The two books under review are written by and about Indigenous women, and both are representative of past and present artistic and socio-political calls for bringing awareness to their lives—“unfinished” lives, Shannon Webb-Campbell writes—in the context of ongoing colonialism and genocide in Canada, as defined in the recently published Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
With Hope Matters, Sto:lo author Lee Maracle and her daughters Columpa Bobb and Tania Carter published a book that—through individual poems that dialogue and finally merge into one strong, collective female voice—honours, addresses, and simultaneously enacts relationships. The victimization of Indigenous women is one of the major themes in this collaborative work—without, however, further victimizing them. On the contrary, Maracle, Bobb, and Carter write invisibilized, “crazed” women into life; they give them a space to exist and a voice with which to speak back to colonial injustices. In other words, they refuse victimization. As Maracle declares, “I am not tragic.” The writing confronts the reader with the ugly, violent truth and traumatic wounds of colonization, racism, and sexism as inescapably as generations of women have had to face and endure them in their everyday lives. Yet the poetry is a colourful celebration of women’s strength, resilience, and power of love that testifies to their determined efforts to make their families, communities, and nations survive and thrive.
Maracle also plays a crucial role as teacher of Mi’kmaq poet Shannon Webb-Campbell and editor of her most recent book, I Am a Body of Land, a completely revised version of Who Took My Sister? (2018), which sparked controversy across Canada and was eventually removed from the shelves. The earlier book’s graphic descriptions of the murder of Indigenous women—without their families’ knowledge or permission—initiated discussions about Indigenous protocol in the arts, the author’s responsibilities to Indigenous individuals and communities, and, most importantly, the harmful and re-traumatizing effect of dealing with individual cases of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls when settler violence and the victimization of women are perpetuated. In response, Webb-Campbell exploits poetry as a site of critical engagement with her self and community, with questions of belonging and trauma, and with the poet’s ethical responsibilities. Each poem is a space where she performs self-reflexivity, exercises accountability, and practises the principle of “do no more harm.” According to Webb-Campbell, I Am a Body of Land “isn’t a typical book,” and I agree because it blends poetics, politics, criticism, and ethics without diminishing the affective beauty of poetry and its ability to speak to the reader’s soul. Webb-Campbell’s poetic response to previous criticism is a seminal contribution to the field of Indigenous literary studies and represents an unconventional way of dealing with complex questions of authorship, the function of art, poetics, and ethics, as well as the internalized culture of colonialism.
Both poetry collections are timely and much-needed works that directly and critically address the individually and collectively lived female experiences of trauma without perpetuating the stereotype of the victimized Indigenous woman. The authors craft poems full of resistance and resilience, loss and hope, pain and love. Just as water makes its way despite all obstacles and as embers continue to glow, these women’s poetic voices resonate with their unswerving belief in decolonization and Indigenous resurgence that will recreate a space where, in Bobb’s words, “Indigenous women are human beings worthy of being alive.”
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