Inside the Australian and New Zealand book industry

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Melbourne City of Lit meets Quebec’s Librairie Hannenorak

In this series, run in partnership with the Melbourne City of Literature Office, we get to know some of the bookstores in the UNESCO Cities of Literature network. 

In 2009, Daniel Sioui opened Librairie Hannenorak in a house built by his grandfather. ‘[Daniel] decided to open a bookstore specialised in Indigenous books to help people to best understand our culture, to deconstruct the racial prejudices,’ explains Cassandre Sioui, co-owner of Hannenorak and Daniel’s spouse. ‘I joined him in 2010, while continuing my master degree in literature.’

‘Hannenorak is one of very few Indigenous-owned bookstores in North America. It is the only one in the province of Quebec, as well as the only one situated on a First Nation community,’ says the Quebec City UNESCO City of Literature Office.

‘We are located in the old town of Wendake, an Indigenous community which is located a stone’s throw from Quebec City,’ explains Sioui. ‘This part of the community was established 300 years ago.’

Their goal is to make Indigenous literature more accessible, and they go about this in a number of ways. In addition to being a bookstore Hannenorak also is a publisher with a focus on Indigenous authors.

‘Hannenorak developed a high quality catalogue of poetry, essays, plays, novels and children’s literature, mostly in French but also in English and in Indigenous languages,’ the Quebec City UNESCO City of Literature Office explains. ‘Hannenorak contributes to Quebec’s culture in a very significative way, both by encouraging reading, by offering publishing opportunities to writers and translators and by contributing to many literary events in the city.’

They also host events including book launches and discussions, as well as taking part in pow-wows. ‘Every year in our community of Wendake, a pow-wow is organised during the summer,’ explains Sioui. ‘A pow-wow is gathering people from all the First Nations of the province of Quebec and it’s a time of celebration. There are traditional dances with traditional cloth, music, good food! A lot of tourists from around the world—before the pandemic—come to this event, and this is the occasion to make known First Nations’ culture and literature.’

Over the past 12 years things have shifted a bit for Hannenorak, both in their specialty and in their location. In 2019 they moved to a bigger premises—though in the past this location too was owned by another Sioui family. Having a larger space meant they had the opportunity to increase and expand their inventory, and so they widened their focus, while still keeping the largest selection of Indigenous books in the area.

‘Even if we’re not specialised anymore, we continue to offer a wide range of Indigenous books,’ says Sioui. ‘Daniel and I are two Wendats, one of the 11 First Nations that we find in the province of Quebec, and are really proud to make known our culture. You can find those books in the entrance of the bookstore, posted well in view.’ 

One of the strangest requests they’ve had at Hannenorak was when a customer asked them to help find his totem animal. When asked how they responded to this, Sioui says, ‘I’ve tried to explain that in our First Nations in Quebec, we don’t really [have] this kind of esotericism. It’s more derived from a folklore, like with Western movies with stereotyped figure of the “Indian”. The animals more belong to ceremony, clans (for example, I’m belonging to bear’s clan), hunt with respect, etc.’

Asked what customers have said they like about the store, Sioui replies that one of the biggest pieces of feedback Hannenorak gets is how people value the exchanges and discussions that happen in the store, and that it’s ‘a warm environment, where you can find some books that are unavailable elsewhere’. As to what she loves most about the store, her answer is straightforward and extremely relatable: ‘I have the chance to read books for work and I love that!’



Category: Features