By Naomi Fontaine
Read by Tim Nicholls Harrison
In Naomi Fontaine’s Governor General’s Literary Award finalist, a young teacher’s return to her remote Innu community transforms the lives of her students, reminding us of the importance of hope in the face of despair.
After fifteen years of exile, Yammie, a young Innu woman, has come back to her home in Uashat, on Quebec’s North Shore. She has returned to teach at the local school but finds a community stalked by despair. Yammie will do anything to help her students. When she accepts a position directing the end-of-year play, she sees an opportunity for the youth to take charge of themselves.
In writing both spare and polyphonic, Naomi Fontaine honestly portrays a year of Yammie’s teaching and of the lives of her students, dislocated, embattled, and ultimately, possibly, triumphant.
Naomi Fontaine is a member of the Innu Nation of Uashat and a graduate of the Université de Laval. Her first novel, Kuessipan, was made into a feature film that debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2019. Manikanetish is her latest novel published in 2021.
Tim Nicholls Harrison will read Manikanetish by Naomi Fontaine. Tim is the CEO / Chief Librarian at the Owen Sound & North Grey Union Public Library. He has worked there for over 33 years and is passionate about supporting our local communities and encouraging life-long learning. Tim enjoys spending time with family and friends, writing, reading, studying magic, sipping scotch and playing basketball. Friendly disclaimer: not all at the same time and some activities have been limited by the pandemic.
BY TIM NICHOLLS HARRISON FOR SOUTHGREY.CA — With award winning author, Naomi Fontaine as our knowledgeable and descriptive guide, travel with us to Uashat, over 1600 kilometres northeast of Grey County. Located above 50th parallel in Northern Quebec, Uashat is home to the once nomadic Innu. We will experience our visit via her protagonist Yammie, a young Innu woman returning to the community after fifteen years to teach at the First Nation high school of 200 students.
Uashat, located on the western outskirts of the City of Sept-Îles, is one sector of The Innu community of Innu Takuaikan Uashat mak Mani-Utenam (ITUM). The other sector, Mani-Utenam, is 16 kilometres east of Sept-Îles. There are approximately 3,000 Innu living in the two sectors. For comparison, the City of Sept-Îles which began when European explorers first visited the region has a population of approximately 26,000.
Uashat means bay. A short video explanation can be found at www.nametauinnu.ca, from Memory and knowledge of Nitassinan, a website where Innu elders pass on their skills and knowledge to younger generations.
Over the coming weeks, we will learn more about the geography and history of Uashat. We will discover the people and their lives through Yammie’s insights into her community, the students and their families. We will travel far with Naomi and Yammie, thousands of kilometres, to bring these lessons of sadness, hope, community and resiliency closer to us. Looking forward to the journey.
Stay tuned for the next instalment...