ART IS MY COUNTRY

Natasha Kanapé Fontaine uses poetry to channel the voices of her Innu ancestors

See the stories of Canadians navigating somewhere between identities in our new series Art Is My Country.

See the stories of Canadians navigating somewhere between identities in our new series Art Is My Country

Who are you? Why do you ask me where I come from when it is you who stripped me of my hunting arms?- Translation of Natasha Kanapé Fontaine's poetry

Watch the video:

Introducing our new series Art Is My Country. See the stories of 10 bicultural Canadian artists exploring the rupture and rebirth of navigating somewhere between identities. Watch more.

Montreal-based Natasha Kanapé  Fontaine's poetry grapples with the lingering wounds of colonization, wounds which displace her between two cultures.

Fontaine is from Pessamit, an Innu community on Quebec's North Shore. "My background is really particular," she says, "because of the choice of my parents was to leave the reserve and go live in the city next next to the reserve [Baie-Comeau] on the North Shore." In Baie-Comeau, Fontaine experienced discrimination in her elementary and high schools. "I used to be rejected because I was Innu and I'm still marked by that."

 
I think that just by existing as an Innu writer in the Québécois literature milieu I'm already disrupting the Canadian narrative.- Natasha Kanapé Fontaine

"When I arrived in Montreal, the feeling of being in-between became more heavy because I still feel like a stranger here." Between these two worlds, Fontaine relates to the experiences of immigrants to Canada. "I feel like an immigrant sometimes. I have many immigrant friends who are used to experiencing discrimination and racism and I felt like we were all similar in our rage and our anger."

This experience is the fuel for Fontaine's work. "That's how I began to write. Since that time I never stopped." She sees her very presence in the Montreal poetry scene as a statement. "I think that just by existing as an Innu writer in the Québécois literature milieux, I'm already disrupting the Canadian narratives."

I hear many people say that their poetry is home for them. For me, it's just a place where I'm passing by because I'm always seeking my homeland — what it was before colonization. As a poet I'm just one of the voices of my ancestors, I'm just channelling that energy.

In the video above, Fontaine recites some of her verse at Montreal's Molson Park, the first place she performed in 2012 during the Occupy Montreal movement, a moment rich in meaning for her. "I remember holding my sheets in my hands and I was shaking. I remember there was some wind surrounding me at that moment and I was like 'something is happening when I'm reading.'"

When I arrived in Montreal the feeling of being in-between just became more heavy because I still feel like a stranger here. I feel like an immigrant sometimes.

Fontaine sees her work as a quest for her identity as an Innu woman "growing up an evolving in contemporary society," connecting with her people's past and building a future. "I hear many people say that their poetry is home for them. For me, it's just a place where I'm passing by because I'm always seeking my homeland — what it was before colonization."

"As a poet, I'm just one of the voices of my ancestors. I'm just one of the transmitters of the ancestors' voice. I'm just channelling that energy."

Art Is My Country is a CBC Arts series that explores the singular worlds of artists who consider themselves bicultural. Seen through the eyes of 10 Canadian artists who have either immigrated to Canada or felt the need to reclaim an identity they thought they had lost, the series examines how each artist uses their craft to navigate, explore and adapt to their new reality and shifting identity.

Each portrait will highlight one artist's story of rupture, displacement and ultimate rebirth as a new artistic voice contributing to the narrative of Canadian culture and experience. Watch all 10 episodes now.