Maria Campbell Criticism - Essay

Valerie Miner Johnson (review date August 1973)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Dad Was Always Drunk, Mom Always Pregnant," in Saturday Night, Vol. 88, No. 8, August, 1973, pp. 31-2.

[In the mixed review below, Johnson praises Halfbreed as a moving tale, but laments the volume's lack of detail concerning Campbell's adult life.]

The cover is haunting—a strong, dark face half-cast in shadows. The title, Halfbreed is proud—an arrogant acceptance of the epithet by which her people are called. The text is spirited—a resolute testimony to Maria Campbell's faith in her race and herself.

Campbell started this book about the Métis struggle as a history; she surrendered that format for a much more piquant story—her autobiography. Halfbreed is the daring account of a strong-willed woman who defeated poverty, racism, alcoholism and drug addiction by the age of thirty-three. The book is called radical by Métis working within government programmes; it challenges the compromises they have made. The author is as outspoken about her oppression as a woman among the halfbreeds as she is critical of prejudice from whites and Indians.

Maria Campbell, whose real name is June Stifle, was born in a tent in northern Saskatchewan during a spring blizzard in 1940. Her Scottish, Indian and French great grandparents were defeated with Louis Riel in 1885. Since then her family has survived on the edge of despair, too often releasing their frustration within the community. "Our men would become angry, but instead of fighting the white men they beat their wives. They ripped clothes off the women, hit them with fists or whips, knocked them down and kicked them until they were senseless."

Campbell grew up in a settlement of Indian and European traditions—Sundances and Midnight Masses. Her family were "awp-pee-kow-kossons" (half people) to the Indians and "breeds" to the whites. Her descriptions of the bigotry and hypocrisy of priests, politicians, police, teachers and social workers are clichés only to those of us who don't have to suffer through them. She is brutally honest about the joy and pain of a prairie home where spontaneity led to parties and brawls. As she grew older her father always seemed drunk and her mother always seemed pregnant. She was able to attend school regularly from age nine to age twelve, when her mother died. Afterwards, she managed to attend intermittently while taking care of the six younger children, gardening, cooking, canning, laundering and unravelling tattered socks to knit new ones.

She finally quit school and got married at fifteen in a desperate effort to save her brothers and sisters from the orphanage. Married life was bearable for the first two months until her groom began to drink. He lost his job, beat her up, and by the time she...

(The entire section is 1157 words.)

Cornelia Holbert (review date 1 November 1973)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Halfbreed, in Best Sellers, Vol. 33, No. 15, November 1, 1973, p. 344.

[In the following, Holbert favorably assesses Halfbreed.]

Two little Indian boys came in … about four and eight years old. In order to reach the bathroom they had to walk the length of the restaurant … As they started down the aisle one of the men yelled "Watch it! The bows and arrows are coming." The older child stopped for a second when everyone started to laugh, put up his arm around his little brother … the younger boy started to cry and they ran the rest of the way.

To what are we driving our fellow men, our...

(The entire section is 614 words.)

Irma McDonough (review date November 1976)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of People of the Buffalo, in Saturday Night, Vol. 91, No. 8, November, 1976, p. 72.

[In the following, the critic offers a favorable assessment of People of the Buffalo.]

Maria Campbell has given children a revealing, convincing portrait of the Plains Indians in People of the Buffalo. Their way of life can probably best be communicated by a member of that community, and she is a half-white, half-Indian writer who told her own story in Halfbreed, published in 1973. The new book documents with pride and pleasure the life of her native ancestors. It's a corrective for children whose ordinary connection with Indians has been through chauvinistic portrayals. Where else would nine and ten year olds see this categorical statement: "Before the coming of the white man, violence was not common, and tribes did not declare war on each other." Where would they see: "Boys and girls were treated equally and were not criticized if they chose work that was unusual for their sex: some women hunted and rode in battle, and some men cooked and tanned hides." This is no romantic picture but a straightforward description of a vanished way of life. This is the way social history should be written for children.

Mark Czarnecki (review date 15 November 1982)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Cultural Schizophrenia," in Maclean's Magazine, Vol. 95, No. 46, November 15, 1982, p. 78.

[In the following review of Jessica, Czarnecki discusses the play's focus on the marginalization of Native North Americans and the protagonist's subsequent search for self-acceptance and integration.]

Jessica (Linda Griffiths) is a Métis born with the shamanistic powers of mind-reading and prophecy. As the play, [Jessica] opens she returns to her mentor on the reserve, despairing because mysterious, uncontrollable forces are driving her mad. She throws open her suitcase crammed with the paraphernalia of white culture (Sally Ann clothing, a tape recorder, a...

(The entire section is 625 words.)

Gretchen M. Bataille and Kathleen Mullen Sands (essay date 1984)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Long Road Back: Maria Campbell," in American Indian Women: Telling Their Lives, University of Nebraska Press, 1984, pp. 113-26.

[An American critic, educator, and editor who specializes in English and Native American studies, Bataille has authored and edited numerous works about Amerindians. Sands is an American educator, critic, and editor who also specializes in Native literature and culture. They have collaborated on the critically acclaimed American Indian Women: Telling Their Lives, from which this excerpt is taken, and on the 1991. American Indian Women: A Research Guide. In the following, they argue that there are two types of autobiographies: the life...

(The entire section is 4658 words.)

Kate Vangen (essay date 1984)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Making Faces: Defiance and Humour in Campbell's Halfbreed and Welch's Winter in the Blood," in The Native in Literature, Thomas King, Cheryl Calver, Helen Hoy, eds., ECW Press, 1987, pp. 188-205.

[Vangen is a member of the Assiniboine tribe. In the excerpt below, which was originally presented at the "Native in Literature" conference held at the University of Lethridge in 1984, she examines Campbell's use of humor in Halfbreed.]

Maria Campbell's Halfbreed is an autobiographical account of growing up Métis in Saskatchewan. By Campbell's own admission, the book was written out of "frustration and a lot of anger." Perhaps this is why its...

(The entire section is 1867 words.)

Rebecca Tsosie (essay date 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Changing Women: The Cross-Currents of American Indian Feminine Identity," in American Indian Culture and Research Journal, Vol. 12, No. 1, 1988, pp. 1-37.

[Tsosie writes on cultural and social topics. In the following excerpt, she briefly examines the themes of prejudice, discrimination, and oppression in Halfbreed.]

Maria Campbell's [Halfbreed] centers around conflicts of identity and "place" which are far more severe than those experienced by the women of previous generations. Campbell, a Metis or mixed-blood Cree, was born into the Canadian society of the 1940s, arguably even more racist than American society at this time. As a Metis woman, Campbell...

(The entire section is 710 words.)

Maria Campbell with Hartmut Lutz and Konrad Gross (interview date 23 September 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: An interview in Contemporary Challenges: Conversations with Canadian Native Authors by Hartmut Lutz, Fifth House Publishers, 1991, pp. 41-65.

[In the following excerpt from an interview originally conducted in 1989, Campbell discusses her background and heritage, her new works, the role of the Métis in Canadian society, the writing process, and the composition, publication, and reception of Halfbreed.]

[Campbell]: I don't think of myself as a writer. My work is in the community. Writing is just one of the tools that I use in my work as an organizer. If I think that something else would work better, then I do it. So it's multimedia kinds of things! I do video,...

(The entire section is 7915 words.)

Diane Bessai (essay date 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Collective Theatre and the Playwright: Jessica, by Linda Griffiths and Maria Campbell," in Writing Saskatchewan: 20 Critical Essays, edited by Kenneth G. Probert, University of Regina, 1989, pp. 100-10.

[In the essay below, Bessai relates the composition and structure of Jessica, arguing that the play is representative of the collaborative efforts in regional, collective theater which were popular in Canada in the 1970s and 1980s.]

If a main strength in the new Canadian drama of the past fifteen years lies in its specific rendering of regional experience, the collective creations of the 1970s did much to set that pattern of regionality. Thus in...

(The entire section is 4498 words.)

Agnes Grant (essay date Spring-Summer 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Contemporary Native Women's Voices in Literature," in Canadian Literature, Nos. 124-25, Spring-Summer, 1990, pp. 124-32.

[In the following excerpt, Grant provides a thematic and stylistic analysis of Halfbreed, arguing that Campbell's intent is to communicate the half-breed experience to non-Natives.]

Campbell's autobiography [Halfbreed] is dedicated to "my Cheechum's children"; the introduction says, "I write this for all of you, to tell you what it is like to be a Halfbreed woman in our country." It soon becomes evident that Campbell is not writing for other Métis; she is preoccupied with telling non-Natives what it is like to be a...

(The entire section is 952 words.)

Penny Petrone (essay date 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "1970–1979," in Native Literature in Canada: From the Oral Tradition to the Present, Oxford University Press Canada, 1990, pp. 113-37.

[In the excerpt below, Petrone provides a brief thematic analysis of Halfbreed.]

[The 1970s'] most acclaimed native autobiography was Halfbreed (1973) by Maria Campbell. Campbell (b. 1940) recalls her childhood spent in a strong, vibrant, and closeknit Métis community that was forced to live a marginal existence in shanties on crown land along the roads north of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Despite her extreme poverty and the terrible racism of white people in the area, Campbell recalls some happy times in family and...

(The entire section is 817 words.)

Helen Hoy (essay date Spring 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "'When You Admit You're a Thief, Then You Can Be Honourable': Native/Non-Native Collaboration in The Book of Jessica," in Canadian Literature, No. 136, Spring, 1993, pp. 24-39.

[Hoy is one of the editors of The Native in Literature: Canadian and Comparative Perspectives (1987). In the excerpt below, she discusses the authorship of The Book of Jessica, examining the text as a testament to the problems posed by imperialism, cross-cultural communication, and collaborative writing efforts.]

A subject much bruited about just now in Canadian literary circles is the question of the appropriation of Native materials by non-Native authors. This...

(The entire section is 3117 words.)