The Next Chapter

What reading and storytelling means to Maria Campbell

The celebrated Métis elder and author on the important role books and storytelling played in her life.
Maria Campbell is a Métis author, playwright, broadcaster, filmmaker and elder. (Ted Whitecalf, McClelland & Stewart)
Listen7:14

Maria Campbell is a Métis author, playwright, broadcaster, filmmaker and Elder.  She is the author of the classic 1973 memoir Half-Breed, an account of one Indigenous woman's encounters with racism, poverty, oppression and tragedy.

Campbell was named to the Order of Canada for her contributions to national literature in 2008.

Breaking barriers

"As a child, we'd get a box of books every month. Reading those stories helped me to see that we had more in common than we didn't have in common. I think stories do that. Stories — the novels and the poems that people write — are a way that we can talk to each other without having barriers between us."

Stories — the novels and the poems that people write — are a way that we can talk to each other without having barriers between us.​​​- Maria Campbell

Family traditions

"My great grandmother and my two grandmothers were good storytellers. My great grandmother was a person that carried stories. People would come and get her to tell stories. My grandmother was a midwife and she had lots of stories around midwifery and the medicine she used. And my Uncle Alex was a story keeper. That is what people would call people like him who could memorize stories.

"There are different ways of telling stories. Some people would get up and they would recite really long stories; they would almost sing or chant them. Then there were stories that people played with fiddles and were part of fiddle dances.  There were the stories that were told in the evening in the winter — and there were stories that had laws and and taught us how to live good lives."

Make them laugh

"In storytelling, laughter is important. It opens you up. It opens all of the places in you that have sealed up. I always remember when we performed my play The Book of Jessica in Saskatoon years ago. Some people in the audience was crying and feeling really sad.

"But all of the Indigenous people who were there were laughing at all the places where other people were crying. Laughter is a way to open you up so that you can let toxins out. You let the medicine come in."

Laughter is a way to open you up so that you can let toxins out. You let the medicine come in.​​- Maria Campbell

Maria Campbell's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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