Maya is an Innue from the Ekuanitshit Mingan community. Since arriving in Montreal in 2017, she works for an architectural firm, she is a poet, and she is part of the big family of PAQ by being a member of the Board of Directors.
She grew up near her community in an adopted family chosen by her birth mother. As a result, Maya lived a traditional adoption where the adopted family always stayed in contact with the birth family. She always knew where she came from. Her adoptive parents were able to give her the tools needed to prepare her for her life ahead.
When she was little, she remembers spending a lot of time at the beach, sitting around a camp fire, watching the sea and seeing whales offshore. She would visit her birth grandmothers, but it was difficult to establish a link because they did not speak the same language. Maya did not learn Innu-aimun, learning French instead. She also remembers some less happy situations, such as the difficulties experienced in the community and problems linked to alcoholism. She began to write during her teenage years and she never stopped, because that was a way of easing her identity torments. Maya was not finding her place in society and this led to suicide attempts. She was living between the two worlds, two realities, and felt rejected by both sides. She also lived her teenage years during the Oka crisis and this was difficult for a young Indigenous woman. “I lived my adolescence under the Oka crises, it builds your character if it does not destroy it.”
Maya studied at the Université Laval. However, it was difficult for her to find her voice because the university model is not adapted to Indigenous cultures. “When I arrived at the university, it was a big culture shock. I really had some difficult moments, but I made some friends. And I realized that I had to find my own way, my own school and career path.” Maya discovered that in her university journey she could rely on the help of a mentor, a person that help her to grow up in a society where she is not part of the dominant culture. “I think that being an Indigenous person who wants to evolve in this society and take her place, a mentor is essential. The role of a mentor is not to follow you step-by-step, but to give you the broad principles of life and some sound advice.”
Maya came to Montreal because of her job. In 2017, she was contacted by the architectural firm EVOQ. They wanted to create a job to include an Indigenous vision in their company. For Maya, this is excellent news that non-Indigenous companies and organizations are beginning to create links between different communities. “It’s like a wake-up call for non-Indigenous organizations to find people who are able to make links between the communities and the non-Indigenous people, solid links. And a challenge to find people who have the tact to live between the two cultures. It is not easy to find people like us.”
Upon arriving in Montreal, she felt a little lonely. When Indigenous people come to a big city, they know a little bit about the people of the community, but it is not always easy to live like them. Also, it is possible to have an insecure feeling in the city. In order to defeat this feeling, Maya needed to tame Montreal. She did it at first with the Wolf Pack, an organization that helps homeless people at night in the streets of the city.
Maya then heard about PAQ from a colleague at EVOQ and learned that the organization was looking for people, especially Indigenous people, to sit on its Board of Directors. Because of her interesting background as a poet and a woman involved in the Indigenous community of Montreal, PAQ asked her if she wanted to attend a meeting. As a result, by enjoying the food at the meetings of the Boards of Directors, (because “the food is really good!”), but more importantly by seeing different faces and the impacts that a Board of Directors can have on the community, Maya decided to get involved.
In her role at PAQ, she brings an Indigenous perspective to the issues PAQ is facing. In addition, as an Indigenous woman, she is remains involved on the ground with the Wolf Pack. She is involved in the Indigenous homelessness situation because she is really touched by the humanity that she found there. By working with the Indigenous community of Montreal “we gain a sensibility, we gain knowledge, we gain information that is for me priceless.”
For Maya, the mission and the values of PAQ should be better known to Montrealers. To build alliances between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, the short, mid-, and long-term housing projects, and the vital work and accompaniment accomplished by PAQ’s should be discovered.
Maya the poet would like to see her writing career continue to flourish as it has done recently. With the publication of her first book of poetry in September 2019 and an award for this same book in June 2020, she has a lot of other projects in the works. One of her artistic career goals is that her visibility will not only be useful for her but for others as well. “Because when I come home at night, my visibility is not very useful for me, but I can see that it can do something good for others.”
For the Indigenous community, she wants to avoid exclusion, both on Indigenous side and on the non-Indigenous side. She hopes that the Indigenous community will be able see its allies and not reject them. But mostly, she wants the community to be more visible in the city and the non-Indigenous population adapt to this presence, rather than the Indigenous community having to adapt. She also wishes more recognition for Indigenous people, for their stories and their contributions. Maya would like that Indigenous people try to “celebrate, a little, together, the fact that we are still here, that we never disappeared, and what we can bring to each other.”