Montreal-based Innu poet Maya Cousineau-Mollen published her first book in French, “Bréviaire du matricule 082,” with Éditions Hannenorak, this past fall. Her powerful collection, which has already sold out of its first print run and is going into a second edition, explores anger, identity, allyship, homelessness, and the realities facing Indigenous women.
“I’ve been inspired by what has happened in my life. The dark chapter of colonization touched me – my Innu mother was in Residential School, and through my adoption, I’m a product of the Sixties Scoop,” says Cousineau-Mollen. “I experienced a loss of my culture and language and as a result, identity issues, the anger I had inside me needed to find a way to get out and it was through poetry.”
Poetry is a relationship, a means to translate, transmit, connect, and heal. Cousineau-Mollen writes for her nation, allies, her family, and the men she has loved. Her poetry practice is part of her survival, and in turn, her ability to thrive. Cousineau-Mollen writes in the Metro, when she walks, or travels on her cell phone, and sometimes on pen and paper. She started writing at the age of 14, and for Cousineau-Mollen, reading and writing has been a way to straddle her two worldviews. To develop and understand both herself, and others, where she comes from and where she is going.
“I was stuck in two worlds who didn’t know each other so well, so books were my friends, and I read a lot of European culture and history, so French became an ally,” she says. “I love the French language – there are so many words. I’ve started to use some words from the Innu Aimun, our language.”
As a proud Innu woman from Nitassinan, Cousineau-Mollen’s poetry embodies resilience, and how the impact of colonization has affected Indigenous peoples, and First Nation women in particular. Inspired by Quebec singers Richard Seguin and Luc de La Rochelliere, her work is rooted in love, emotion, and change. For Cousineau-Mollen, who is an established voice in Innu poetry, and was also published in Amun, a literary collection of Indigenous writers, her community work is on and off the page. She works at EVOQ Architecture in Montreal as an Inuit and First Nations Community Development Advisor, and is part of the Wolf Street Patrol to help homelessness.
When asked to touch on the themes that inform her work, Cousineau-Mollen notes anger as generative because “it’s an emotion that every Indigenous person can feel inside, especially with all the traumatic events that we went through.” Identity is also central to her poetics, and that crisis, healing, and suffering are points of intersection. Poetry is a place to reclaim, honour, and make space for the rights of Indigenous women to see “ourselves as desirable and sensual, to get over this Christian point of view, and guilt of being sexual.”
Poetry is a practice – a place to question history, to be curious, and shift perspectives. Cousineau-Mollen’s book “Bréviaire du matricule 082,” is personal, political, and instrumental to us moving forward as Indigenous and non-Indigenous relations.