Part of Maria Campbell’s 1974 Toronto rally speech published in the book “Following the Red Path: The Native People’s Caravan,” by Vern Harper (a Cree community organizer), plus a background on Campbell’s books and work recording Métis and Cree oral histories. See also Maria Campbell’s 2007 article, “We need to return to the principles of Wahkotowin.”
Maria Campbell’s speech to the Native Peoples Caravan in Toronto (1974)
“It is wonderful to see all of you again. I want to tell you about my purpose in joining the Caravan, and my feelings about the whole thing.
I am a mother and a grandmother and a Native woman. For the last four years I have been on a real downer, because I thought I would never again see the work I watched my father and other Native people do during the 1940s. It seemed that all we were ever going to accomplish was organizing more bureaucratic offices. Then something happened about a year ago — Wounded Knee — and things started happening all over the country…
I went to a residential school and a white public school, and I know that no history ever written about Native people was made by my kind. As a writer, the most important role I can play in the movement is to tell our people about our history. Our leaders did not give up, our leaders in the early 1900s were condemned by their own communities and government officials, but they did not give up.
For 500 years they have tried to kill us, but they have never destroyed the spirit in each of us to fight. During some of my research, I came across a priest’s diary from the 1500s. which said, ‘The only way to destroy these people is to destroy their unity, to break the mother.’ They almost did that, but Native women have always fought against genocide. Sisters are very important in the movement, and the Caravan recognizes that.
There are all sorts of movements happening in Canada — with women, with poor people — but today Native people are leading the struggle. We have no reason to be afraid of violence, because we live with it. Go back to the communities, and together we will fight our common enemy.”
Maria Campbell (Métis),
September 28, 1974, Toronto
In 1974, the Native People’s Caravan traveled from Vancouver to Ottawa to bring the grievances of Indigenous people to the Canadian government directly, as a movement. Armed Indigenous re-occupations of Cache Creek in BC and Anicinabe Park in Ontario had taken place earlier that year, and Red Power militants were looking to expand their tactics along with the movement itself, inspired in part by the recent Trail of Broken Treaties in the United States.
The caravan made stops as it went across Canada and picked up people along the way, ending with a RCMP attack on the Native crowd gathered in front of the Parliament buildings, followed by a re-occupation of the Carbide Mills building, which was temporarily converted into a Native Peoples Embassy.
At the Toronto stop of the caravan, before it reached Ottawa, Maria Campbell, recent author of the influential book “Halfbreed,” spoke at a rally of some 700 people and received a standing ovation according to Cree community organizer Vern Harper.
“She was a cousin of mine,” wrote Harper in his 1979 book about the Native People’s Caravan. “Her dad had been a known communist sympathizer for many years, but later became disillusioned with the Communist Party. I was amazed to learn that quite a few of the older people had at one time been in the Communist Party and had a history of knowing about socialism — our Canadian type of socialism. I had the feeling that our people were anti-communist, but I realized that this is wrong, that it was a misinterpretation on my part.”
In her 1973 book Halfbreed, Campbell had described Métis communist Jim Brady as her hero and later wrote the introduction to a biography of Brady and his comrade Malcolm Norris in the 1981 book,”The One-and-a-Half Men,” by Murray Dobbin.
“My people have always been political,” Campbell had written in Halfbreed. But she also maintained a certain critique of politics that weren’t grounded in Métis and Cree territory and culture. In a conversation published as part of the 2005 book “OTAPAWY!”, a tribute to her late friend Howard Adams (also a prominent anti-capitalist Métis organizer), Campbell explained that Adams was disappointed when she told him that she too had read Marx, Lenin and Fanon, “but their tidy impersonal analysis just didn’t work for me.”
“It was just another ‘ism’, and it was more important for us to look at our own stuff from our own place,” Campbell further explained. And Métis and Cree resistance was something Campbell continued to not only look at, but also publish, sometimes as oral histories, as for example in her 1975 Maclean’s magazine interview with Big Bear’s daughter-in-law, Mary PeeMee, and in her vibrant book, “The Stories of the Road Allowance People”, first published in 1995.
As she had done in the first chapter of Halfbreed, Campbell also continued to give her own accounts of Métis resistance history, as for example in her children’s book, “Riel’s People,” published in 1978, and her introduction to the edited collection, “Contours of a People” in 2012, where she mentions some under-appreciated examples of Métis women in hunting and leadership roles.
In a 1989 interview with Hartmut Lutz, Campbell explained the revival of Métis politics and nationalism that took place in the 1960s, after the long period of repression in the wake of the Northwest Resistance of 1885.
“It was very disturbing for the priest in the 1960s when Métis people in Batoche & St. Louis started to get political. When they started to have a sense of nationalism… At that point people like myself, people like Howard [Adams], became enemies of the church.”
“Because with our history, if we hang on, if we believe in nationalism, or we believe in ourselves as a race of people, there is no way we cannot be political,” Campbell related, advocating an Indigenous politics in sharp contrast to the European capitalist system. “The change has to come from respect. It means respecting Mother Earth. It means sharing.”
“History calls them a defeated people, but the Métis do not feel defeated, and that is what is important, ” Campbell stated in her 1978 book, Riel’s People. “They know who they are: ‘Ka tip aim soot chic’ — the people who own themselves.”
In 1990, Campbell took part in a solidarity walk from Saskatchewan for the Mohawks under siege during the Oka Crisis in Quebec. The Windsor Star reported her as saying that the media was focusing too much on the warriors, since the clan mothers and grandmothers were actually giving the orders, and the walk from Saskatchewan would only stop when the clan mothers said that the barricades in Mohawk territory were coming down.
The book Halfbreed was republished in 2019 with a recovered portion about a sexual assault by RCMP officers against Campbell that had been removed from the first edition of the book by its publishers in 1973, on the 100 year anniversary of the force’s founding. The manuscript portion was recovered thanks to the work of Simon Fraser University PhD student Alix Shield and professor Deanna Reder.
In her 1989 interview with Hartmut Lutz, Campbell explained, “That whole section makes all of the other stuff make sense. And you can almost tell at what point it was pulled out. Because there is a gap”
“It is about 600 years of misogynistic, colonial history,” said Campbell in a 2019 interview with Quill & Quire magazine. “The taking and the raping of our homelands began with the raping, brutality, death, and dispossession of Indigenous women and children. That is where no one wants to go. But those are conversations we must have.”
– M. Gouldhawke, (Métis & Cree)
Updated: March 15, 2020 (originally published November 2019)
From Maria Campbell’s 1978 children’s book, “Riel’s People: How the Métis Lived”