Every year down on Six at New Years you will hear folks greeting each other with a festive “Nu-yah! Nu-yah!”. For some it is just another rez term. Nobody knows where it originated from. Nor do they know why you have to say it twice: that’s just how it is and how it always was.
In the movie in my mind I imagine a couple of Ongwehowe hanging out in the village, just talking and drinking hot cedar tea. One of them is leaning on a walking stick. Across the road appear a couple of British soldiers dressed in wool and white curly wigs, still a little drunk from the New Year’s Eve party the night before. The pair of soldiers begin to wobble and shout out with a thick Monty Python accent, “Heppy Noo Yeahhh!” As the soldiers stumble away shouting into the sky, the Ongwehowe guys look at each other and just start laughing at how crazy that was. When they re-enact the hilarious scene at home to share the joy, they make everyone laugh even harder as they stumble about and mimic a bang on British accent crying out, “Nu-yah!”
But that is just my theory.
As with many rez terms, there also arises the issue of spelling. In the last few years some have rejected the phonetic ‘nu-yah’ in favor of ‘no:ia’; a more indigenous looking version of the phrase using the Henry Orthography from written Haudenosaune languages. Regardless of how you spell it, the day also brings one of the best of Six Nations traditions; ‘nu-yah-ing’. It only lasts from morning till noon, and is something like trick-or-treating. Typically people will make home baked goodies to hand out to children who come knocking at their door New Year’s Day shouting “Nu-yah! Nu-yah!”
For those of us who come from ‘hardcore bush’ families that usually meant getting all bundled up and walking down the road New Year’s morning, carrying a plastic bag. I grew up in a ‘nu-yah’ family. Every year my brothers, my little sister and I would race to meet up with our cousints; Stuboy, J.D. and Lumb. Immediately the competition was on! We would literally run down Sour Springs Road waking up the neighborhood in anticipation of the goodies. Each kid wanted to be the first one to get to the next house, bang on the door and shout out “Nu-yah! Nu-yah!” Of course as the oldest if I ran too far I would inevitably have to run right back again because my sister would be tagging along too far behind, crying her little eyes out. I didn’t mind though, she could only eat half a donut, which meant the other half was mine.
First stop was always Gramma Rovina’s. She would usually give us Indian cookies if she was home. Those precious little sweeties never made it into the bag at all. Next we’d run over to Alice Gibson’s just hoping she made Indian donuts. We’d also hope the hound dogs were tied up because it’s hard to outrun a bush dog in snowpants. Aunty Maida across the street would give us something good too like rice crispy squares or Oreos. There were other families less inclined to cook for ‘nu-yah’ and they passed out oranges or leftovers.
It was always fun to try and beat each other all the way to Aunty Betty’s house down by 69 Corners. She always handed out the good stuff and let us come in to warm up for a bit, then we’d head back down the way, stopping at the houses we knew and avoiding the ones that had too many cars in the driveway from the night before.
By the time we got home, all the Indian donuts were eaten up and what was left was usually a mush of cold orange peels, wet cookies and slices of Wonder Bread with mashed potatoes on top. Our noses would be runny and our cheeks wind chapped but we were the happiest kids on Sour Springs Road.
Editor’s note: This column along with the Indian Donuts recipe were published in previous issues of the Two Row Times. We thought they were both too good to keep locked up in the TRT archives so we brought them out for Nu Yah 2016.