Quebec Studies

J'vous djis enne cho', lâ: Translating Oral Michif French into Written English

Quebec Studies (2010), 50, (1), 57–80.

Abstract

57 J'vous djis enne cho', lâ: Translating Oral Michif French into Written English 1 Pamela V. Sing University of Alberta, Campus St-Jean Introduction: The Franco-Métis, Western Canada's First but "Forgotten" Francophones, and Their Stories With interest and research on Canada's "French fact" tending to concentrate on Québec, the history and cultural production, if not the very existence of francophone communities on the Canadian prairies, tend to be invisible to everyone but themselves. Written in French, stories belonging to "FrancoManitobans," "Fransaskois," or "Franco-Albertans" are generally ignored by Québec and the rest of North America, and read by relatively few readers in those same communities. It is hardly surprising, then, that the majority of Canadian Literature readers know little, if anything, about the oral stories belonging to the first Francophones to inhabit the prairies: the Franco-Métis, a people born of marriages between French-Canadian men and Native women. The evolution of Franco-Métis communities on the prairies, which I will describe more thoroughly later on, saw them transformed from a ma­ jority that believed it constituted a new nation in the mid-1800s to a doubly colonized minority who, before the end of that century, was encouraged to unlearn their cultural practices and replace them with French-Canadian ones. Tensions between the two francophone communities undoubtedly contributed to the fact that contemporary writers of Franco-Métis ancestry, as I will underscore in another section, write in English, and until very re­ cently, seem to make a point of not acknowledging the "Frenchness" of their French-speaking ancestors. Fiction by French-Canadian writers such as Gabrielle Roy, Marguerite-Α. Primeau, and Marie Moser, however, re­ veal the important role that the Franco-Métis played in the shaping of French-Canadian communities on the prairies, but these authors inevitably portray Métis characters as Outsiders whose visible or audible traits, such as dress and language, may or may not be represented, while practices such as storytelling are consistently absent from the picture. The loss of much of the oral tradition that once formed the backbone of Métis communities and provided continuity is the legacy of colonial history. From Reader of an "Othered" Métis Culture to Researcher Actively Recovering Traditional Métis Oral Stories The postcolonial perspective has motivated a project that returns to the "forgotten" colonial history of the Franco-Métis with a view to criticize and deconstruct colonization and domination, and also contribute to the rectifi­ cation of unjust and traumatic treatment that is part and parcel of colonial heritage. The project postulates that one way of contributing to such "rec­ tification" would be to "give back" to today's descendents some of the anQuébec Studies, Volume 50, Fall 2010/Winter 2011

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Sing, Pamela