For three years, Naomi Fontaine taught French at the high school in Uashat, an Innu reserve very close to Sept-Îles. Her classes abounded with brilliant, captivating teenagers. They were inspiring models of resilience.
By Alexandra Duchaine
“My students faced seemingly insurmountable odds, difficulties which adults wouldn’t be able to get around. But they were tough, and they always found the tools to emerge even better than before,” Fontaine says.
Through her second novel Manikanetish, she hopes to put into words the courage and the strength of Uashat’s teens.
“I want to pay homage to the young Innus of the North Shore” says the young writer. “I want them to see, through my work, that they should be proud of who they are.” Herself an Innu, Fontaine left Uashat as a child.
Homage to Young People
In her novel, Fontaine has used some of her interactions with the students of Manikanetish, the high school where she taught. The reader discovers the daily, obstacle-filled lives of a small group of teens. We meet Marc, Mikuan, Myriam, and Mélina, among others, who face racism, poverty, and unplanned pregnancies. They survive the suicide of a close friend, as well as the tragic deaths of two others.
The pain these fictitious characters experience is far from being exaggerated. “In Uashat, life isn’t easy,” says Fontaine. “I have to share the obstacles these teens face, and bring them before the eyes of the world,” argues the master’s in literature student at the Université Laval. All the characters and circumstances are based in reality.
Not All Dark
The young Innus who have read Manikanetish see themselves in the book’s pages.
“They’re satisfied and proud of my portrayals,” says Fontaine. The tableau is realistic, but not at all dark.
The Innus at the centre of the novel are intelligent, hard-working, committed, creative and passionate. They keep on with their studies even if nothing is going right at home. They get involved at school, and put on a big play. They dream of a bright future, of leaving the reserve to become nurses, and roll up their sleeves in the quest for better days.
Manikanetish reveals a united, tight-knit Innu communitywhere love abounds.