Sunday, December 02, 2012

Eden Robinson: Nuyem

The Haisla concept of nuyem, or the handing down of protocols, suggests a universal pursuit common to all centers of cultural production. In the case of Eden Robinson, it refers to the customs of the Haisla from the Kitamaat territory of B.C.'s northern coast. Nearby Kitimat also happens to be the area where the Enbridge Pipeline Project wants to set up shop.

Protocols can take on many different forms and lurk beneath the most innocuous of intentions. Enbridge and the Harper government suggest the pipeline will be a boon to the economy and transform Canada for the better. The so-called benefits will create a legacy that will sustain future generations. As for any local protocols, however, only the strong can survive. In The Sasquatch at Home: Traditional Protocols and Modern Storytelling, Robinson provides a response:
“As clear and complete as we want this discussion of our nuyem to be, it is important to recognize that the Old People realized that some things cannot be shared. This was and remains a way of preserving our culture. In times past, it was recognized that whatever the missionaries knew about our culture, they tried to suppress. The less they knew, the safer our traditions remained. Nowadays, we simply realize that there are aspects of our traditional perspective and values that non-Haislas would never be able to understand.”
(Roy Henry Vickers)
This strategy of exclusion, one limited to the Haisla community and those close to it, is seen as essential for their survival. Any "Canadian" protocols, such as those advocated by Harper or Enbridge, are simply neoliberal economic assumptions - other forms of cultural imperialism - masquerading as national virtues. For me, someone sympathetic to the Haisla nuyem but outside their community, I wonder how any strategy that concludes the "other" is beyond understanding is sustainable in the long run. As Robinson realizes after taking her mother on a trip to Graceland:
“You should not go to Graceland without an Elvis fan. It’s like Christmas without kids – you lose that sense of wonder...In each story was everything she valued and loved and wanted me to remember and carry with me. This is nusa."
This "nusa," this way of teaching, is a conversation I want to be a part of, yet I know that history stands in the way. Can it be undone?

No comments:

Post a Comment