Who is Agnes, protagonist of Seeking the Center? Where did she come from? The short answer is, I don't know.
She's not autobiographical. I have never been as tough, as brave, or as smart-assed as she is. (I only wish I was!)
I've mentioned that she began, partly, as a question about being female in the overwhelmingly male world of ice hockey. And that's certainly true.
Ultimately, though, a lot of things entered into the mix that became Agnes's character. And while I will never uncover all of them, I can say that one major inspiration is the life of Maria Campbell, a Métis woman who persevered through extreme difficulties to become a writer, a teacher, a much-respected elder, and an advocate for Métis and women's rights.
Campbell was born in 1940 in Park Valley, SK, a poor Road Allowance community. (Unlike other Aboriginal groups, the Métis were not granted rights to land under treaties with the Canadian government, so many were forced to squat on "road allowances" - Crown lands set aside for future roadways.) At age 33 she wrote Halfbreed, an autobiography documenting her life up until that time. In Halfbreed, Campbell never shies away from the poverty, alcoholism, violence, addiction, racism, and sexism that she faced, but she nevertheless manages to portray some of the beauty of her Métis culture and the love that existed within her family, troubled though it may have been.
While devastating at times, Halfbreed remains a testament to the dignity and spirit that people can possess, nurture, and share in defiance of even the direst circumstances and the most heartless enemies. Campbell has this light within herself, and she also has the ability to find it, and to inspire it, in others. In spite of people who fail her, and circumstances that drag her down, she retains the ability to love and to trust others, and to parlay that love into something that can sustain and nourish.
Agnes doesn't experience the hardship and desperation that Campbell did, but she has the same light inside her. And in Seeking the Center, she learns to find it and use it, for her own good and for the good of others.