Academic journal article Quebec Studies

J'vous Djis Enne Cho', La: Translating Oral Michif French into Written English

Academic journal article Quebec Studies

J'vous Djis Enne Cho', La: Translating Oral Michif French into Written English

Article excerpt

Introduction: The Franco-Metis, Western Canada's First but "Forgotten" Francophones, and Their Stories

With interest and research on Canada's "French fact" tending to concentrate on Quebec, the history and cultural production, if not the very existence of francophone communities on the Canadian prairies, tend to be invisible to everyone but themselves. Written in French, stories belonging to "Franco-Manitobans," "Fransaskois," or "Franco-Albertans" are generally ignored by Quebec and the rest of North America, and read by relatively few readers in those same communities. It is hardly surprising, then, that the majority of Canadian Literature readers know little, if anything, about the oral stories belonging to the first Francophones to inhabit the prairies: the Franco-Metis, a people born of marriages between French-Canadian men and Native women.

The evolution of Franco-Metis communities on the prairies, which I will describe more thoroughly later on, saw them transformed from a majority that believed it constituted a new nation in the mid-1800s to a doubly colonized minority who, before the end of that century, was encouraged to unlearn their cultural practices and replace them with French-Canadian ones. Tensions between the two francophone communities undoubtedly contributed to the fact that contemporary writers of Franco-Metis ancestry, as I will underscore in another section, write in English, and until very recently, seem to make a point of not acknowledging the "Frenchness" of their French-speaking ancestors. Fiction by French-Canadian writers such as Gabrielle Roy, Marguerite-A. Primeau, and Marie Moser, however, reveal the important role that the Franco-Metis played in the shaping of French-Canadian communities on the prairies, but these authors inevitably portray Metis characters as Outsiders whose visible or audible traits, such as dress and language, may or may not be represented, while practices such as storytelling are consistently absent from the picture. The loss of much of the oral tradition that once formed the backbone of Metis communities and provided continuity is the legacy of colonial history.

From Reader of an "Othered" Metis Culture to Researcher Actively Recovering Traditional Metis Oral Stories

The postcolonial perspective has motivated a project that returns to the "forgotten" colonial history of the Franco-Metis with a view to criticize and deconstruct colonization and domination, and also contribute to the rectification of unjust and traumatic treatment that is part and parcel of colonial heritage. The project postulates that one way of contributing to such "rectification" would be to "give back" to today's descendents some of the ancestral stories and voices of historic Franco-Metis that have become lost to the community, but that are recoverable through research.

Ideally, one learns of one's heritage and about community belonging through the words and gestures of family and other community members. Bur when this is not or no longer possible, when information regarding entire pieces of the past is lacking, one way of connecting with the past is through community voices and knowledge expressed in stories belonging to history (with a small "h") and/or to oral tradition. Jacques Le Goff has insistently reminded us of the deliberate manipulation of collective memory to political ends: "forgotten" history, from this perspective, is the result of the domination of one group by another, and reveals that reality. In the aftermath of the 1885 events, the Metis felt that survival meant disbanding their communities and dissimulating their Metisness to the point of disavowal. I will explore this topic in more detail in the next section, but wish at this point to emphasize that when a non-literate community is torn apart, much of oral tradition is irretrievably lost. For these communities, the loss of ancestral stories means the disappearance of a complex, multi-layered part of their world:

Storytelling is never done for sheer entertainment; for the stories were and are a record of proud nations confident in their achievements and their way of life. …

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