Department of English
Persistence is pivotal in major discovery by archive ninja Alix Shield
Deep in the archives below McMaster University’s library, Alix Shield held two typewritten pages containing a teenage girl’s account of rape by an RCMP officer. Large, red x’s covered the supposedly lost manuscript written 46 years earlier by Métis author Maria Campbell for her seminal autobiography, Halfbreed.
Dissuaded by her grandmother, who was certain that she wouldn’t be believed, Campbell never reported the rape.
Shield, who is a PhD candidate at Simon Fraser University’s English department, sent shockwaves through the contemporary Canadian literature community with her extraordinary find. Halfbreed’s publishers McClelland & Stewart removed the rape account without Campbell’s permission when the book was released in 1973 over concerns that the incident was too libelous and that the RCMP would block Halfbreed’s distribution. Despite lacking the pivotal RCMP incident, Halfbreed represented a milestone as one of the first books of Indigenous autobiography by a Métis writer to be published in Canada.
Shield is a research assistant for her PhD supervisor Deanna Reder’s The People and the Text project. Working with SFU’s First Nations Studies on the project prepared her for the work with Halfbreed by requiring her to integrate Indigenous ethics and protocols into literary studies, something scholars are not often trained to do.
“Deanna Reder gave me the name ‘archive ninja’ based on this work, which is something I’m very proud of,” Shield says. “I love researching and I have a knack for being able to find things. I’m very persistent.”
After Halfbreed’s lost text was recovered, Shield and Reder visited Campbell, then 78, at her home in Saskatoon and presented her with scans of the missing pages.
“We were sitting at her kitchen table and she was overcome with emotion,” Shield says. “She hadn’t seen those pages in 45 years and for all intents and purposes she believed they no longer existed. Publisher Jack McClelland told Campbell he had destroyed the two excised pages to protect her. But that evidently wasn’t the case.”
Halfbreed was rereleased in November 2019 and contained the missing passage discovered by Shield, who found it surreal to be acknowledged in the new edition. The scanned pages can be read in a Canadian Literature article where Shield and Reder discuss the find.
“Maria Campbell has been such an important figure for so many years and Halfbreed has been continuously taught at universities and colleges,” Shield says. “Being able to see the positive impact of research on allowing her to republish this text the way that she had intended is such a moment of celebration for Indigenous women’s writing in Canada.”