Gueganne“I think that if I didn't have all this mixture in me then I probably wouldn't be the same person I am today. Today I like myself. I like who I am. And we would like, us, the Métis people in New-Brunswick, we would really like to be known for who we are, who we really are. Because everything that's been written about us or not written about us was done by somebody else who could read and write. And we never could, before my generation you see, and this is why it's so important to us to make people understand, make them know us, the kind of life we had.”

[This is an original bilingual interview with Guéganne Doucet by Colin Gauvin and Catherine Lapointe. It took place at Mount Allison University in Dr. Marilyn Walker's 2009 class. The interview was conducted in both English and French in order to highlight the interviewee's mixed heritage. Gué g anne is an accomplished artist, and her contributions to this project deeply enriched our understanding of Métis culture in the Maritimes.]

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Catherine: Aujourd'hui on voulait te demander une couple de questions à propos de, en premier, ton héritage puis après ca on voulait te parler de ton art. Notre première question est : comment décrirais-tu ton héritage?

Guéganne: Je ne sais pas exactement qu'est-ce que tu veux dire par comment décrire mon héritage, mon héritage est qu'est-ce que c'est. C'est que j'ai du sang Acadien originaire, ces gens qui venaient de la France, et puis mon sang autochtone c'est un sang Mi'kmaq. Ensuite, c'est parce-que au début les blancs qui ont arrivé ici, ils ont marié des autochtones, ce qui a commencé les premiers Métis on va dire au Canada. Et puis ces Métis là, ça continué parce que les français de France ont arrivés ici en je dirais 1604 et puis il n'avait pas de femmes blanches ici dans le pays avant 1635. D'abord même après 1635 les hommes français ont continuée à marier ou se coupler avec des femmes autochtones. Parce que les femmes blanches étaient presque inutiles ici dans ce pays ici. Parce que les autochtones, eux-autres, ils pouvaient faire attention, ils faisaient du linge, ils nettoyaient les peaux, ils nettoyaient les animaux et puis ils faisaient toutes, puis les femmes françaises qui venaient de la France… mais dans ce temps la c'étais juste le pays, le vrai début du Canada. Je sais pas si c'est ca que tu voulais savoir donc si que tu veux, je peux continuer aussi a parler qu'est-ce que c'est d'être un Métis.

Catherine: Ah oui, c'est notre prochaine question.

Guéganne: C'est ca qu'est-ce que ... d'abord je vais commencer juste au début de ma vie, on va dire pas début, début, mais je vais parler vite, vite, vite d' une des sessions de ma vie de différentes périodes. D'abord quand j'étais… j'allais pas a l'école moi, j'étais correct, j'étais comme tout le monde et puis nous, ils avaient dit aux arrières-arrières grand-pères: Vous êtes soit Français ou vous allez sur la réserve. D'abord moi, mon arrière-arrière grand-père s'est décidé que il voulait pas perdre ses terres et voulais garder le droit de pèche. Il péchait pas pour lui-même il péchait plutôt pour les compagnies et puis il a décidé qu'il allait être blanc. Mais quand j'allais pas à l'école c'était correct, moi je ne savais pas qu'il y avait une différence entre moi et eux. Et puis le « eux » mais c'était du monde comme moi aussi des Métis, mais, ils voulaient pas avouer qu'ils avaient du sang autochtone. D'abord ils pensaient que ça les abaissait. D'abord j'ai passer mon enfance, à l'école, sans amis.

Catherine: L'école française?

Guéganne: L'école française, oui. Mais tu disais français mais dans ce temps là, on avait peut-être la catéchise, parce qu'on avait ca dans les écoles dans ce moment la, et la lecture française, mais tout le reste était anglais.

Colin: Ah vraiment?

Guéganne: Oui, c'était comme ca que c'était dans le début parce que les anglophones voulaient nous angliser. D'abord ca n'a pas arriver, mais parce que on était, nous autres aussi on était isolé. On était comme Eskimonac, Baie St-Anne, et ensuite toute autour c'était, tu sais, il avait beaucoup d'anglais. Puis les français, nous autres ça l'était...ils nous appelaient des français mais on était vraiment des Métis mais nous autres on était poussés sur les caps de mers, puis eux-autres ils prenaient les terres en dedans, tu sais, qui étaient plus faciles à travaillées/faire des fermes. Ensuite quand j'étais à l'école là je m'en ai aperçu que j'étais différente parce que j'ai- j'ai jamais eu une amie de fille, j'ai jamais eu d'amis quand j'allais à l'école et puis ils disaient que j'étais une sauvage, une sauvagesse, une sauvage, mais parce que le côté de ma mère je suis vraiment une autochtone. Mais First Nations/Première Nation. Mais sur le côté de mon père je suis Métis. Moi je préfère d'être une Métis que être un Acadien-une Acadienne ou une Première Nation. Parce que je suis pas ca. Si que je dis que suis Française d'abord je nie mon côté Autochtone et si que je nie, c'est la même chose des deux côté. D'abord moi je veux garder qui-est que je suis et être vrai à moi.

C'est ça qui est important. D'abord la vie a passé et ensuite comme que peut-être probablement que vous savez pas moi et mon frère, Norbert, nous sommes la première génération qui est capable de lire et écrire. Mon père, ma mère et tous les autres avant ils n'écrivaient pas et ils ne lisaient pas. Mais nous avons étés élevés comme des autochtones. Ça sa veut dire que on allait nu pieds tout l'été, pas juste ça, on mangeait des œufs de goélands, on mangeait des porcs-épics et on vivait de la faune. On vivait avec des pommes-de-prés si tu veux et puis la vie a passé comme ça, et ensuite à quatorze ans, alors moi j'étais contente de partir mais à quatorze ans chez-nous, c'est que, nous à quatorze ans nos parents nous disaient que j'étais grande maintenant, il fallait que je m'en aille gagner ma vie. Puis les garçons chez nous, comme mon frère encore, lui, c'était seize ans. Les garçons restaient deux ans plus longtemps. Puis nos parents, c'est comprenable aussi, qu'ils étaient très, très pauvres- on était vraiment pauvre. Ils travaillaient pour la compagnie anglaise et puis ils travaillent tout l'été pour payer l'année d'avant, l'hiver d'avant. Ça fait on était toujours dans le trou. Puis on n'avait rien, on n'avait pas de linge, puis dans l'hiver quand on avait très froid on avait presque rien à manger. Mais on a survit quand même les douze. Et puis après que nous avons laissé de chez moi, surtout moi et tout, presque toute ma famille, toute ma famille vraiment, nous avons dit mais ça, ca ne va pas passer de même. On va faire des efforts, puis on va essayer d'avoir de l'éducation. Comme vous vous faites; vous avez de l'éducation aujourd'hui. Vous êtes vraiment chanceux. Mais nous autres aussi ça nous prenait des outils. D'abord, moi j'ai été à l'école après. J'ai devenu secrétaire de cours, c'est ca qui était mon travail. Et ensuite j'avais toujours faite de l'art d'abord je m'ai décidé de prendre des études là-dedans. Et puis j'étais mariée dans le temps. Et puis j'ai reçu un certificat in fine art-bedon et puis, ça c'était en Saskatchewan.

Colin: Quelle université?

Guéganne: Ce n'était pas une université moi, c'était comme euh…

Colin: Un collège?

Guéganne: Un collège. Oui, c'était le Rosemount College. Ça fait que de toute façon, après ca, là j'avais des petits enfants, j'avais trois petits bonhommes, ça fait que j'ai attendu jusqu'à 1994 pour débuter vraiment être professionnelle. Et puis là, après ça, vers 1992, qui était un rêve à moi, je me suis décidée d'aller à l'Université. Puis ça c'était l'Université de Moncton. Là j'ai été- j'ai rentré dans les cours, je ne avais pas comment faire de la sculpture dans l'art- dans la pierre, et puis c'est là j'ai pris mon cours. Puis là j'ai juste pris un cours de trois ans, mais après, j'ai été offert, ou je m'ai décidé…on s'est parlé entre le prof et moi, parce que j'avais pas d'atelier, d'abord qu'est-ce qui est arrivé c'est que j'ai continué comme artiste-visiteur. Pour un autre six ans. Ça fait j'ai été à l'université en toute là neuf ans!

Colin: Neuf ans, c'est cher ça!

Guéganne: Ça fait de toute façon j'ai fini à apprendre mon métier très, très bien tu sais. Parce que même quand je faisais mes propres sculptures, je les faisais là à l'université. D'abord quand je faisais une gaffe ou je ne savais pas quoi faire le prof était là. Puis c'était un prof qui est vraiment super dans la pierre.

Catherine
: Comme ça, en nous parlant d'art, pourrais-tu nous dire un peu de cette sculpture ici? [shows photo of her sculpture «  Ugs Tgamu (Mother earth) and the forgotten women of La Cadie »]

Gueganne 2Guéganne: Ah ça, cette sculpture là, y'avait longtemps que je l'avais créé. D'abord, je voulais la créé parce que je voulais faire quelque chose pour la terre-mère, comme vous voyez. Je voulais dire quelque chose avec mon art ou me servir de quelque chose que je connaissait pour parler contre l'abus de la terre et puis si ça continue mais c'est pas juste quelque chose qui va, qui va éclater sur la terre, ça va être la fin de nous aussi parce que la terre-mère, c'est elle qui nourrit et nous donne la vie. D'abord j'avais décidé de faire ça.

Mais entre temps j'ai commencé à penser: tous ces mamans là, ces premières mamans là de l'Acadie, eux autres elles ont étés aussi écrits hors de l'histoire. Ils ont étés mis en dehors de l'histoire et écrits, ôtées de tout, il y a personne qui les connaît. Et ensuite ils sont dans le sang, ils sont cachées. Parce qu'il y a personne, même moi, leur propre descendants, qui est les Acadiens ou les autochtones dessus les réserves, eux autres, il n'y a pas beaucoup d'eux qui sont plein-sang. Il n'y a pas, je ne pense pas. Après 1755, y'avait plus de vrais autochtones dans le Nouveau-Brunswick. Il n'en avait plus parce que y'étaient toutes décimés par la picote et les maladies et les guerres. Ça fait les seules qu'ont survient, c'était les Métis.

D'abord qu'est-ce qu'ils ont faites, quand ils voulaient créer les réserves, ils ont dit on crée le réserve pour qui? Pour les Indiens, ils les appelaient des Indiens, nous autres on s'appelle pas, moi je m'appelle un Métis. Mais maintenant j'appelle tous les, je vais dire « Indiens » par leur bande. C'est Mi'kmaq ou c'est Iroquois ou Mohawk, qu'est-ce que vous voulez. Et puis j'ai pensé que j'allais la laisser comme la sculpture serait de la terre mère oui, mais ca serait aussi pour ces mères oubliées. Nous autres on est tous descendants d'eux. Ça fait que qu'est-ce que j'ai décidé, j'ai décidé de faire ça et puis j'ai décidé de le prendre puis mettre la terre-mère, la sculpture comme championne des premières mères de l'Acadie. Et ensuite j'ai pensé que peut-être que c'était leur rendre honneur puis c'était presque le temps que quelqu'un n'en parle d'eux. Parce que sans eux moi je ne pense pas que je serai icitte.

Catherine: Comme ça, quand tu dis “les premières mères Acadiennes », pourrais-tu élaborer de qu'est-ce que tu veux dire au juste?

Colin: We should probably have that part in English. I assume most of you have probably read some of the work on her sculpture. There's one moment when she mentions that Mi'kmaq women were the mothers of Acadia , the first mothers of the Acadian people, and we're just asking her to elaborate a little bit on that.

Guéganne: Then I will repeat this, I said it in French, but if I don't tell you where I'm coming from then you won't know where I'm going. So anyway, what I said is that from 1605, the very beginning of the people coming over that weren't Native. From 1605 to 1630 there were no French - no white women - in this country, they were all Native. So what happened is that the men, they were all between 20 and 27, most of them. And they started marrying, or, they used to say if you were Mi'kmaq you didn't get married in the church, you just got together and then you say ok, now we're together. And that went on for all that time and of course the children that were born to all these couples all these years they were the first Acadians. And of course, they were also the Métis people. But today most people, most Acadians will not say “well yes, I have Indian blood” because for many, many years, when you said you had Indian blood it sort of put you down, like you were low class, you weren't any good because you had this blood in you.

Well, actually, we never, I never had this problem because my grandmother was the one that told me when I was no more than four or five year old, she told me, you know, “you're not like the other little girls,” she said “you are”, I'll say it in French “ a tawaye”. So of course I went in the house and I asked my mother: “Moma, what is a tawaye?” And my mother said, “Who told you that”. Well I said Grandma told me that I was a tawaye and I was different from other little girls. So, needless to say, there was war in our house after that. My mother told my grandma, her mother, never to mention that crap again to us or she would have to go live somewhere else. But my grandmother didn't stop; she kept it up, but in secrecy. I was sworn to secret, uh, by penalty of death if I told on her so I never did. And of course I never had that problem, but I had problems in school while I was growing up because everybody used to call me a savage and they used to call me other names, other choice names. And of course I had a very lonely life because no one wanted to associate with me because of this. And it was because of my mother. Well, on my mother's side I'm probably First Nation, and on my father's side I'm a Métis. So I was, you know, it was both sides.

Finally my father did move from Baie St-Anne, he moved to Esfumenac, and it wasn't any better there because we're still what we are. Today I am what I is, you know. But I am not ashamed of saying, or, I'm proud of who I am, and I can do art, and I think that I'm fairly good at it. I think that if I didn't have all this mixture in me then I probably wouldn't be the same person I am today. Today I like myself. I like who I am. And we would like, us, the Métis people in New-Brunswick, we would really like to be known for who we are, who we really are. Because everything that's been written about us or not written about us was done by somebody else who could read and write. And we never could, before my generation you see, and this is why it's so important to us to make people understand, make them know us, the kind of life we had.

We were brought up as Native. You know, like it wasn't any different in the reserve or where I live because that's what my parents knew. They only knew what they were taught. And my mother's greatest dream in this life wasn't to send us to university or to have their children be doctors or whatever. Her greatest dream was to have us, and we were 12, all be able to read and write. Read what was written and write our name. I am happy to say that she did accomplish that. We all could read and write and the education that we did manage, we got it on our own. Because I didn't like the place that was reserved for me in life, and I decided that I would not settle for that and I would do something with myself. And my family we were, I think, all strong enough to be able to do that. But a lot of people they fell through the crack also. You know, they didn't change as much as other people because even after we left, most people, a lot of people still stayed where they were. And when you do that you don't change as much, or as fast, I should say.

Catherine: I had a question that had to do with something you said before. You had said that it only started with your generation that you started to read and write. Why is it that the generation before didn't read or write? Was education just not available to them or was it restricted?

Guéganne: I don't think it was restricted, it just wasn't there. I mean some people did go to school, I'm quite sure, but it wasn't my family. My family, we were Indians. And that was it. “Des sauvages.” So “sauvages” didn't get to go to school. And we were treated differently. Even myself as a child, I remember one instance when I was going to school, and my teacher told me, and I'll never forget her name, one day she said: “You will never amount to anything”, she said, “the only thing that you'll be good for is street walking”. Of course I didn't know what the heck that meant but now I know. And she said that the reason why I would never amount to anything and I was no good is because I had dirty blood in my veins. Now can you imagine, saying something, such a thing, to a child? What difference does it make if you're Chinese, red, white, yellow? We're all people and all capable of learning. And if you learn and if you have education and you have the proper tools in life, you will make something out of yourself. You will do exactly as you please and exactly as you wanted to do. Except me it took a long time, you know I was in my 50's by the time I went to university. But that was alright too, I enjoyed it immensely, to be with the young people and different ideas and so forth and so on. But I did prove to myself, and perhaps, some other people, that I was capable of accomplishing this on my own. And it didn't matter if I was a “sauvage” or not. I was a person first, then a female too. And being a “sauvage” and a female was very difficult, especially when I was young. Because everybody thought I was made… you know, just for that. Well, that didn't interest me that much, so I had other plans.

Catherine: So when you went to the workforce, when you grew up, even today, do you still experience the same kind of discrimination?

Gueganne 3Guéganne: Yes. I found that when I went to work, well, I actually wanted to. I went to Montreal and I worked there and this is where I went to school. Anyway, after I graduated from school I worked there for a while and then I came back to New Brunswick because I thought well, I want to go home, I was homesick. And I did come back and I went to Fredericton . I applied by letters and so forth and so on like that, and they told me to show up for an interview. So I said “yeah ok”. So I went to Fredericton, and of course, like, my name, Guéganne was given to me by my Grandmother, which would be my Native name. My real name is Priscilla because we all have English names because our parents wanted for us to be white and also English. Anyway, when I went there - and the interview was from the power commission. I wanted to be a switchboard operator - when I went there, and of course when I opened my mouth she says to me “are you French?” And I said “Yes, that's what I am.” Then she didn't say Métis or Indian or anything like that, she asked me if I was French from the accent. So I was told by her, she said “Well don't waste your time dear. I think you'd better go to Quebec, you'd be much better received.” She says, “Because we don't hire French people to do office work, we only hire them as janitors and we have no openings. I went back to Montreal . I stayed there a long, long time and then I finally went back. I've been here over 40 years, in New Brunswick.

Colin: And you'd mentioned earlier to that you had gone to Université de Moncton to study sculpture and arts and that you had a great professor there that was supportive. When you were there, when you were learning sculpture and other artistic techniques, were you able to express Métis culture in any of your artwork? And was it received well amongst your professors and students?
Photo of Gueganne Doucet.    

Guéganne: Well, actually, as you know, here as well as, you know, Mount Allison as well as the University of Moncton , if you're an artist, you're free to express yourself. And the professor can't really interfere in that. Because they can't stop you from doing what you want to do because this is part of your creativity and they can't take that away from you so I used that. I was well received by the students, but not by the professor.

The reason, the big reason why I decided to go was because I had made up my mind that I would never go to university because I was getting too old. What happened was that I was told by the artists, the Acadian artists in Moncton that I did not have the right credentials to be called a professional artist. Because I had just a certificate, and even then it came from Saskatchewan so my credentials were no good. So I just asked, “Where did you go to University, where did you get your training?” And they said, “L'Université de Moncton, of course” you know. I say “Ok, no problem” so that's where I went. The kids were great, I loved being with those kids every day. Except you know, at the end they were driving me crazy “Guéganne how do you do this, Guéganne, how do you do that?” But I really enjoyed it.

Colin: Have you stayed in touch with them?

Guéganne: Well, it's nine years since I've been there. I thought maybe I was going to be a permanent fixture. But then finally I did decide to build myself a studio. I told them bye-bye. But I see them, now they're grown up.

Colin: Do you still stay in touch with…?

Guéganne: Oh yeah, a lot of them, they're graduated of course, a lot of them, and I do keep up with their careers and a lot of them, the very good ones, they all moved out from, from the Maritimes. They all went out to get their education like in Montreal and some of them are in New York, which is very good. I would go too, but I'm too old.

Colin: That's what you said last time.

Guéganne: Yeah but this is your time, I had mine.

Catherine: I had a question about your name “Guéganne”. You said it was your Native name. Does it have a particular meaning?

Guéganne: I think it has something, it's not Mi'kmaq, so it's more or less a…my Grandmother was Abenaki. So it's Abenaki, it has to do with an eagle. Because I'm an Aries, but in the Native, I'm an eagle. I'm the golden eagle, born under that sign. So it has to do with that.

Colin: Are there signs for every month?

Guéganne: Oh yes, the same thing like they have one for the twelve months. I don't know them all by heart, but I know mine. So I'm a gold eagle, or I could be a thunderbird too. The golden eagle and the thunderbird are tied to one another.

Catherine: Can you tell us a little bit more about these signs? Do you know anything about these signs that you were talking about, the… like the golden eagle?

Guéganne: Well, actually I don't know all of them because I didn't study the different months. But I can tell you, if you would like to know, what is an eagle to a native person. Well the eagle is the only bird that can bring your messages if you're asking for help. Like anything else, not praying, you ask, you don't pray. Because, native people have “spiritualité” and no religion really. They don't call it religion. But to me it's like religion.

Colin: The spiritual side of things.

Guéganne: Right, spiritual. So what they do is that the eagle is the one that brings your offering to the Creator. It is the bird that can fly the highest and it's said that it's the only bird that can look at the sun. So it's very special and sacred to a Native person. If you receive an eagle feather, which I have three, and the eagle feather, you can't buy them, it has to be presented to you and it's a sacred thing therefore it has to be something with honour, and I received mine because of my art. You see because I received medals and plaques and different things you know, like in France and everywhere else. These were offered to me for my art for what I offer the world. This is the way they look at it. I'll tell you something really fast; the earth, we call, you can, anybody can, call it our mother. Because you see the earth, without the earth we can't live, it feeds us and it clothes us and even though you have to go somewhere to get the material to make a car, you're still taking it out of her. For instance, when we have a drum, do you know why we drum?

Colin: Heartbeat of the earth?

Guéganne: That's it. Yeah. The heartbeat of the earth.