Kuei, My Friend is an engaging book of letters: a literary and political encounter between Innu poet Natasha Kanapé Fontaine and Québécois-American novelist Deni Ellis Béchard. Choosing the epistolary form, they decided to engage together in a frank conversation about racism and reconciliation.
Intentionally positioned within the contexts of the Idle No More movement, Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the National Inquiry into Missing or Murdered Aboriginal Women and Girls, the letters in Kuei, My Friend pose questions in a reciprocal manner: how can we coexist if our common history involves collective and personal episodes of shame, injury, and anger? how can we counteract misunderstandings of the Other, which so often lead to contempt and rejection? how can we educate non-Indigenous communities about the impact of cultural genocide on the First Peoples and the invisible privileges resulting from historical modes of domination?
In an attempt to open a sincere and productive dialogue, Kanapé Fontaine and Ellis Béchard use their personal stories to understand words and behaviours that are racist or that result from racism. With the affection and intimacy of a friend writing to a friend, Natasha recounts to her addressee her discovery of the residential schools, her obsession with the Oka Crisis of 1990, and her life on the Pessamit reserve. Reciprocating, Deni talks about his father’s racism, the segregation of African-Americans and civil rights, and his identity as a Québécois living in the English-speaking world.
By sharing honestly even their most painful memories, these two writers offer an accessible, humanist book on the social bridge-building and respect for difference. Kuei, My Friend is accompanied by a chronology of events, a glossary of relevant terms in the Innu language, and, most importantly, a detailed teacher’s guide that includes topics of discussion, questions, and suggested reflections for examination in a classroom setting.
Deni Ellis Béchard is the author of Vandal Love (Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book); Of Bonobos and Men (Nautilus Book Award for investigative journalism and Grand Prize winner); Cures for Hunger, a memoir about his bank-robber father (selected as one of the best memoirs of 2012 by Amazon.ca); and Into the Sun (Midwest Book Award for literary fiction and selected by Radio Canada as one of 2017's Incontournables and one of the most important books of the year to be read by Canada's political leaders). Béchard has reported from India, Cuba, Rwanda, Colombia, Iraq, the Congo, and Afghanistan. He has been a finalist for a Canadian National Magazine Award and has been featured in Best Canadian Essays 2017, and his photojournalism has been exhibited in the Canadian Museum of Human Rights. His articles, fiction, and photos have been published in newspapers and magazines around world, including the LA Times, Salon, Reuters, The Guardian, Patagonia, La Repubblica, The Walrus, Pacific Standard, Le Devoir, Vanity Fair Italia, The Herald Scotland, The Huffington Post, The Harvard Review, The National Post, and Foreign Policy Magazine. His website is denibechard.com.
Born in 1991 in Baie-Comeau, Natasha Kanape Fontaine is Innu, originally from Pessamit on the North Shore of Quebec. A poet-interpreter, actress, visual artist and activist for Aboriginal and environmental rights, she lives in Montreal. One of the most important voices in Quebec. Her first collection of poems , Do not enter into my soul with your shoes (Éditions Mémoire d'Encrier, 2012), was a critically acclaimed award for his first identity questions. 2015. The finalist of the Prix Émile-Nelligan 2015, his second collection Manifeste Assi (Mémoire d'encrier, 2014), is the song of the earth, which suffocates under the exploitation of natural resources, including the tar sands In Alberta. In February 2016, she published Bleuets et apricots (Memoir d'encrier), a third book of poetry which carried "the discourse of the indigenous woman who returns to life to overthrow history".
Natasha Kanape Fontaine is part of the resurgence of today's Indigenous youth. A spokeswoman for the Quebec branch of the Idle No More movement, she is working to develop the "Poetics of Relationship to the Territory" in philosophy. Natasha Kanape Fontaine is a guest poet, notably in Belgium, Haiti, France, Germany, and Scotland. In 2017, she will be representing the Innu and Quebec at the Festival of Ethnic Minorities in Tibet. Her artistic and literary approach tends to bring together divergent peoples through dialogue, exchange, sharing of values, through the "tanning of the skins", a metaphorical way of scratching the imperfections of thoughts and consciousnesses. With poetry, she cradles the environment and begins a healing process with him. Natasha Kanape Fontaine fights against racism, discrimination, and colonial mentalities through speaking and poetry. Everything to ensure the trace, in the process of decolonization, for future generations.
Howard Scott is a Montreal literary translator who works with fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. His translations include works by Madeleine Gagnon, science-fiction writer Élisabeth Vonarburg, and Canada’s Poet Laureate, Michel Pleau. Scott received the Governor General’s Literary Award for his translation of Louky Bersianik’s The Euguelion. The Great Peace of Montreal of 1701, by Gilles Havard, which he co-translated with Phyllis Aronoff, won the Quebec Writers’ Federation Translation Award. A Slight Case of Fatigue, by Stéphane Bourguignon, another co-translation with Phyllis Aronoff, was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award. Howard Scott is a past president of the Literary Translators’ Association of Canada.
"Kuei, My Friend should be regarded as a crucial tool to begin the important work of thinking about how we can better learn about our responsibilities towards one another, towards the lands on which we are guests, and to the different Nations that are our hosts. How to become better listeners, better participants, better allies. As Kanapé Fontaine notes, early on in their epistolary exchange, 'the work has begun' (48). Now is the time to find the ways to continue it."
—Sarah Henzi, Transmotion
"Through their letters, Béchard and Fontaine chart future possibilities for reconciliation. Their letters shake up the stultified debate spurred by the 2015 publication of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada’s final report."
—Dylan Burrows, The Ormsby Review