Taylor Breckles wins the David and Mary Macaree Award

September 21, 2021

SFU's Centre for Scottish Studies congratulates Taylor Breckles, who is the 2021 recipient of the David and Mary Macaree Award. What follows is a summary of Taylor's project (in her own words) on the songs of the famous Gaelic poet, Màiri Mhòr nan Òran (Mary MacPherson) and Vancouver’s first Indigenous Poet Laureate, Christie Lee Charles:

Both of these artists performed in their traditional languages; in this case, Scots Gaelic and Musqueam (hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓). Although Màiri Mhòr is from the 19th century (1821-1898) and Charles from the 21st (Poet Laureate 2018-2021), there are connections between them that illustrate the relationship between colonial resistance and song. 

Both women represent cultures that have had language restrictions imposed upon them by colonial forces interested in assimilation, and their songs often contain messages related to colonial resistance.  

Popular among Scottish natives, Màiri Mhòr's poems often spoke to colonial issues, such as land reforms, encounters between British enforcers and Scottish natives, and other local issues. She performed in Gaelic in order to preserve the old ways of life (pre-colonization), but was only literate in English. Similarly, Charles writes about Musqueam cultural practices, negotiating her contemporary setting, and empowerment. She performs in Musqueam (hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓), but is a native English speaker. Significantly, both of these artists had to navigate within their traditional languages as neither of them were/are completely, natively fluent – orally or literately – in their traditional languages.Therefore, although these two artists are chronologically and geographically dissimilar, their works speak to a complex relationship between the past and the present as well as colonizer and colonized. Likewise, the apparent dissimilarity between the two artists serves to emphasize the presence of colonial resistance across multiple centuries and to demonstrate that colonization is not an issue of the past but rather continues to be a point of resistance in a contemporary setting.

The main focus of this project, however, is to establish a connection between colonized communities and resistance through song; in particular, to examine the reclamation of culture as it is expressed through song and through the languages that were condemned under colonialism. My primary methodological frameworks will be derived from Embodied Humanities, Print Culture theory, and Indigenous ways of knowing. To this end, I plan on taking this research further than the theoretical by learning Màiri Mhòr and Charles’s languages – Scots Gaelic and Musqueam (hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓) – in order to examine the lyrics as primary sources rather than as translated sources. The embodied experience of language learning and application will demonstrate the effect of embodied research on meaning-making and will demonstrate the Indigenous methodological practice which specifies an interconnectedness between the researcher and the research.  

The effects of colonization are long-lasting and ever-present. Examining the works of two songstresses impacted by colonization, but from two different periods in time, will challenge the popular tendency to divide the present and the past, to separate oral culture from other forms of literatures, as well as emphasize the importance of cultural reclamation across colonial periods.