Pacific Rim Review of Books

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The Sasquatch at Home

review by Trevor Carolan

The Sasquatch at Home
Eden Robinson
Univ. of Alberta, 2011

Since 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.

And 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.

Trevor Carolan is the international editor for the PRRB.