The point is to make Indigenous languages and cultures in Canada, bizarrely, less foreign and more familiar to young readers. It’s part of a global movement to save Indigenous languages from extinction, an effort that’s having a bit of a moment.
Are sales of translations at an all-time high? Are national newspapers spotlighting new books from Quebec and profiling the hottest Quebec talent more than ever? Are Christian Guay-Poliquin and Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette household names outside of the province? The short answer is that, with column inches, shelf space, and readers’ attention spans all in short supply, I don’t believe that French-to-English translation is experiencing quite the surge in attention that some people might think, although numbers are frustratingly hard to come by.
This past fall I was invited to read at Salon du livre des Premières Nations in Wendake First Nation. At first, I was hesitant to go. Not because I wasn’t honoured by the invitation, but because I wondered if I was Indigenous enough. At moments, I questioned whether I was even poet enough.
Princess Diana had just died. The internet was barely a thing. I’m not sure there were websites yet. The word Amazon called to mind a river, not an information technology behemoth. Grunge was over and something called electronica was being touted as The Future. Yes, things were different in the fall of 1997, no less so in Montreal.
The word “millennial” doesn’t mean anything anymore. Although the new 30 Under 30 collection, published by In/Words Magazine and Press, describes itself as “an anthology of Canadian millennial poets,” it seems more interesting to me to think of it as a compilation of poems by digital natives living in cities all across Canada, whose birth years happen to range from 1987 to 1993.