Maria Campbell's account of being raped by a Mountie was scrubbed from her memoir Halfbreed

The memoir that has inspired generations of Indigenous writers is missing two "vitally important" pages detailing allegations of sexual assault against an RCMP officer.

Warning: This story contains graphic descriptions of sexual assault

Métis author and playwright Maria Campbell's book Halfbreed had key pages removed prior to publication. (Ted Whitecalf/U of Nebraska Press)
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A classic memoir by Métis author Maria Campbell is missing two "vitally important" pages detailing allegations of sexual assault against an RCMP officer, says Indigenous studies professor Deanna Reder.

Reder's research assistant Alix Shield discovered the pages in an unpublished copy of the 1973 book Halfbreed at the McClelland & Stewart archives at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont. 

Marked with big red Xs, they describe in graphic detail the time three Mounties came to Campbell's home when she was 14 years old. One of the officers, wrote Campbell, dragged her to her grandmother's bedroom and raped her.

The pages never made it to the published copy over fears the RCMP would try to halt the book's publication. 

But Shield and Reder have now made them public for the first time, with the author's permission, in the journal Canadian Literature.

"This classic went on to inspire generations of Indigenous writers in Canada," Reder, an associate professor in the Departments of First Nations Studies and English at Simon Fraser University in Burbaby, B.C., told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

"And yet we haven't heard this key part of the story. And why? Because the editor decided it wasn't worth the risk, even though she was ready — bravely, courageously ready — to do so and had her own legal counsel that said it was fine."

Mounties investigating 

The pages paint a grisly scene.

Three officers came to Campbell's rural Saskatchewan home in the 1950s looking for her father's hidden cache of meat. As a Métis man, he had no hunting rights and was considered an illegal poacher.

While two of the officers searched the home, a third questioned Campbell, she wrote, insisting she knew where the meat was and telling her she was "too pretty to go to jail."

"When I tried to get away, he grabbed my arm and pulled me into him," she wrote. 

"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."

This page of Maria Campbell's 1973 memoir was excised from the published copy. (calit.ca)

Contacted for comment, an RCMP spokesperson called the allegations "highly concerning."

"The RCMP takes allegations of criminal wrongdoing on the part of one of its members very seriously. Investigators have been made aware of this new information and have been following up on it," the Saskatchewan RCMP wrote in an emailed statement.

'A messy business'

Shield made the discovery while doing research on the book's publishing history.

Both researchers had heard rumours the memoir was heavily redacted before it hit shelves, but Campbell told them she didn't keep her original manuscript.

"The significance of this passage was immediately clear. I phoned Deanna soon after, whispering through the phone from the library basement," Shield wrote in Canadian Literature.

The researchers then went about digging up archival correspondence between the book's editors ahead of its publication.

The second missing page describes the aftermath of the assault. (canlit.ca)

"The RCMP could almost certainly get an injunction stopping the distribution of the book and they almost certainly would," publisher Jack McClelland wrote at the time.

"Then it would be up to her to prove the incident. I presume that this would be almost impossible and a messy business that she wouldn't want to be involved in."

Reder and Shield have been in touch with Campbell and say she wanted pages included the book, despite the risk.

Her own lawyers greenlit the passages, and she didn't know they'd been removed until she got her author's copy in the mail.

The researchers sought Campbell's consent to published the pages and speak with As It Happens, but the author did not want to be involved in this story. 

'No one ever believed Halfbreeds'

Reder says McClellend's comments are still resonant today.

"It echoes this very familiar trope of girls and women who have been sexually assaulted and the … chance that they're very often not believed," she said.

"But in this case as an Indigenous women with very few sort of legal protections, even more so."

In fact, Campbell wrote something similar in the excised passages.

Maria Campbell's memoir was one of the first books written by an Indigenous writer to be published in Canada in 1973. (Formac Publishing Company)

"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 wrote.

"She said that no one ever believed Halfbreeds in court; they would say I had been fooling around with some boys and tried to blame the Mounties instead."

A new edition? 

McClelland and Stewart, which is now owned by Penguin Random House, said it would consider reissuing a new copy of the book with the missing passages included. 

"Maria Campbell's Halfbreed was first published 45 years ago, so unfortunately none of our current staff was involved in the book or has direct knowledge of the discussions that were had while editing was undertaken," spokesperson Jared Bland said in an email to As It Happens.

"We view that process as a collaborative exchange of ideas, and we value the opportunity to help our authors bring their visions alive as fully as possible on the page.

"To that end, we'll be reaching out to Ms. Campbell to explore whether it would be possible to publish a new edition of her groundbreaking book."

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes.