Where Smudg­ing Meets IKEA

Leanne Be­tasamosake Simp­son’s new novel re­claims Anishi­naabe cul­ture by weav­ing to­gether past and present, Kim Honey writes

ZOOMER Magazine - - CONTENTS -

Re­claim­ing Anishi­naabe cul­ture

What is the cure for white ladies? This novel and its beau­ti­ful prose, with sen­tences that take your breath away and lodge within you long af­ter the last page is turned.

It is in the bush, which is what noop­im­ing means in Anishi­naabe­mowin, the foun­da­tion of the book and the lan­guage of au­thor Leanne Be­tasamosake Simp­son’s na­tion, the Michi Saagiig Nish­naabeg, or Mis­sis­sauga Ojib­way.

The novel is an In­dige­nous an­ti­dote to the white ladies al­luded to in the ti­tle: Su­sanna Moodie and her sis­ter, Catharine Parr Traill, who set­tled with their hus­bands in south­ern On­tario in the 1830s on land that be­longs to the Michi Saagiig Nish­naabeg.

Its ti­tle refers to the 1852 book Rough­ing It in The Bush, Moodie’s sem­i­nal set­tler ac­count of the fam­ily’s un­suc­cess­ful at­tempt to clear land north of Peter­bor­ough, Ont., and im­pose a farm on the wilder­ness. A canon­i­cal text still taught in English classes across the coun­try, it has in­spired CanLit stal­warts from Mar­garet At­wood and her 1972 book of po­etry, The Jour­nals of Su­sanna Moodie, to Carol Shields, Ti­mothy Find­ley and Ce­cily Ross, who pub­lished The Lost Di­aries of Su­sanna Moodie in 2017.

Simp­son has al­ways had a “very complicate­d re­la­tion­ship” with Moodie’s book, with its “vi­o­lent and racist” de­pic­tions of Mis­sis­sauga Anishi­naabe and Black peo­ple as phys­i­cally and in­tel­lec­tu­ally in­fe­rior, which per­sist more than 150 years later.

“The idea that we are nat­u­rally less than our white coun­ter­parts con­tin­ues to pro­duce gen­er­a­tions of Na­tive youth that be­lieve they are,” the Michi Saagiig Nish­naabeg scholar writes in her 2017 book, As We Have Al­ways Done: In­dige­nous Free­dom Through Rad­i­cal Re­sis­tance.

Noop­im­ing is not a cri­tique of Moodie’s book but a re­ply to her “re­moval from the im­pact that was go­ing on at the time in terms of colo­nial­ism,” the au­thor said in a tele­phone in­ter­view from her home in Peter­bor­ough, ex­plain­ing that Anishi­naabe sto­ries have many lay­ers.

“My re­sponse to that was to in­vite readers into this con­tem­po­rary Mis­sis­sauga Anishi­naabe world that’s ex­ist­ing right along­side Toronto and Peter­bor­ough … and say, ‘This is what Su­sanna Moodie couldn’t see.’”

So Mindi­mooyenh, which means old wo­man in Anishi­naabe­mowin, spends 11 hours a day each De­cem­ber at the IKEA in North York, where they (all

char­ac­ters take they/them pro­nouns to be in­clu­sive), smudge in the park­ing lot be­fore they go in, sprin­kle tobacco in the rub­ber plants and wan­der the aisles in meditation, re­peat­ing “Gersby” and “Hemnes” over and over.

“I re­ally wanted the book to show an Anishi­naabe world … that isn’t of­ten seen or af­firmed or ap­pre­ci­ated out­side of Anishi­naabe peo­ple,” said Simp­son, a mem­ber of the Alderville First Na­tion, lo­cated about 30 kilo­me­tres north of Cobourg, Ont., on the south shore of Rice Lake.

The book be­gins with the nar­ra­tor, Mashkawaji, frozen in a lake. Their form dis­solved when “tragedy hap­pened again,” an oblique ref­er­ence to the trauma of col­o­niza­tion be­cause Simp­son didn’t want to re-trau­ma­tize In­dige­nous readers with de­tails.

The novel, which is writ­ten in prose, po­etry and short nar­ra­tives, jumps into the sto­ries of the seven char­ac­ters to whom Mashkawaji gives their phys­i­cal and meta­phys­i­cal parts: Aki­wen­zii, their will, lives on the re­serve but prefers a tent in the bush; Ni­naatig, a tree who rep­re­sents their lungs, pushes a shop­ping cart around the city that con­tains a Ma­son jar of soil “for emo­tional com­fort”; Mindi­mooyenh, their con­science, who has en­cy­clo­pe­dic knowl­edge of the sizes and prices of Cana­dian Tire’s blue plas­tic tarps; Sabe, their mar­row, a benev­o­lent big­foot crea­ture who roams the city look­ing af­ter lost souls; Adik, their ner­vous sys­tem, a cari­bou who wears a Fjäll­räven Kånken back­pack that con­tains spruce gum balm for their hooves, which al­ways hurt from trav­el­ling the city; a stone, Asin, who is their eyes and ears. Lucy, a hu­man who rep­re­sents their brain, con­stantly streams Star Trek on Net­flix when they are “trapped in the city.”

The novel ex­plores the theme of dis­pos­ses­sion – from the land and from cul­ture – at the heart of the post-colo­nial ex­pe­ri­ence.

Some of the char­ac­ters – like Aki­wen­zii, Sabe and Kwe – show up in Simp­son’s pre­vi­ous nov­els, Is­lands of De­colo­nial Love (which won the 2013 RBC Taylor Emerg­ing Writer Award) and 2017’s This Ac­ci­dent of Be­ing Lost, and on the singer­song­writer’s com­pan­ion al­bums like 2016’s f(l)ight.

Kwe gets the ad­jec­tive Bougie in this book be­cause they have a house in the city and a back­yard they ren­o­vate “to classy up the joint,” but then rac­coons move in and trash the place.

It is a metaphor for hu­mans im­pos­ing them­selves on na­ture and am­pli­fies the idea that there are worlds within worlds, but Simp­son said it is also about how dif­fi­cult it is for In­dige­nous peo­ple to live in the ur­ban set­tler world.

She hopes readers take the seeds of the ideas she has planted in the book and “think about them over time in dif­fer­ent con­texts at dif­fer­ent points in your life” when they will ac­quire dif­fer­ent mean­ing. The grand de­sign is to keep the past alive by show­ing how it meshes with the present, give non-In­dige­nous peo­ple a win­dow on the Anishi­naabe world and al­low In­dige­nous peo­ple to in­habit their world with­out fear.

Noop­im­ing: The Cure for White Ladies will be pub­lished by House of Anansi Press on Sept. 1.

In Simp­son’s world, an­i­mals, spir­its and an­ces­tors come alive.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.