Halfbreed by Maria Campbell - Excerpt

by Maria Campbell


DADDY USED TO HUNT a lot when he was home. The meat would be brought back to the house, cut up and hidden. He sold it to farmers around us and as far away as Prince Albert. This extra money supplemented our budget and helped to keep us going until the next time he had fur to sell. The game wardens and the RCMP were constant visitors at our home and they searched all around our house and yard and in the homes of my aunts, uncles and Grannie Campbell. Daddy hunted in the National Park which was illegal and was often almost caught. I remember times when someone would ride to our house, the horse all lathered up, and warn us that the game wardens were coming. Daddy and Mom would grab the meat and run outside to hide it, usually in the church basement. (The priest found it once, and after that Daddy had to give him some whenever he wanted it.) Meanwhile Cheechum would throw all the bloody items in the stove and build a fire. By the time the wardens arrived, Daddy would be sleeping and Mom and Cheechum drinking tea. Of course we were repeatedly cautioned never to tell anyone, even our best friends, because it was illegal for Halfbreeds to have game out of season, and it was a greater sin to get it in the Park. Usually we ran away when we saw them coming, but one winter day, Joe Vandal rode over to warn us and helped us to hide everything. Daddy had a hole dug on the side of the hill where he made his whiskey in summer. It was like a big cellar closed by a trapdoor, covered with earth that had little spruce trees growing on it. Inside he had three elk hides and one moose, plus three to four hundred pounds of meat. I went with him to make sure it was closed properly, and he told us to slide our sleigh over the door and make tracks so it would look like a play area. And that’s where we were playing when the wardens and Mounties arrived in two Bombardiers.

Instead of going to the house as usual, two of them came over to us. One warden started talking to us, but didn’t get any information as we were too shy and afraid. While he was speaking, the Mountie took some candy bars out of his pocket and held one out. When I reached for it he said, “Where does your Daddy keep his meat, Honey?” I sold out for an “Oh Henry!” chocolate bar. I led him right over to the trapdoor, showed him how to open it, and while eating the candy, even told him about the church basement and how Daddy had to give that mean old priest meat. I then took the men to the house. I will remember forever the look on Mom’s face and the way Dad laughed when I walked in with chocolate all over my face and said, “Here’s my Dad.” They were drinking tea at the table. Mom jumped up and said in Cree, “You wicked girl!” and made a grab for me, but Dad stopped her. He looked at me and started to smile. Then he laughed and laughed. Cheechum was slamming pots around and Mom just sat there, staring at me. It was only then that I realized what I had done. The Mountie put handcuffs on Dad while I screamed and cried and beat at him, telling him he had fooled me. Dad kissed me before he left and said not to cry, that he was not angry. The wardens took all the meat and hides plus the whiskey still. I did not see Daddy for six months. He was in jail in Prince Albert. I received many scoldings that winter from Mom and I did extra work the whole time.

It was a hard six months for all of us. We had no money and no meat. I had to set rabbit snares every day, and Mom and I would take the .22 and shoot partridges, ducks and whatever we could get. Mom was a terrible hunter but Daddy had trained me well. I didn’t mind the hard work, in fact I felt I should be horsewhipped for what I had done. We had to charge our groceries at the store and our credit was limited. Dad still laughs about it but I have hated chocolate bars ever since, nor have I ever trusted wardens and Mounties.

The Law will do many things to see that justice is done. Your poverty, your family, the circumstances, none of it matters. The important thing is that a man broke a law. He has a choice, and shouldn’t break that law again. Instead, he can go on relief and become a living shell, to be scorned and ridiculed even more. One of my teachers once read from St. Matthew, Chapter 5, Verses 3 to 12: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for they shall inheirit the Kingdom of Heaven.” Our class discussed this, using Native people as examples. I became very angry and said, “Big deal. So us poor Halbreeds and Indians are to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, but not till we’re dead. Keep it!” My teacher was furious and looking at me said, “Verse 13: ‘Ye are the salt of the earth but if the salt have lost his savour wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out and to be trodden underfoot of men.’” Then she closed the book and I had to kneel in the corner holding up the Bible for the rest of the afternoon. It was her favourite punishment. My arms would be sore but I dared not let that Bible fall, for her wrath was worse than Sodom and Gomorrah. I used to believe there was no worse sin in this country than to be poor.



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