- The Sasquatch at Home
My name is Eden Robinson. My mother is Heiltsuk1 from Bella Bella, and my father is Haisla from Kitamaat Village, both small reserves on the northwest coast of British Columbia. My maternal grandmother’s family was originally from Rivers Inlet. Since both sides of my family are matrilineal, my clan name should have come from my mother’s side and I should belong to the Eagle Clan. When I was ten years old, my father’s family decided to give my sister and me Beaver Clan names at a Settlement Feast for a Beaver Clan chief who had died a year earlier.
When a chief died, his body was embalmed in a Terrace funeral home and then he was brought back to his house, where he lay for at least three days, attended around the clock by family members, or people hired by his family, to keep him safe from harm as he rested in the living room. Community members paid respects by visiting him in his home and at his memorial. After the funeral itself, the Thank You Supper was held for people who had helped out emotionally, financially, and organizationally. After a year of planning and preparation, the family announced the date of the Settlement Feast and, finally, of the headstone moving. Modern feasts are truncated affairs lasting six hours at the most. Much of the dancing has gone, but the important dirges are sung, names are distributed and redistributed to clan members, and people from the community are gifted according to their status and involvement with the family. In general, headstone moving is considered an affair of the immediate family and close friends. Space in the graveyard is tight, and imposing yourself on the family’s grief is considered the height of rudeness.
You aren’t supposed to attend a feast or a potlatch without an Indian2 name, and since we were living in Kitamaat Village, my mother, though annoyed, agreed for the sake of convenience to let us become Beaver Clan. My younger sister and I received our names at the Settlement Feast. Towards the end of the evening, we were told to go and line up with other children receiving names. I mostly remember being embarrassed to stand in front of everyone and not have any idea what I was supposed to do. At the feast, one of my aunts told me that if I wanted to learn more about my name, I should go visit my grandmother, my ma-ma-oo (pronounced ma-MAH-ew). [End Page 80]
The next day, we went to Ma-ma-oo’s house. She told my sister that her name was Sigadum’na’x, which meant Sent Back Chief Lady. A long time ago, a marriage was arranged between a high-ranking lady from up the line and a Haisla chief. They fell deeply in love. Unfortunately, his four other wives became extremely jealous and kept trying to poison her. He couldn’t divorce them because they came from powerful families and insulting them in this way would mean, at the very least, nasty feuds. So despite his feelings, he decided to send his love back to her home. He couldn’t divorce her without causing her shame, so he made her a chief. I’ve since learned two other versions of the story behind my sister’s name, but I like this one the best.
“Wow,” I said when I heard the story. “What does my name mean?”
“Um, what else does it mean?”
Ma-ma-oo paused. “Biiiiiig lady.”
I paused. Names come loaded with rights and histories. Within the Beaver Clan, the name of The Chief of All Haislas (Jasee) is hotly contested and has started many family quarrels. My father is one of the younger sons of a high-ranking family, so my siblings and I receive noble names, but nothing that garners too much prestige and thus requires extensive feasting or that can get me into too much trouble. My name, Wiwltx°, was obtained through marriage and only given to women of noble birth, so it suggests a high rank. I was...