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Beatrice Mosionier

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Author Profiles

Forty years on, In Search of April Raintree remains a groundbreaking novel

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Métis author Beatrice Mosionier’s best-known work In Search of April Raintree. The novel candidly deals with Indigenous experiences of sexual assault, suicide, and alcoholism, and follows the lives of sisters April and Cheryl as they are separated from their birth family and placed in foster care. April can pass for being white, and believes that acceptance in society can only come by distancing herself from her past. Cheryl, on the other hand, is not afforded this “luxury,” and contends with the worst that a hostile society presents to a marginalized woman of colour. 

“For me, politics has always been interesting because it’s a part of your life no matter who you are or what you do,” Mosionier tells me over the phone. “The politics of the day control your life to a certain extent.”

The novel has never gone out of print since it was originally published by Pemmican Publications (a non-profit affiliate of the Manitoba Métis Federation) in 1983, and has sold more than 100,000 copies to date. To commemorate the landmark anniversary, HighWater Press – an imprint of Winnipeg-based Portage & Main Press – is reissuing In Search of April Raintree this month, in a new edition accompanied by testimonials about the novel’s impact.

Writers who have offered their critical perspective as jacket blurbs include poet Rosanna Deerchild, the Honourable Murray Sinclair, the former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, and author David A. Robertson, who describes the novel as a “vitally important work within the landscape of Canadian literature.”

Filmmaker Raven Sinclair has written the afterword and Governor General’s Award–winning Red River Métis writer katherena vermette has penned a new introduction to the book, extolling the virtues of representation that Raintree offered to Indigenous readers encountering it for the first time: “I never even expected a book to be about someone like me. I never thought Winnipeg and Métis or other Indigenous people at all would ever be in a book, never mind an important one.” 

Mosionier admits that she did not have a political agenda in writing the book beyond being true to her experiences living in Manitoba. “People would tell me that I’d written their stories, but I just wrote what I knew at the time. It just happened to be a good story.”

“I went to a conference once and one of the people there said that if you are born Native, then you are born political,” Mosionier says, describing the climate in which Raintree was released. “I didn’t agree with that at first, but over time, you can’t do work in the Indigenous community and not see the necessity to try to be useful.”

HighWater Press publisher Catherine Gerbasi is overseeing the anniversary edition. She believes that it resonated with Indigenous and non-Indigenous readers alike because it described experiences that, at the time, were simply not spoken about. “It helped young people understand what their mothers, fathers, and aunties might have lived through and perhaps why they remained silent.”

“It gave a voice to forced assimilation, racism, the legacy of residential schools, the foster care system, and missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls,” Gerbasi says. “But it also provided a formidable way forward. Be proud of your heritage, embrace ancestral traditions and knowledge, advocate for social justice and equity.”

Gerbasi believes that these issues are more important today than ever, and that literature can be a formidable pedagogical tool in addressing social injustices. The novel has held a position of critical importance in the Manitoban education curriculum for decades. In 1984, an abridged version of the book known as the “high school edition” – which expunged a controversial rape scene – became a staple in English departments across the province.  

“There are so many different historical events in Manitoba that may have contributed to the adoption of Raintree in the Manitoba curriculum,” Gerbasi says. “In the last 10 years, across Canada, Indigenous history, knowledge, perspective, and literature are now mandated. Prior to that, it wasn’t.”

Manitoba has the largest Indigenous population per capita in Canada, and Gerbasi attributes the efforts of Murray Sinclair – who became the first Indigenous judge in Manitoba when he was appointed an associate chief judge in 1988 – in bringing issues surrounding Canadian Indigenous law and residential school survivors to prominence. It is probably why, she says, Manitoba’s education system reckoned with Indigenous history earlier than those in other provinces.

She cites Sinclair’s 1991 Aboriginal Justice Inquiry report, which examined the 1971 murder of Helen Betty Osborne in The Pas, as being particularly instrumental in “addressing institutions that are historically and systemically racist.” Gerbasi says that Mosionier’s writing has contributed to this important work, both in the realm of the literary arts and in political activism.  

“There is an overrepresentation of Indigenous children in care, and higher levels of Indigenous people are incarcerated,” Gerbasi says. “In Canada, Indigenous people experience higher poverty rates than other groups. I think that reading a book like In Search of April Raintree shows that what some people see as simply statistics are actually the result of institutionalized racism at the legal and political level. The story is also a way to educate and examine our own biases and beliefs as non-Indigenous people living on treaty lands.”

Regarding continuing efforts to decolonize Canadian institutions and deal with the major political questions society is currently facing, Mosionier is confident that the activists and writers who come after her are more than capable of rising to the occasion when it comes to combatting climate change or the erosion of democratic freedoms creeping into the country from south of the border. 

“I always think that people will meet the challenges once they recognize what they are,” Mosionier says. “The idea is for people to empower themselves personally first, and then they can do the things they need to do for everyone else.”

“I’m a loner, but I know darn well I’m not alone,” Mosionier says with defiance in her voice. “I didn’t do all these things by myself.”

l to r: katherena vermette and Beatrice Mosioner