The titular animal tells us immediately which Canada Jean Delisle is writing about in this book. This is the Canada of the fur trade—of wilderness toil, wilderness commerce, and wilderness ordeals. His 13 chapters are portraits of 15 colonial-era interpreters ordered chronologically from the 16th to the 19th centuries. And their work did have a component of wilderness ordeal, as most of them became survivalists at some point in their service to venture capitalists and out-posted governors and Jesuits. Many were experienced woods people—hunter-trappers, scouts, guides, and voyageurs. Some were soldiers, mercenaries, prisoners, or slaves. Some were anti-heroes—sympathetic racketeers, confidence men, thieves, even assassins. Delisle reminds us that explorers and colonial authorities used interpreters to communicate with Indigenous peoples, and that these interpreters were themselves First Nations, Inuit, Métis, or European. The First Nations, Inuit, and Métis among them begin in 1534 with Domagaya and Taignogany, the two Iroquoian interpreter-guides for Jacques Cartier. After a jump to the late 17th century we read about Métis interpreter Élisabeth Couc (later Isabelle Montour), who worked for Lamothe Cadillac in Fort de Buade (or Fort Michillimakinac, present-day Michigan) and for Robert Hunter in Albany after her relationship with the French soured. In the early 18th century is the story of Thanadelthur, the Chipewyan interpreter who was a diplomat to the Cree for James Knight and the Hudson Bay Company. The 19th century is the last in Delisle’s scope, and here we have the portraits of Inuktitut interpreter Tattaneuk (the first two Franklin expeditions 1819-1821, 1825-1827); Kalaallisut and Inuktitut interpreters Tookoolito and Ebierbing (of the three Hall expeditions 1860-1873), and Blackfoot interpreter Jerry Potts, Alberta’s famous Métis frontiersman and Canada’s answer to Davy Crockett. The interpreters of European origin, for their part, begin in the early 17th century with Mathieu da Costa, who may very well have never set foot in New France. Étienne Brûlé follows as an interpreter of Algonquin, Huron, and other Iroquoian languages for Champlain and the Jesuits during the same time frame. Then from the late 17th to the early 18th centuries we find no fewer than five successive governors of New France employing interpreter, woodsman, fur trader, and explorer Nicolas Perrot—who had a number of languages from the upper-lakes tribes, as well as Siouan languages, and traded in the pays d’en haut far into the territories of the midwestern US. Following Perrot is military man Louis-Thomas Chabert de Joncaire, an interpreter of Iroquoian languages and factotum of Governor Vaudreuil in the early 18th century. Chief among his duties was disrupting trade between the Iroquois and the English in Albany. British interpreter John Long (late 18th century, American Revolution era) is the only pure adventurer of the lot. This self-styled interpreter of Ojibwe was one of the few to leave travel narratives or a biography of any kind, along with fellow Ojibwe interpreter John Tanner, who ranged between the Selkirk settlements (southern Manitoba), Fort Frances (Northwestern Ontario), and Sault Sainte Marie working for various fur companies in the early 19th century. The last portrait is of Jean L’Heureux, a confidence man and débauché who pretended to be a priest while traveling across country working for the Oblates and interpreting for the Blackfoot. Delisle situates his interpreters in the context of their professional activities before, during, and after their time with the employers who made them famous (and whom they helped make famous, as well). There is careful discussion about the languages that they spoke and about inter-personal dynamics with authorities. By and large, we get a picture of …
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