Nicola I. Campbell’s memoir, Spílexm, mixes poetry and prose to tell “stories to be remembered” about resilience

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Nicola I. Campbell is a Nłeʔkepmx, Syilx and Métis author from British Columbia. His stories weave cultural and territorial teachings focused on respect, endurance, healing and reciprocity.

She has written five children’s books including Stand like a cedar and Shin-chi canoe.

His latest book, Spílexm, is a thesis that reflects on the link between culture and family. Aimed at older readers, Spílexm mix of poetry, stories and letters to reflect on life experience and hard-fought wisdom. Spílexm means ‘stories to be remembered’ in the Nłeʔkepmx language and each story features the people, places and languages ​​that marked Campbell’s life.

Campbell, based in Sardis, BC, spoke with Shelagh Rogers about the writing Spílexm.

Why did you choose the word spílexm as a title for your book?

I didn’t know what to call it. The only thing that kept coming to mind was Spílexm because it’s a memory and these are all stories that we remember in poetry. It seemed appropriate. And I don’t have a fluent knowledge of my language – I know the words. So it was a word I knew.

The word spílexm was relevant because not all the events involved me. These were events my elders talked about, my family talked about and I wrote about.

After the success you have had with your children’s books, why did you choose to write this so personal book?

Well, it actually started happening over 25 years ago, parts of it had started coming together at the start of my writing. Some of my earlier poems are Salish dancer and poetry about the loss of my brother. And they weren’t intentionally part of a memoir when I wrote them.

It was really interesting because it was about a time that I don’t remember.

It wasn’t until my aunt handed me a stack of letters, completely at random, and said, “Oh, I found these letters your mother sent me when your father was still alive. “. She gave me these letters in pink envelopes. My mom spent a lot of time having beautiful handwriting, so the script on the envelopes left a mark on me. Unfolding all the letters was really interesting because it was about a time I can’t remember – when I was just a baby and learning to walk. Hearing these stories about my father had a huge impact on me.

Your father’s sister, writer Maria Campbell, is the last person you thank in your thanks. And you thank her for her courage. What did she give you?

She made me realize and understand as well as her memories of my father. My mother was in a very violent relationship when I was a child. Violence against women was so normalized back then. And I say that because when I was a kid there were so many incidents – I remember women walking around with black eyes and not knowing, as a kid, how wrong it was. to be exposed to this, to witness this aggression against women.

Hearing his voice as a young person gave me an awareness that I don’t think I would have had otherwise.

It took me a lot of tries to read Metis. I knew these were stories about my family and my father. But also her foreword, where she writes in that voice in the here and now – I’ve come to see it in a different light in our community.

It’s an understanding of what it means to be Indigenous – as well as Métis and also Nłeʔkepmx and Syilx in Canada. I came to understand Canada’s role in our lives, and it was a huge turning point for me. Hearing his voice as a young person gave me an awareness that I don’t think I would have had otherwise.

What inspired Stand like a cedar, your children’s book?

I wanted to write something that was in the here and now where I am in Stó: lō territory. My kids both liked I went for a walk and Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see? And I thought if I were to indigenize it, what would it look like and how would it feel? And the beat was in my head. Plus, it’s so much a part of who we are every day. This is how we live every day, all year round. We travel the earth, we harvest. Harvesting our country foods is not an option, it is how we live with the land.

So that was a big part of thinking about this and these questions. I remember my elders asking these questions. What did you see or hear? And these are innocent questions. But whenever the question came to my mind, I heard it in the voices of my elders.

You write about an elder who was a speaker at a language conference near Seattle – and he spoke about the power of words, and he had a lasting impact on you. Why did he say we have to be careful about the stories we tell?

What he is saying is that stories are a spirit and they are alive, and they use us as a vehicle. All we are is the voice that brings them to life and we need to take the time to think carefully about what we are saying.

It made me understand how stories can heal and how stories can hurt and how stories can open hearts and minds wherever they go.

It made me understand how stories can heal and how stories can hurt and how stories can open hearts and minds wherever they go.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


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