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Colonialist Suppression Of Sacred Haisla Spirituality

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Indigenous writing of fiction means to explore several contemporary perspectives and shine light on the tragedies brought by Eurocentric virtues. The novel, Monkey Beach, written by Eden Robinson, takes place in a Haisla community named Kitamaat Village on the coast of British Columbia, Canada. Robinson focuses on a contemporary Haisla family and their societal outlook shaped by Euro-Canadian activity. The narrator and protagonist, Lisamarie Hill, possesses a sacred, Indigenous gift that ostracizes her from the accepted west coast colonial belief system. The novel scrutinizes the detrimental impact of settler-colonial activity on the characters views and behaviours through Lisamarie’s coming of age story battling the struggle of individualism. Colonial influence has created a lasting negative impact on the understanding and acceptance of sacred spiritual gifts, in Indigenous culture, contrasting the ideal normalcy; causing a conflict of self-identity and a sense of betrayal.

Lisamarie has struggled to fit in amongst a domineering western society and tries to erase as much of her true self to be “normal”. Lisamarie has a spiritual gift that has been dismissed by mainstream society due to a lack of the remembrance of Haisla culture in her family. She discovers that she can see ghosts and spirits but is rejected by those heavily shaped by Eurocentric ideology. She doubts her visions and premonitions and plays them off to be figments of her imagination. On a family trip to Monkey Beach, Lisamarie encounters a b’gwus and handles the intimidation with scepticism; believing that it was a hallucination due to the brief time she witnessed the creature. Lisamarie convinces herself a mythical being such as the b’gwus could not exist and expresses her fear of standing out if she were to share her eyewitness accounts on Monkey Beach; “I cringed when I imagined myself telling people I’d seen a b’gwus. They’d snicker about it the way they did when Ma-ma-oo insisted they were real” (17). Afraid of ridicule, Lisamarie doesn’t share her encounter with others. [ADD A FEW MORE SENTENCES TO WRAP UP] Forced adoption of a colonialist mindset prohibits Lisamarie from embracing her Haisla roots.

It is said that Lisamaries’ great-grandmother was a medicine woman with a very strong connection to the spiritual world. Ma-ma-oo talks of her admiringly stating that she was “a real medicine woman” and could “really dance” and “made beautiful songs” and how everyone went to her if they wanted to contact the dead (154). This was decades upon decades before any colonialism reached the Haisla community since the use of such abilities was marvelled at and would likely be the role Lisamarie would fill upon the passing of each generation. Lisamarie reclaims and reconstructs Haisla culture by communicating with the spiritual world. A large contributor of the misinterpretation of Lisamaries’ gift comes from her parents, Albert and Gladys Hill, and their perception of Haisla belief having a mythological context. The lack of acceptance from Lisamaries’ parents, more specifically her mother, makes her feel isolated in her own family. Gladys tries to consolidate Lisamarie by saying “everyone had bad dreams and not to be scared of them” and “some dreams feel very real” after Lisamarie had encountered spiritual guides (21). At first, it seems as though Gladys is attempting to comfort her; however, it later becomes apparent that she was acknowledging what Lisamarie was seeing and was choosing to ignore it. Later in the novel, Lisamarie is told by Ma-ma-oo, her grandmother, that Gladys shares the gift and her side of the family “had it strong” explaining why Lisamarie feels so connected to her Haisla roots in a tension-filled circumstance of cultural identity (153). The discovery in the truth that her mother had shrugged off everything to be a dream when she knew it was something else made Lisamarie feel exceptionally betrayed by someone that was supposed to help her through strife. Perhaps Gladys was trying to deceive herself of fiction when it came to her visions due to her subconscious repression of forced disconnection to Indigenous spirituality gained from the outlawing of Haisla practices in her childhood.

Lisamaries’ sacred gift has been misinterpreted by a Eurocentric Canadian society to be a mental illness. Lisamaries’ loss of family members Mick and Ma-ma-oo, communication with ghosts, premonitions, sexual assault, and forthcoming substance abuse has made her believe she is going crazy within herself. After sleepwalking regarding a near-death drowning, Lisamarie is sent to the hospital and forced to attend therapy where she encounters the question “do you think… that maybe these ghosts you dream about aren’t really ghosts, but are your attempt to deal with death?” (Robinson 273). This questioning upon analysis of Lisamarie clearly illustrates the psychologist, Ms Jenkins’, view of the inferiority of her patient’s identity; a young Indigenous female and chooses to manipulate her reality. The reasoning behind the questioning does not consider any paranormal legitimacy since westernization rejects spirituality and does not believe that it has enough concrete evidence to establish any strong belief. Reinforcing Lisamarie’s insecurity, Ms. Jenkins proceeds to ask, “are you sure?” after she admitted to believing in ghosts. Not wanting to go further with feeling interrogated and peculiar, Lisamarie retires to the doctor’s proposal and insinuation that she is acting out for attention, to which Ms. Jenkins replies “I’m sure that with a little work, you’ll be back to normal in no time”, solidifying the strength of westernization on minority cultures (274). Lisamarie’s ability to see ghosts and spirits has deemed her delirious and pathological, when in fact, the gift’s meaning was lost in translation through the lack of Haisla teachings.

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Colonialism in Monkey Beach can be observed through the actions of Lisamarie’s biological parents. Both characters had grown up in a time when Indigenous culture and practices had gained the misinterpreted image of Satanist and were outlawed, effectively implanting fear of holding onto pieces of their Native culture. Teachings that are traditionally passed down, orally, through generations have been dubbed just stories that have no factual substance nor a lesson to be learned. The story of the b’gwus has multiple ways of being expressed and gets passed down in the Hill family. The introduction of the b’gwus comes from Albert telling his children, Lisamarie and Jimmy, a story that his father had told him. It becomes clear that there are multiple versions of the story as Ma-ma-oo interjects with “that’s not how it happened” and proceeds to tell it less gruesomely (9). Looking back at the memory, Lisamarie expresses that she and her brother enjoyed their father’s version better. Lisamarie taking joy in her father’s variation with sound effects, compared to the more ‘realistic’ portrayal of the tale, presents a case of manufacturing for entertainment; emphasizing the lost intent of the legend. Editing the legend for entertainment purposes emphasizes the lost intent and significance that colonialism ripped away from the Haisla people as it is said “to really understand the old stories…you had to speak Haisla” (221).

The demonizing of Haisla culture created the tragic destruction of identity that deterred a generation of Indigenous children from remembering any important traditions or validity their culture held consequentially leading them down a colonialist path.

Looking for a connection and someone to idolize who may be able to help Lisamarie understand herself, Lisamarie results to rumours and approaches a woman called “Screwy Ruby”. Ruby is a character used to picture the way western society sees Indigenous people with spiritual gifts. She is described as a witch and like “a creature out of Grimm’s fairy tales”, only being appeased with spare change (188). The poor living conditions in which Ruby survives can be used as a demonstration of western society’s hierarchy; manipulating minorities to submit to the domineering desire of total control for a better life compared to those who oppose authority. Lisamarie attempts to contact Ruby by explaining her experiences with the supernatural. Seeming to comprehend Lisamarie’s recounting, Ruby responds with “you’re a bad girl” (189). It’s a startling and unexpected retort, why would someone with the reputation that Ruby has call a child “bad”? Simply put, this is Robinson’s way of pushing the colonial view of good and bad onto young Lisamarie. Lisamarie childishly throws insults, in retaliation, at the so-called “witch” exclaiming her reputed delusions. “Pot calls me black” is repeatedly referenced at the end of the interaction, thoroughly implanting the psychological colonialist viewpoint in Lisamarie’s head that her abilities are wrong (189). The phrase “pot calls me black” is a continuation of segregation of Lisamarie from her community and is predicting a future possibility of the spreading of rumours against Lisamaries’ favour of witchcraft, becoming a figure like Ruby. The behaviour and social segregation of Ruby deters Lisamarie from expressing and pursuing her gift publicly in fear of turning into Ruby; the manifestation of western rejection to consecrated Haisla practices.

Monkey Beach forces readers to contrast their ideology and normalcy to historical Indigenous concepts seen through the eyes of a young, Indigenous, woman experiencing crisis within herself and her community. Writing the novel in this perspective highlights the aftereffects through generations of the impact of Euro-Canadian activity and the attached discernment. Had there not been any colonial interference in Indigenous culture, Lisamarie would have grown up feeling indifferent and understood what her gift meant and how to properly and safely use it.

“it’s just a story” (9)

Works Cited

  1. Castricano, Jodey. “Learning to Talk with Ghosts: Canadian Gothic and the Poetics of Haunting in Eden Robinson’s ‘Monkey Beach.’” University of Toronto Quarterly, vol. 75, no. 2, Spring 2006, pp. 801–813. EBSCOhost,
  2. Robinson, Eden. Monkey Beach. Toronto, Knopf Canada, 2000, pp. 9-274

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Colonialist Suppression Of Sacred Haisla Spirituality. (2022, February 18). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 4, 2023, from
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