Saturday, June 9, 2018

Halfbreed (1973)

Most of my public schooling took place in the 1970s. I was in Grade 11 in 1978, and English 11 was divided into six half-year classes, of which we had to take four over two years. One of the classes I chose was Canadian Literature, taught by Mrs. Winter. The main text for that class was the novel The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1959) by Mordecai Richler, which was made into an equally great film by Ted Kotcheff in 1974.

While the remainder of our required readings were short stories (Alice Munro's "The Office", 1968, was a highlight), we were asked to select another novel from a list of ten and write a report. The new girl who sat in front of me chose Marie-Claire Blaise's Mad Shadows (1959), while I chose Maria Campbell's Halfbreed (1973). Though a memoir, Halfbreed was presented to us as a novel, something I was reminded of when I read that Nlaka'pamux writer Marie Terese Mailhot first published early chapters of Heart Berries: A Memoir as fiction.

Halfbreed was in the news recently over a three-paragraph passage that was removed from the original publication -- the author's rape by an RCMP officer when she was fourteen years old.

Here is that passage:

During all this time Dad worked for Bob and poached on the side, and as usual the Mounties and wardens were often at our house. We were eating fairly well, as Dad made good money from the sale of meat. One day he was away and Grannie and I were drying meat in the bush. We had a tent set up about a mile from the house and all the children were with us. I raced home to get something we’d forgotten just as three R.C.M.P drove up in a car. They said they were going to search the house as they knew Daddy had brought meat home the day before. I let them in and said that everyone else was at the store, and prayed that no one would come from the camp. While one Mountie was upstairs and another in the barn, the third followed me into the kitchen. He talked for a long time and insisted that I knew about the meat.
Suddenly he put his arm around me and said that I was too pretty to go to jail. When I tried to get away, he grabbed my hair and pulled me to him. I was frightened and was fighting back as Robbie came running into the room. He tried to hit the Mountie but was knocked to the floor. I was nearly to the door when the other one came in. All I can recall is being dragged to Grannie’s bed where the man tore my shirt and jeans. When I came to, Grannie was crying and washing me off. I must have been in a state of shock, because I heard everything she said but could not speak or cry despite the pain. My face was all bruised and I had teeth marks all over my chest and stomach. My head felt as if my hair had been pulled out by the roots.
Grannie was afraid that Dad would come home, so she helped me upstairs and put me to bed. She told me not to tell Daddy what had happened, that if he knew he would kill those Mounties for sure and be hung and we would all be placed in an orphanage. She said that no one ever believed Halfbreeds in court; they would say that I had been fooling around with some boys and tried to blame the Mounties instead. When Daddy came home she told him that King had gone crazy and had thrown me. Dad sold King because he was afraid that I might be crippled or even killed next time. I don’t know what Grannie told Robbie. After that, he always hated the police, and when he grew up he was in trouble all the time and served prison terms for assaulting policemen. My fear was so great that I even believed they would come back and beat me to make sure that I told no one. For weeks afterwards, if I heard a car coming into the yard, I would be sick to my stomach with fear.

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