So You Girls Remember That

Memories of a Haida Elder

Reviewed by Nancy Payne

Posted March 8, 2023

It’s impossible to imagine reading this vibrant history based on recorded memories without wishing you could have met Nora Bellis. The Haida woman, as hilarious as she is insightful, lived from 1902 to 1997 and fairly jumps off the pages as someone you’d love to have had tea with.

In her distinctive speaking style, Bellis describes a life lived close to nature, moving with the seasons: “Ladies were catch more fish than the mens, real big spring salmon,” she says of fishing off northern Haida Gwaii, B.C. Bellis lost her Indian status when she married a white man and moved just a few kilometres to a different world — the male-dominated settler community of New Masset, B.C.

Despite facing racism and her husband’s unreliability, she carried on, cutting fishermen’s hair and selling them socks she had knit “While I was waiting for the tide come in working away so I don’t get too cranky.” She baked legendary Parker House rolls, worked in a cannery, fixed appliances, and did whatever she could to support her six children.

So You Girls Remember That was compiled and edited by Jenny Nelson as the culmination of a project initiated by Bellis’s now deceased son Charlie Bellis and friend Maureen McNamara. The book is infused with Bellis’s love of music, her Christian faith, and her refusal to let anything get her down for long — not to mention her bluntly salty tongue.

Historical information, words to Haida songs, excerpts from other interviews, and tidbits from sources such as Indian agents’ letters and newspaper accounts, complement Bellis’s stories without overpowering them.

Black-and-white photographs depict key places and people, including Bellis sporting some of the tams she loved to crochet for herself and to give away. Royalties from the book support Rediscovery T’aalan Stl’ang, a youth program focusing on nature and on Haida culture and history on Haida Gwaii.

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This article originally appeared in the April-May 2023 issue of Canada’s History.

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