Valerie Miner Johnson (review date August 1973)
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.)