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Sasquatch at Home
by Trevor Carolan
Sasquatch at Home
of Alberta, 2011
publishing Monkey Beach, Eden Robinson has been one of Canada’s most engaging
writers. Nothing she publishes goes down easy. Yet to borrow from an old Redbone
line, if her books are heavy as a ton of lead, she never makes the mistake of
taking herself too seriously—just like Dr. Coyote. Her home range is the
Heiltsuk and Haisla First Nations territories ranging from the central to northern
B.C. coast, a huge, wild chunk of the map from Bella Bella up to Kitimat (that’s
roughly from bottom of the Alaska Panhandle, then halfway south to Vancouver).
Consider: towering conifers, the Coast Range peaks, grizzlies and salmon country.
Nobody writes with such authority from here as Robinson and from her first publications
she has never hesitated to throw a punch in telling what it’s like to grow
up aboriginal in B.C. in these parts, or in East End Vancouver. Her latest work
is flat out delicious reading, entertaining and informative at same time—I
mean, who wouldn’t want to know more about the Sasquatch? Sub-titled “Traditional
Protocols & Modern Storytelling”, the book comprises Robinson’s
presentations for the Henry Kreisel Lecture Series at the University of Alberta
in Edmonton. Part one begins with the magic of names and naming among Robinson’s
people. Important business because you can’t potlatch or attend certain
feasts without one. Robinson talks to her Ma-ma-oo, grandmother, and learns her
real name means “Biiiiiig Lady.” That brings up matrilineality and
how mom met dad: “My father was a hottie and all the girls wanted to dance
with him...” Somehow, that leads to the hard-to-define Heiltsuk concept
of nusa. It seems odd to morph straight to a week in Memphis with her mom, where
they visit Elvis Presley’s Graceland home which Mrs. Robinson has yearned
to see, but that’s the way of it. Storytelling, wonder, history, Elvis.
Suddenly we get an inkling about what nusa might really mean. Like James Brown,
when it comes to modern days storytelling Robinson’s got a brand new bag.
In the Kitlope
Heritage Conservancy area at Douglas Channel, Robinson turns up more stories by
inquiring into the vanishing oolichan candlefish runs. Once they ran so thick
in springtime rivers here that even immigrant kids could kick them up onto shore
with bare feet. Now they’re a focus for stark contemplation: “thousands
of years of tradition dying with my generation.” You don’t need to
come from B.C. to feel a lump in your throat when Robinson talks this way. You
can see and feel the elders standing around her. Mea maxima culpa.
the mysterious Sasquatch? “These were large, hairy creatures that were reported
occasionally in the Q’waq’waksiyas shoreline area just above Bishop
Bay” Robinson reports; “and for that reason it is known as Monkey
Beach. These Bekwis have come to be called Sasquatches or ‘stick men' elsewhere...” Oh boy, who doesn’t get a little chill at the back of
the neck when the Sasquatch might be around, usually just beyond the reach of
urban imagination? That’s Robinson’s method—righteous storytelling,
straight from the heart. With this new one, Robinson further cements her place
as a national treasure.
Carolan is the international editor for the PRRB.