Elder in Residence
Métis writer Maria Campbell is best known for her important memoir, Half-breed which initiated a rebirth of Aboriginal literature in Canada. She was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2008. Campbell was born in 1940 in northwestern Saskatchewan on a trapline and grew up in a road-allowance community. The oldest of eight children the young Maria had to leave her one-room country school to care for the other children when her mother died. At fifteen she left home and went to Vancouver. In her twenties she returned to the Prairies and became a community worker and organizer. Out of her city experience and with the help of a group she wrote Many Laws (1969), a hand book explaining the laws and problems that confront First Nations people who move to the cities.
Campbell overcame many difficulties to take control of her own life and to help her people. This journey of self-discovery is traced in Half-breed (1973), a moving account of a woman who struggled with poverty, alcoholism, drug addiction, sexual abuse and prostitution to reach thirty-three years of age and begin her healing process. Campbell tells her story in the context of Métis culture and a forgotten history. She brings in myth and creates a distinctive voice for a people ignored by mainstream society. This book has been used as a texts in countless university and college courses across North America and translated in Europe.
Maria Campbell went on to write three books for children: People of the Buffalo (1975), Little Badger and the Fire Spirit (1977), Riel’s People (1978) which capture aspects of Métis history. In Stories of the Road-Allowance People (1995), Campbell translated the narratives from the Cree-Mitchif language spoken by the Métis into oral English. She has used theatre to bring her Métis voice to large Canadian audiences. Her play Flight was the first all Aboriginal theatre production and included storytelling, drama, modern dance with Aboriginal arts. She wrote the play, Jessica in collaboration with Linda Griffiths. The play follows the story of a young Métis woman from innocence to despair and finally to self-realization. It debuted in 1986 at Toronto’s Theatre Passe Muraille and won the Dora Mavor Moore Award. At the Quinzanne International Festival in Quebec City it won Best Canadian Production. Campbell and Griffiths published the play in The book of Jessica: A Theatrical Transformation (1989), which also includes the story of its collaborative creation. Campbell’s script The Red Dress (1977) is a film for the National Film Board. Between 1985 and 1997 she produced thirty-four community film documentaries and a weekly Aboriginal TV series, My Partner, My People.
Maria Campbell earned an M.A. in Native Studies from the University of Saskatchewan. She has received honourary doctorates from the University of Regina (1995), York University (1992) and Athabasca University (2000). She has taught Métis history and the study of oral traditions at universities in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta. She is a visiting academic at the Nukskahtowin and Research, Athabasca University. (Joseph J. Pivato, 2009)