The October Issue 2022 Wendake Writers & le Salon du livre des Premières Nations
It is with great pleasure that this issue of Font takes you to the Salon du livre des Premières Nations and the Wendat writers of Wendake!
November 17 – 20 will see the 11th edition of the SLPN in Quebec City. The SLPN annually presents a galaxy of Indigenous literature, readings, discussions, performances, happenings, and more, opening up encounters between writers, publishers, researchers, and, above all, the public. Director Louis-Karl Picard-Sioui spoke to me about building an infrastructure for Indigenous literatures from the ground up since the early 2000s. We’re also delighted to have an original text from one of this year’s visiting writers, Karen McBride, author of Crow Winter (Harper Collins, 2019).
In the second half of this issue, we focus on four writers from Wendake: Jean Sioui, Louis-Karl Picard-Sioui, Andrée Levesque Sioui, and Christine Sioui Wawanoloath. These authors have well-established careers in French, but are less known in English, and it is our honour to publish original translations of extracts from their work here. My thanks to Elspeth Tulloch and Les Éditions Hannenorak for this initiative.
Finally, we are privileged to be able to share a recording from Andrée Levesque Sioui in the Wendat language, of an original text by Louis-Karl Picard-Sioui. Tiawenhk to all.
See you at the SLPN!
Le Salon du livre des Premières Nations 2022
Font editor Rachel McCrum interviewed the director of le Salon du livre des Premières Nations, Louis-Karl Picard-Sioui, about the how, why, where, who and what. The 11th edition of the Salon du livre des Premières Nations will take place in Quebec City, 17 – 20 November 2022. Find out more here!
Le Salon du livre des Premieres Nations: how and why
“Well, the first edition happened by accident. Back in the day, there was a small activity only for the community in Wendake called Le sentier de la lecture. We would invite some writers to come and talk with people in the community. Jean Sioui helped to run it, and Daniel Sioui was there with his bookstore [Librairie Hannenorak].
For the 3rd edition, Daniel wanted to do something bigger, so he asked for a grant from the Quebec government. We received it two weeks after the event had ended, so we decided do another event and that became the first Salon du livre des Premières Nations. It was pretty cool, we had publishers, authors, an Open Mic: Joséphine Bacon, Jean Sioui, Marie Andrée Gill. After that we said, oh well, it works.
Then there’s the why it happened. The why is pretty clear.
Since the beginning of the century, we had been looking around for Indigenous literature, with Maurizio Gatti. He arrived from Rome to do his post-doc in Indigenous literature in French – we studied at Université Laval together. We realised that there was no place for Indigenous literature in Quebec and – even worse – there was no place for Indigenous literature in French elsewhere in Canada. It’s like it didn’t exist. There was no open door, not at the university, not at the festivals, not at the bookstores … nowhere.”
CILAF: An intergalactic first
“Around 2006, two things happened. First, the realisation that we would have to build the infrastructure from the ground up. We couldn’t count on the Quebec literary infrastructure nor the Canadian Indigenous infrastructure, so we had to build our own.
At the same time, we looked at what the Indigenous literatures in English [were doing]. They weren’t interested in working with us, they were more interested in working with Australia and New Zealand and the United States. They preferred to look at far lands—to build an Alliance. It was The Empire Writes Back but with Indigenous Peoples. Well, that’s a damn good idea! So we decided to do the same!
We looked elsewhere in the world where we could find Indigenous people who wrote in French. [In 2008], we formed le Carrefour international des littératures autochtones de la Francophonie (CILAF)*.
It took us two or three years to find the money because no one wanted to finance it, it was a beast. Nobody was interested, even Radio-Canada didn’t want to cover [it] because it was a first. Are you crazy?! It’s never happened before, it’s an intergalactic first!
And we did well, because it created solidarities that we didn’t know existed, and a new sense of belonging. We realised that a lot of challenges were the same. The basic feeling that we don’t have a readership. A couple of years later, I talked to a writer from French Polynesia, and she told me, Louis-Karl, it was really something important for us. They realised they were not alone in their situation and it really gave them faith in what they were doing.”
*The CILAF was a world first that brought together over 30 First Peoples authors from the francophone world, including Kanaks, Maohis and Imazighen peoples from New Caledonia, French Polynesia, North Africa and Canada.
We had to prove to people that Indigenous literature in French was a thing.
“The first level of the SLPN has always been [to support the networks] between Indigenous Peoples writing in French. Because we’re all across Quebec, and isolated in communities and rural areas. To create that network and some kind of world, of milieu, for literary Indigenous writers in French. It’s important for us to invite new authors so that they can meet the other authors, learn from them, have a spotlight put on them.
Another thing that’s important has been academia. If a body of work is studied at a university, that means it exists. It legitimizes it. We had to prove to people that Indigenous literature in French was a thing. That meant, it had to be acknowledged by the universities.
So we had to create links and networks and opportunities for scholars to study and publish on Indigenous literature. Some of them were already there, but they were mostly linked to the Department of Anthropology. We needed people inside Literature departments. That’s what happened at CILAF and why, at the SLPN, there’s always a place for academia. It’s confronting for them as well, they’re talking about Indigenous authors in front of Indigenous authors. It can challenge them.
Another problem was that not many publishers were interested in Indigenous literature. At the time of the 1st SLPN, they were few. Cornac, Mémoire d’encrier, and Librairie Hannenorak had a table of books from other publishers because they only had one Indigenous author. We had to create opportunities for those who were interested in publishing Indigenous books, to put them in contact with would-be Indigenous authors, and to create opportunities for translations.”
If a Russian guy wrote a novel on Quebec, it wouldn’t be Quebecois literature … it would be Russian literature on Quebec.
“At first, people would expect us to have Serge Bouchard or some other white guy writing about us … and we’re open, if they’re backed by community or they work together, sometimes we’ll make a place for them too. But it’s not Indigenous literature. If a Russian guy wrote a novel on Quebec, it wouldn’t be Quebecois literature – it would be Russian literature on Quebec. Each year, someone would say, ‘oh yes, White Male Anthropologist X will probably be there.’ Why? In the audience? I would hope so … I hoped that he would have come and listen to what Indigenous people had to say … but it never happened! But we don’t hear that kind of question any more, which is a good thing. It’s less common.”
Changing the landscape
“I think when [Quebecers] come into contact with Indigenous arts, it touches them … it talks to them.
The problem is that they didn’t know about it.
Literature is another gig, it’s another creature, because you have to put some time into it, your brain into it … it takes an effort, more than music or visual arts or cinema. It’s been more difficult to convince the Quebec public to like [Indigenous literature]. We’ve been working on that plan for a while now.
For years, there were no opportunities, no festival ever invited Indigenous authors. The only one that did it was the Metropolis Bleu in Montreal, but never the French ones. Now most literary festivals in Quebec do invite Indigenous authors, the Salons du livre do.
Things changed little by little, and you know how it is when it’s a process, sometimes you’re not aware that it’s changing. You see it but it’s difficult to measure because you are inside that continuum, because it’s a process, it’s not really an on/off switch.
I realised things changed. Indigenous literature in Quebec did exist before us: what didn’t exist was the market. We created the market. We are now everywhere. But the reason that we are is because of the work that we’ve done.”
I’ve slumbered for a long time
I’ve slumbered for a long time
for a century or so I’ve slept.
I forgot who I am
today I remember
I hail from the Sky,
I sing of peace and war
I am Wendat.
I speak an ancient language
a true language
my language is as beautiful
with no end.
Today, I am waking up.
My voice is fragile
soon, it will be mighty
my voice is Wendat
I speak Wendat
© 2010 Poème de Louis-Karl Picard-Sioui, traduit en wendat par Megan Lukaniec. Translated from the French by Edward He.
Thirsty Thursday at Motel Le Slip was only just beginning, but for the trio of regulars, Happy Hour had been going all afternoon. This was their third round of drinks and fourth game of “no-rules-anger-management-billiards.” Al was lining up his shot when the door swung open, sending a knife of sunlight into the darkened room. A man sauntered over to where Al was leaning into his cue and clapped him hard on the back. There was a loud crack and the cue ball bounced twice and knocked into Ricky, sending his cigarette tumbling to the floor.
“Christ, Al!” Ricky grumbled, rubbing his elbow.
Glen snickered, adjusted his ballcap and took a long drink from his bottle of Bud.
Al grumbled. “That was gonna be a real good shot!”
“Ah, Al, you weren’t going to make that shot anyways.”
Al, whose last beer had been a fighting bottle, was ready to go when his eyes focused on the face in front of him. He grinned. “If it isn’t Reverend Ray!”
Ray chuckled and sat beside Glen.
“Ain’t see you here since that old bar down the road converted into that E-van-jelly-co churchy ting,” said Glen.
Ray chuckled and unzipped his jacket. Heat was already rising to his face. Ray wasn’t used to the closeness of this place anymore.
Ricky picked up his cigarette, dusted it off and stuck it back in his mouth. He relit it and took a drag, letting the thick taste of tax-free tobacco fill his mouth. “So, Ray, you walk into the wrong bar or somethin’? ‘Magine ol’ JC has his eyes on a different joint.”
Ray shook his head. “Felt like coming down to have a chat with you boys.”
Ricky blew a cloud of smoke into the air. “Wants to convert us that guy. Ever since he was ‘born-again,’ he’s all high and mighty. Come to tell us how we’ve sinned and how the big guy upstairs wants to help us drunks up to dem pearly gates?”
Glen snorted and started up with a whole new batch of giggles.
“Only here for a chat. Whatchu get from it is your own choice,” replied Ray.
“Ricky ain’t really gonna listen to what you say anyway, Ray,” said Al.
“Next thing you’ll be coming ‘round every other weekend handing out pamphlets and singing Jesus songs,” said Ricky. He took another drag from his cigarette and snatched up a pool cue. He leaned over the table and began eyeing up his next shot.
Glen kept laughing. “Hey, I got a joke for yiz. Goes something like: A guy walks into a bar all long and sad. Bartender says, ‘Whassamatter witchu?’ Wait no, that’s not it.” He trailed off, trying to figure out where his joke went wrong. Lucky for him, no one was listening anyway.
“You know, Rick,” began Ray. “I didn’t come here to tell you how to live your life or nothing. I got something pretty darn important to pass on to you.”
“And why would I want to give you a listen, Preacher?” replied Ricky. “Nothing good ever came from a Native talking to a church man. ‘Specially not a Native church man at that.”
“Oh! It goes like this, Man walks into a bar and says, ‘Aiyo!’” Glen burst out laughing at himself. “‘magine I’m missing something in there? It’s a horse! Horse walks into a bar…”
Ray sighed. “You might want to sit down.”
“Spent my whole life taking bad news standin’ up. I’m not gonna start sitting down for you,” said Ricky as he sunk the fourteen that Al had missed earlier.
Ray sighed again. “Your wife skipped town with Chantal Wabie’s brother. I just couldn’t go off and not tell you after seein’ the two of ‘em together.”
Ricky dropped his pool cue. It clanked as it hit the ground.
Glen kept going. “No, no. Horse walks into a bar and the bartender says, ‘Why the long face?’… Christ, what’s the rest of it?”
Ricky’s face went pale before it went red. In one swift movement, he reached for his beer bottle and threw it at Ray, who barely avoided it.
“Ho, chum! Ray didn’t steal your woman, don’t take it out on him!” said Al.
Ricky went to throw a wave of profanities at the man, but all he could do was scream in frustration. He wished Ray hadn’t walked in there. He wished that Wabie son-of-a-bitch hadn’t stolen his woman from him. He wished he still had his beer.
“She left me,” muttered Ricky. “She finally got the balls to leave me.”
“Chum, it ain’t your fault. I mean, you can’t help that you’re a bit uglier than that Wabie boy,” said Al, patting Ricky on the back.
“Wish you never walked in here, Preacher,” Ricky said, shaking his head.
With the scraping of metal against cheap tile, Glen hopped up. “I got it! Horse walks into a bar. Bartender says, ‘Why the long face?’ Then Celine Dion walks into a bar and the bartender says, ‘Why the long face?’”
He burst out laughing again. Ricky punched him.
Karen McBride will be appearing at the 11e édition du Salon du livre des Premières Nations, 17 – 20 November 2022 in Quebec City! Watch for news of her events here.
Excerpt from Yändata’: L’éternité au bout de ma rue by Jean Sioui (Éditions Hannenorak, 2021). Translated from the French by Elspeth Tulloch.
Adèle is my grandmother. She lived in a house built on the same land as that of her brother Henri, known as Pitre. She kept an eye on her brother, dressing him down when he was hard on the children. Those were the only times she raised her voice. The voice of a protective grandmother. The wisdom of a medicine bear, as Wendat culture teaches us it. My grandmother was my mother bear.
My grandmother had the most beautiful eyes in the world. She liked it when my sister took her time brushing her hair as she sat in the kitchen. Splendid grey hair, the scent of sweetgrass. A petite woman, she was lovely in her little flowered dress. She knew many things. She knew her husband, my grandfather, had loved her. The man who had taken her out onto the land. The man who had become a guide to support her. The man for whom she picked berries. She knew the names of plants. She knew the names of her grandchildren and what flavour of candy they liked. She knew we’d drop by to say hello when we felt like a bit of happy time.
She loved me. She looked after me. Without prescriptions. With wisdom. ‘Though a woman of few words, she embraced all the poetry of the yändata’. A natural poetry. A poetry in the eyes of an old woman who warmed my heart. Warming me like her lentil soup.
Grandmother was, in her way, a medicine woman. She made all sorts of potions. If I coughed in front of her, I had to drink the most bitter of herbal teas. More effective than something from the druggist. She had concoctions for all my childhood ailments. Each season had its cure, each one stronger than the last. More helpful than the last. Each caress made me better. Her smiles reassured me.
I remember grandma’s little flasks. I remember her laying her hand on my forehead, checking if I ran a fever. I remember her cherry candy. I remember when Adèle died.
My guardian angel just flew away.
Adèle was änen’enh. Änen’enh ourse. My blue-eyed grandmother. My clan mother who would live forever in the longhouse of my memories.
änen’enh (Wendat) – my mother
änen’enh ourse – (Wendat [änen’enh] and French [ourse]) – meaning within the context: my mother bear
yändata’ (Wendat) – village
For more information see the Wendat-English Dictionary: https://languewendat.com/en/
Born in 1948, Jean Sioui is a Wendat poet from Wendake. He lived for many years in Saint-Henri-de-Lévis, a place where he could appreciate nature, before returning to his home community. In 1997, he published his first book, a collection of poetic thoughts, Le Pas de l’Indien, with the publishing house Le Loup de Gouttière, for whom he also served as director of the young adult collection Les loups rouges. Sioui quickly became one of the most prolific Indigenous authors in Quebec. To date, he has published over a dozen books, including Poèmes rouges (Le Loup de Gouttière, 2004), L’avenir voit rouge (Écrits des Forges, 2007), Je suis Île (Cornac, 2010) and Avant le gel des visages (Éditions Hannenorak, 2012). His collection Entre moi et l’arbre (Écrits des Forges, 2013) qualified him as a finalist for the Alain-Grandbois prize of the Académie des lettres du Québec, and Au couchant de la terre promise (Mémoire d’encrier, 2021) earned him a nomination for the Jean-Noël-Pontbriand 2022 poetry prize.
In total Sioui has produced nine collections of poetry, three children’s books, and, most recently, a collection of sketches entitled Yändata’: l’éternité au bout de ma rue: récits in 2021, from which the piece “Adèle” is drawn. Reminiscing across the collection about members of both his immediate and extended family as well as about local characters who marked his boyhood between the mid-1950s and the mid-1960s, he paints a finely textured picture of life in his home community.
In 2006, he became a trainer for emerging Indigenous writers for the Canada Council for the Arts. In 2010, he founded the publishing house Éditions Hannenorak with his son, Daniel Sioui. Both through his work as a writer and his work as a mentor to the next generation of writers, he has made a remarkable contribution to the development of French-language Indigenous literature in Canada.
Of mixed Wendat and Québécois heritage, Sioui identifies strongly with his Wendat roots while affectionately recalling anecdotes involving all sides of his family in his Yändata’ collection. His father, mother, grandmother, aunts, and uncles, along with a memorable cast of community members wend their way through his tales, giving a strong sense of familial and communal bonds and revealing the influential place that both male and female figures played in his life.
Written in a spare but evocative style, “Adèle,” like most of the sketches in the collection, is informed by an unstated double vision: that of the child experiencing or re-experiencing the events of long ago and that of a more knowledgeable narrator ultimately shaping the piece. One of the challenges in translating the piece was to choose phrasing that suggested these fused perspectives, while having the language sound natural. Careful attention needed to be paid to subtly shifting verb tenses, which helped orient the reader vis-à-vis these perspectives.
Several Wendat words appear in the original text with no accompanying translation. A short glossary follows the translation to facilitate understanding. In recognition of Sioui’s dual heritage, the Wendat and French words used to express the idea of “my mother bear” in the conclusion are reproduced together here. Set apart, as they are, from the rest of the text via punctuation, they present the concept as a whole, formed by a pairing. Divided by a space, they call attention to distinct roots. Placed side-by-side, they suggest a mutual inflection, reflecting a bicultural dynamic.
in the depth of winter
Poems from Les visages de la terre by Louis-Karl Picard-Sioui (Éditions Hannenorak, 2019). Finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award in Poetry in French in 2020. Translated from the French by Luc Murray Mercier.
in the depth of winter I row
I row through the embers
I row through the live embers of burnt prayers
to get back to
who I am
who I want to be at the limits of bodily insignificance
who I can be in this boundlessly fractured world
who I need to be before my crest my boughs my roots
to accept yesterday
I have no regrets
I will eat of this fruit
in the play of shadows and light piercing through
the underbrush perfect for foraging
Big Brother Sun doesn’t want to set
I will eat of this fruit
I have faith in summer
in the little ones reddening their offering
in the magic of renewal
I will suck my thumb stain my index
I will commune with your essence
I will delight in your flesh
Louis-Karl Picard Sioui
Writer, poet, performer, historian, anthropologist and visual arts curator, Louis-Karl Picard-Sioui refuses to be categorized and defines himself above all as a creator. A member of the Wolf clan of the Wendat people, he grew up in Wendake and still lives there.
His first book, Yawendara et la forêt des Têtes-Coupées (Le Loup de gouttière, 2005), was a finalist at the Salon international du livre de Québec / Ville de Québec in 2006, in the children’s book category. His poetry has been performed across the country and overseas, presented in exhibitions and published in various collections, including Au pied de mon orgueil (Mémoire d’encrier, 2011), De la paix en jachère (Éditions Hannenorak, 2012) and Les grandes absences (Mémoire d’encrier, 2013). In 2020, his collection Les visages de la terre (Éditions Hannenorak, 2019) was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award in Poetry in French. He has also published several texts in magazines and collectives, including Amun (Stanké, 2016), Les bruits du monde (Mémoire d’encrier, 2012) and Wapke (Stanké, 2021).
In 2017, Picard-Sioui published his first collection of short stories, Chroniques de Kitchike : la grande débarque (Éditions Hannenorak), in which he develops a scathing universe echoing the realities of Indigenous people on the reserves of southern Quebec. Several projects followed, including the literary show Bienvenue à Kitchike (Éditions Hannenorak, 2018), the play L’enclos de Wabush (Ondinnok / Nouveau théâtre expérimental, 2021-2022) and the novel Éveil à Kitchike : la saignée des possibles (Éditions Hannenorak, 2022).
In his writings, Louis-Karl Picard-Sioui oscillates between the desire to share the wisdom and values of his ancestors, the need to express his individuality, and the need to fight against the colonial stranglehold.
There is a confident restlessness that pervades the poems in Louis-Karl Picard-Sioui’s latest collection, Les visages de la terre, from which the two poems above have been translated. From poem to poem and section to section, he flits deftly between registers, shifts tones, and traces the threads by which the everyday and the sacred are bound together. The collection is grounded in ties of kinship and filiation. The poems in its first section, titled “Wahsonta’yeh Ahchiouta’ah,” are poems of grief written in Wendat and French. They are a grandson’s address to his late grandmother. The other two sections, “Wha tho’ onhwa’” and “Tehatirahkwakhwa’,” broaden out, drawing lyric force through the evocation of community and Wendat mythology. In the book’s culminating poems, a collective Indigenous we emerges—a we through which the future is proclaimed.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to get a sense of the Picard-Sioui’s full poetic range from only two poems, but I made an effort to choose two poems that, when placed one after the other, produce resonances suggestive of the work as a whole. As with most poems, these are best appreciated when read aloud: I endeavoured to reproduce the musicality and the subtle effects of syntactic ambiguation that Picard-Sioui leverages to such great effect in the original.
Poem from Chants by Andrée Levesque Sioui (Éditions Hannenorak, 2021). Finalist for the Indigenous Voices Award 2022 – published in French; finalist for Une ville, un livre 2022. Translated from the French by Aroa El Horani.
An island, an archipelago, a girl
Girls gone missing
against a backdrop of nocturnal terror that no one
far from catastrophes and flash-in-the-pan scandals
Into memory and into the Land,
Everything is inscribed, everything is written
in orality and in traces
Follow back the trail
Retrace the gesture
The call unanswered
The loyalty scorned
Andrée Levesque Sioui
Andrée Levesque Sioui is a multi-disciplinary Wendat artist from the community of Wendake near her hometown of Quebec City. Singer, songwriter, author and poet, she also works teaching the Wendat language to young people in Wendake.
After a journey that took her to different regions of Quebec, she returned to her grandmother’s community in the 2000s. Already multilingual, she decided to get involved in the Yawenda revitalization project. The Wendat language became the heart of her artistic approach. Although she has always enjoyed reading and writing, her musical career developed before that in the literary arts. She participated in the creation of several albums such as Yahndawa’ (2011), Fais dodo mon trésor (2012) and Ozalik (2013). After a long creative process, her first collection of poetry, Chant(s), was published by Éditions Hannenorak in March 2021. The book is a tribute to the women in her life, but it also addresses various issues, such as those experienced by the members of the First Nations in the cultural milieu of Quebec.
I am a certified translator and a lover of poetry as a most potent and effective form of expression.
What I hear in Andrée Levesque Sioui’s poem is the lost cry of a woman, and, invited to listen closely, of too many women, still abused and victimized by the institutions of modern settler society, systemic racism, and the interiorized violence and alienation within Indigenous communities that we can trace back to colonial domination and the associated cultural, spiritual and material dispossession that they suffer. Not heeding the historical record with regards to the victimization of First Nations in general and of women in particular perpetuates violence against them. Their story can therefore only be read in the scars that their memory and the land carry. As women—the guardians of memory—are being killed, History is being wronged yet again.
The Bear and the Woman who Came from the stars
Extracts from L’ours et la femme venus des étoiles by Christine Sioui Wawanoloath (Éditions Hannenorak, 2021). Translated from the French by Hannah Bel Davis.
A long, long time ago, beings from the sky would often seek refuge from danger on our planet. Back then, a great hunter relentlessly pursued a midnight-blue bear throughout the celestial realm. The hunter wished to strip the bear of her starry pelt so he could offer them to Kchi alakws, the morning star, with whom he was madly in love.
The hunted bear would camouflage herself as effectively as she could behind the nebulae and stars of the Milky Way. Then one day, the bear gave birth to a cub. She was thrilled as her little one radiated with the light of a million fires. Soon, however, this plunged the mother bear into despair upon realizing that the hunter was also relentlessly hunting her baby to snatch his brilliant pelt.
She decided to hide her little one on Earth, an all-blue and mist-enveloped planet she had discovered by accident. She assured herself that the hunter would not pay any attention to the planet, since Earth did not sparkle like a star. Thus, at dawn, while the hunter beheld the rise of his beloved, the bear took the opportunity to bring her baby far away from enduring danger. She hugged her cub tightly between her paws as she sang a little lullaby. Then she let him ride down to Earth on a wave of northern lights, continuing finally on her way after having entrusted her child to the spirits of the forest who lived on the blue planet.
Some celestial beings—like the bear cub—were light as air, but the more he descended the wave of northern lights, the heavier he became. His body took the shape of a bear in the way that we know the animal today, except without the claws or the teeth. Nevertheless, the cub kept his coat of dazzling stars. His fall was cushioned by a bed of moss.
Upon opening his eyes, he was surprised to see, twirling around him, little transparent forms. They were not any bigger than one of his ears. Through them, he noticed large trees whose peaks pointed to a blue sky full of bouncy, rolling clouds. One of them resembled a bear, and the little one, believing that this was his mother, had his breath taken away. But then the cloud dissipated, leaving in its wake a long trail of vapour.
“Where are you?” called the cub, looking for his mother. “Come get me. I am scared here!”
The little transparent beings froze when they heard his cry of distress; these beings were called the spirits of the forest. They looked like rainbow-coloured ribbons, constantly agitated by the gentlest of breezes. Seven threads emerged from their bodies, of which six were at arm-level. The spirits used them to float easily. Extending from the top of their round heads—from which radiated their white glow— was a thread that undulated when they exchanged thoughts with one another or with the little bear. They understood the animal’s language without difficulty, as they knew the science of universal communication, which permitted them to speak with everyone they met.
As nothing escaped the spirits of the forest, and because they witnessed the series of events that had brought the little bear to their woods, they recounted to him what they had seen and heard. They had observed the path the mother bear had taken in the sky to escape the hunter. They had rejoiced in the birth of the little bear in the skies. Finally, they had heard the mother crying as she cradled her baby, and they had seen her gently placing the cub on the wave of northern lights to send him to Earth.
Christine Sioui Wawanoloath
Abenaki and Wendat, Christine Sioui Wawanoloath was born in 1952 in her father’s community of Wendake. When he died a few weeks after her birth, her mother returned to her family in Odanak with her three children. Sioui Wawanoloath spent her childhood there in a family of craftsmen where creation and the arts were omnipresent.
Later, she attended the famous Manitou College, the first Indigenous college in Quebec. She studied arts, photography and history, which she then continued in Montreal. For four decades, she devoted herself to her illustration work with remarkable consistency, producing images for various publications, Indigenous events and campaigns. As a visual artist, she has participated in numerous exhibitions. She is also the author of children’s stories and plays. Her publications include Natanis (Le Loup de Gouttière, 2005), L’ours et la femme venus du ciel (Cornac, 2009; reissued in 2021 by Éditions Hannenorak as L’ours et la femme venus des étoiles), Nanibôssad ôtloka / La lune raconte / Moon’s Tales (Éditions Hannenorak , 2011) and Noki (Éditions Hannenorak, 2017). Her tale The Clan of the Birds was adapted for the stage by the Orchestre symphonique de Québec as part of the festivities for the 400th anniversary of Quebec City. Greatly inspired by Wendat and Abenaki legends, but also by all the mythological baggage of humanity, her works are bearers of light and magic.
I heard about Christine Sioui Wawanoloath’s work earlier this year, when Dr. Elspeth Tulloch approached me with an idea for a magazine issue comprised of French to English translations of Indigenous and specifically Abenaki literature.
I was immediately inspired by this story, full of descriptive prose, fantastic creatures, striking settings, and an overall whimsy and magic that would delight and ignite the imagination of any reader.
While my translator’s notes are brief, I wanted L’ours et la femme venus des étoiles—or The Bear and the Woman who Came from the Stars—to be highlighted for this edition of Font.