Poetry in Motion: Natasha Kanapé Fontaine's Land of Women
June 21, 2016
On this National Aboriginal Day, we shine our poetry spotlight on a 25-year-old Pessamit Innu poet making major waves:
Natasha Kanapé Fontaine and her newest collection, Assi Manifesto (Mawenzi House Publishers). Her celebration and reclamation of the Innu land for women in Assi Manifesto "[names] this world on the boundaries of the personal and the colossal."
Natasha Kanapé Fontaine continues her lyrical treatise on the land and Innu identity in Assi Manifesto. First published in French by Memoire d’Éncrier as Manifeste Assi in 2014,
Assi Manifesto is a celebration of the Innu land, engaging with the environment, colonialism, anxiety, healing, solitude and love. Using short verse and surrealist style, Fontaine reclaims the land as a land of women. Assi is the land dreamed of by these women and men who seek in their chants the words dignity, hope and freedom.
Among the dying trunks of the Land I will offer my heart to Assi
She will be my mother my wealth my reason to live my dirty drug my undrinkable liquor my restorative tea
—Natasha Kanapé Fontaine, from Assi Manifesto. Translated by Howard Scott.
Born in 1991 in Baie-Comeau, Natasha Kanapé Fontaine is Pessamit Innu. Slam poet, painter, actor and indigenous rights activist, Natasha is prominent in the provincial slam scene and has been dubbed the territorial slammer. She figured on Radio-Canada’s Plus on est de fou, plus on lit! list of ten young writers to watch.
Her first book of poetry, N’entre pas dans mon âme avec tes chaussures, was published in 2012 by Memoire d’encrier, and published as
Do Not Enter My Soul in Your Shoes in English in 2015 by Mawenzi House Publishers. Like Assi Manifesto, Do Not Enter is a cry from the heart, shouting in a single voice for both revolution and love. Natasha’s background as a slam poet is on full display. She writes with an economy of language that paints vivid pictures, filled with emotion.
Her poems also illustrate her committed to the Idle No More movement and activism as an Innu woman. In an interview with Indian Country, Natasha discussed how she uses her poetry to “[transcend] the gap between generations.” She says: "With my poetry I bring back the reality of our existence in society, declaring that we have a space, and we will take it. I do not call that “integration,” because it sounds like a reference to a colonialist mind-set. I am Innu, not Canadian or Quebecoise. My history is ancient. I have a heritage."
Natasha and mentor Joséphine Bacon, along with fellow Innu poet Naomi Fontaine, were invited to read at the Edinburgh Book Festival in 2015, in collaboration with three Scotland-based poets. Watch below to see Natasha read from Do Not Enter My Soul in Your Shoes, for the first time in English.
Of Natasha's brilliant voice, La Presse's Mario Cloutier says: “Natasha Kanapé Fontaine is already playing an important role among the men and women who are naming this world on the boundaries of the personal and the colossal. Nothing seems to frighten her in this quest for identity. Her quiet determination can be read in her eyes and in her burning words."
Many thanks to Sabrina at Mawenzi House for sharing Assi Manifesto with us.
All Lit Up is produced by the Literary Press Group and LitDistCo. LPG and LitDistCo acknowledge the financial support of the Department of Canadian Heritage, the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Ontario Arts Council.
All views expressed by bloggers and contributors to the All Lit Up blog are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of All Lit Up or the Literary Press Group.
All Lit Up acknowledges we are hosted on the lands of the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishinaabeg, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wendat. We also recognize the enduring presence of all First Nations, Métis and the Inuit people, and we are grateful to have the opportunity to meet and work on this territory.