensive indigenous intellectual tradition." (6) The purpose of this essay Is to place Campbell within such an indigenous tradition, the Labrador literary tradition, exploring the historical and culturally specific context within which Campbell wrote and the influence that her book has had among the Labrador Inuit Metis. Thus, I am primarily interested, not in a dose reading of Sketches, but in the ways that Campbell's writing was created and has been received in a social context.

Because of the popular post-colonial approach to Aboriginal literature, critics have paid little attention to this social context, to the ways in which literature emerges out of and functions within Aboriginal communities, which Creek literary critic Craig Womack has called "Native literature's place in Indian country." (7) As a result, those critics who have written on Campbell have often emphasized, not her relationship to her own community, but the ways in which she was "acculturated" to European ways. Renee Hulan, for example, argues that, in works such as Campbell's, "writing one's life story began as a religious imperative, encouraged by Christian missionaries, and, as such, early examples tend to show the author's appreciation for and assimilation into the new, colonizing culture. …

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