Home > 2010, 21st Century, Canadian Literature, Novel, Plamondon Eric, Quebec Literature, Translation Tragedy > Taqawan by Eric Plamondon – 1981 on the Mi’gmaq reservation in Gaspesia

Taqawan by Eric Plamondon – 1981 on the Mi’gmaq reservation in Gaspesia

January 19, 2022 Leave a comment Go to comments

Taqawan by Eric Plamondon (2017). Not available in English.

Au Québec, on a tous du sang indien. Si ce n’est pas dans les veines, c’est sur les mains.In Québec, we all have Indian blood. If it’s not in our veins, it’s on our hands.

Eric Plamondon is a Québecois writer but I don’t think that his book is translated into English. I will never understand why Canadian books are not available in the two official languages of the country. I received his novella Taqawan through my Kube subscription.

Taqawan takes the reader back to the month of June 1981, to the Indian reservation La Restigouche in the Gaspé Peninsula in Québec. The indigenous nation living on this reservation are the Micmac, or Mi’gmaq.

When the book opens, Océane, a Mi’gmaq teenager is on her way back to the reservation at the end on her school day. She goes to an English-speaking school in New Brunswick. She’s on the school bus when it is stopped on the Van Horne bridge that separates Québec from New Brunswick.

Understanding that the police are blocking the entry to the reservation, she slips out of the bus and despite the danger climbs down from the bridge to the ground to go home.

What follows that night is a violent police intervention related to the “salmon war” between the white Québec authorities and the Mi’gmaq nation. The Québec government has set new rules to issue fishing permits for salmon and these rules are unfathomable for a Native Canadian. They don’t want to abide by them because they simply don’t understand them. 300 policemen of the Sécurité of Québec are sent on the reservation to confiscate the fishermen’s nets.

In the middle of the mayhem where the police force abuse of their power, beat several Mi’gmaqs, arrest them without cause, three policemen rape Océane in the woods and left her there to her own devices. Yves, a former ranger who lives in a cabin in the woods finds her, brings her home and seeks for help. Beyond the basic human reaction to help someone in distress, Yves holds a grudge against the local authorities. He quit his job as a ranger because he didn’t approve of the treatment of the Mi’gmaqs and he didn’t want to lend a hand to the police, as required by his hierarchy.

Yves knows William, a Mi’gmaq who also lives in the woods. Together and with the help of Caroline, Yves’s former lover, they will help and protect Océane, putting their own safety at risk.

In the thread of Océane’s story, Plamondon inserts vignettes from the past and from the present politics. The images of the past go back to the importance of salmon for the Mi’gmaqs, to the help the Mi’gmaqs provided to the European first settlers. They wouldn’t have survived without their help. There are passages about fishing and Mi’gmaq culture and these short chapters give a historical context to the book and remind the white Québécois what they owe to native peoples.

The other set of vignettes comes back to the political context of the time and how the fight between Québec and the federal government ricocheted and impacted the daily life of the Mi’gmaq community. The issue of the salmon fishing rights is a pawn in the war between René Lévesque at the head Québec and the Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau. We’re just the year after the 1980 referendum for the independence of Québec, lost by the partisans of Québec sovereignty.

Plamondon draws a severe picture of the Québec government, of the racism and violence of the Sécurité of Québec (we’re far, far away from Inspector Gamache’s gentleness) and of the treatment of indigenous nations in Canada. I understood that William, the oldest Indian character, has been in one of those despicable residential schools. But remember, the book is set in 1981.

Percé, Gaspésie.

On a lighter note, as usual when reading Québec literature, I had fun tracking down the funny words and expressions. I still don’t understand why we don’t use the same gender for some words between France and Québec. Why say son jeep (masculine, Québec) and not sa jeep (feminine, France), since the word car (voiture) is feminine. Maybe it’s because Québécois say char for voiture and char is masculine? Same for job. Why say une job and not un job since all the French words for job are masculine? (un travail, un emploi, un métier.)

I also love hearing the English under their French and chuckled when I saw Heille, man, a Gallicized version of Hey, man. The most endearing is when both French and Québécois use an English word in their French and France gets it wrong. Québécois use the appropriate English word choke for the device used to start a car when the French say un starter!

I need to read more Québec litterature, it’s often really enjoyable. It’s a pity that Taqawan isn’t translated into English and it goes in the Translation Tragedy category. It’s available in German, if that helps. Another good score for Kube!

PS: Remember my billet about The Grey Ghost Murders by Keith McCafferty where I discovered the existence of antique fishing flies? Well, Plamondon says that the oldest drawing of fly-fishing dates back to Ancient Egypt, fourteen centuries BC. I should start a “fun facts about fishing” category.

  1. January 19, 2022 at 12:21 pm

    I’m fascinated by the difference between Quebec French and French French, When I watch French TV series from France, I can follow a lot of the dialogue, but I cannot understand a word of Quebec French. Not a word.
    The analogy, I suppose is, can a French person expect to understand dialogue in UK, US, Australian English with equal ease?

    Like

    • January 22, 2022 at 8:13 am

      I love Quebec French, I find it inventive, especially with new concepts that first appeared in English.
      For example, they invented “divulgâcher”, made of “divulguer” and “gâcher” to translate “to spoil” (for a plot) and it’s brilliant. A lot better than the verb “spoiler”.

      For us, French from Belgium and Switzerland is easy to understand, like speaking to another French.
      In Québec, they have different words and an accent that can be diffiult to understand, but not in big cities. Some Québec series have subtitles for the French public too.

      Now for a French listening to dialogues or interacting in English at work or while traveling, from my experience:

      – American is hit or miss, depends on the accent and how much they chew their words, but mostly hit, since we have a lot of exposure to American English.
      – British English: Harry Potter is OK. Ken Loach needs subtitles
      – Scottish is another language entirely
      – Irish: no issue at all for us in Ireland.
      – Australian: no issue while traveling (except for some vocabulary.) but contract negotiation over the phone? not so easy.
      – Indian speaking English : you just weep and pray you’ll only have to email.

      Like

      • January 22, 2022 at 9:54 am

        LOL Emma, that’s a very good summary of the situation!
        And yes, Scottish… I can understand the Edinburgh variety, but Glaswegian, I need subtitles.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. January 19, 2022 at 4:18 pm

    I love the comparisons you make between French and Quebecois French. I had a Quebecois friend in Ain, and I don’t know if it was because they’d been living abroad in different places abroad, but I managed to understand most of her French (and loved the accent).

    Like

    • January 22, 2022 at 8:14 am

      You don’t have any issue understanding people in Montreal or Québec City. The accent isn’t thick. Like in France, it depends on regions.
      I love the accent in Montreal.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. January 19, 2022 at 10:36 pm

    So much to think about here: I really appreciate the detail in this review, but I have to imagine it was hard to piece some of this together because there are so many political layers of complexity in this scene. The Quebecois have their own struggles with the federal government, let alone to add the additional questions of Indigenous history and colonialism, let alone cultural matters like fishing “restrictions”. You’ve done a great job laying out the facts and drawing connections. I’m not sure if I am correctly understanding/imagining the importance of when the character attended residential school here; the last one was closed in 1996, so 1981 was quite some time ago.

    Battles are ongoing (in the headlines a week or two ago again, but regularly) about fishing “licenses” and “quotas” and “seasons”, particularly on the east coast with lobsters, with many buildings having been burnt to the ground over the past few years (Indigenous fisherpeople’s supplies and catches destroyed): all part of the broader conflict, the Canadian government’s unwillingness to acknowledge the sovereignty of the Indigenous peoples.

    It’s funny, because the Toronto library DOES have the German translation! Just in 2021 and I’m guessing this one will be appear in translation before too long: it’s certainly topical. Because there is very little money to be made from French translations here and they are (mostly) released by English presses that are also publishing a lot of English language stuff, they often have to plan very far ahead, with just a project or two each year. So you can see how quickly things would “fall behind” with so many talented Quebecois and French-language writers (Indigenous too) here. But I concur wholeheartedly with your point: it should be uncommon for Francophone lit to remain untranslated, instead of the other way around! But even the signage isn’t translated!

    Like

    • January 22, 2022 at 8:32 am

      Thanks for your comment, I hoped you’d read this billet, you’re my only Canadian reader, I think.

      “You’ve done a great job laying out the facts and drawing connections.” I did nothing: Eric Plamondon did an excellent job in his book and I just read a bit on Wikipedia. He lives in France, so I guess he knew what background information the French reader would need.

      About the character William attending residential schools: it fuels his distrust of the system.

      Well, we have our own fishing issues and permits between France and post-Brexit UK. (Something quite recurring, I imagine, since it was in War of the Newt by Capek) I didn’t know about the ongoing ones in Canada but it makes sense.

      About the translation of Taqawan: I really hope it makes it into English and there’s hope since it was published in 2017.

      And for me some signage is translated…into French! Like the Stop signs that are Arrêt signs in Québec! 🙂

      Like

      • January 24, 2022 at 11:13 pm

        If there’s another post like this, and you think of it, feel free to share the link so I make sure I don’t miss it. 🙂

        He was able to make his points very well then. And you filled in the gaps.

        About the residential schools, I wasn’t sure what you meant about remember that it takes place in 1981, and I wondered if you had thought they wouldn’t still be operating then (but some were). But, yes, even if he been only a boy at the time, it would have stuck with him, for the duration of his life.

        I think the distinction between the usual conflicts between nations about trading is that, even if the Canadian government was willing to acknowledge that Indigenous peoples are sovereign peoples, Indigenous ideas about sustainability are one thing and the Canadian government’s ideas about fish as resources to be extracted to suit the market/profit are quite different.

        And I shouldn’t have implied that signs are never translated; I don’t understand, though, why (as a bilingual country officially, but obviously Indigenous languages should also be recognised) signs are almost always in English only.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. January 20, 2022 at 2:07 am

    I do hope this does get an English translation, there is a history of conflict among Indigenous Nations and other governments in the Pacific Northwest over salmon among other things. Now there is more understanding and negotiation over traditional ways of doing things, but the history is not pretty.

    Like

    • January 22, 2022 at 8:35 am

      That’s what Marcie said above. Is there the same kind of conflict in Oregon or Washington State?

      I am glad that history and facts are put in the open and discussed. Still waiting for it to really happen in France about colonization.

      Like

      • January 23, 2022 at 2:18 am

        I’m not sure how similar the conflict was, but there has been a history of conflict over fishing rights here. Tribal nations (in WA State) now have far more say than they did previously and they’ve been heavily involved in advocating for the decommissioning of dams which affect salmon runs.

        Liked by 1 person

        • January 23, 2022 at 12:38 pm

          I’ve never heard of that.
          Strange that I never came upon a Gallmeister book about this kind of topic. 🙂

          Like

  5. January 23, 2022 at 9:07 pm

    Interesting comparison between Canadian and French French. I was once asked if I was Canadian by a Tunisian – he could tell I was speaking French but I have a really peculiar accent! And it’s a shame this isn’t published in translation but not uncommon – I have been looking for books about Indigenous Canadian people and even if you can get them, which you often can’t, they are often only in French!

    Like

    • January 23, 2022 at 10:40 pm

      I’m fond of French from Québec even if their accent can be thick sometimes. (Like in some regions in France, of course!)

      Maybe Marcie from Buried in Print can help you find Indigenous Canadian writers translated into English?

      Like

      • January 23, 2022 at 11:13 pm

        Yes, she has kindly suggested several for me!

        Like

        • January 29, 2022 at 8:30 am

          Great! Yay to the book blogging community!

          Like

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