The talk given by Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg writer, musician, and scholar Leanne Betasamosake Simpson on Wednesday November 17 was thought-provoking, to say the least. After a unique and powerful land acknowledgement by Robert Lapp, head of the English Department at Mt. A, who called on the New Brunswick government to accept Indigenous land claims, Simpson spoke about her multimedia project Noopiming.
A study of Nishnaabe presence and life that removes power from colonial structures and creates meaning, the immersive communal project includes a novel (Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies), music accompanied by short films, and a stop-motion feature-length film that is currently in the works. Simpson uses Fred Moten’s definition of study in the description of her work: study is what one does with other people or forms of life, just like Indigenous living is not individual. She declared that there is a “refusal of the state and racial capitalism” embedded in this study that she calls a rehearsal for decolonization. When something is studied through the lens of decolonization, it is “messy, difficult, mistakes are made, and we create more questions than we answer,” but that is what a rehearsal is for; it is where the “performative moves away from an empty gesture, where the right people in the right place at the right time can create magic.”
Simpson describes Indigenous resurgence as a rehearsal as well. She believes that “every time we’re engaged in protest, it’s a rehearsal for bringing about a new world.” Repetition is an integral part of rehearsal, and although it can be “really mind-numbing, the 500th [repetition] breaks [it] open, and you learn something.” Rehearsal is so important for “figuring out how to live with each other and the natural world.”
The cover of Simpson’s book is by the Anishinaabekwe artist Rebecca Belmore. The slash represents the violence of colonialism, and the beadwork is in contrast to the wound. The photo embodies a threat to settler sovereignty; to Simpson, it refuses the idea that vulnerable bodies, including those of Indigenous peoples, queer people, and women are disposable. It represents and adds knowledge to the novel: “Rebecca Belmore tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘I see you,’” Simpson said.
The word Noopiming is Anishinaabemowin for in the bush, a response to Susanna Moodie’s guidebook for European settlers Roughing it in the Bush, written in 1852. As you can imagine, Indigenous peoples did not come off well in this white woman’s writing, which was intended to prepare European settlers for life in the New World. Simpson wanted to build a beautiful Anishinaabe world in her novel because that is what people like Moodie miss when they work with white supremacy.
Trying to conform to Western thought, writing, and story structure “shut down [Simpson’s] creativity,” so she instead used oral storytelling as a guide for the structure of her book. She wanted to disrupt the process of reading a book, and one way she achieved this was by including a lot of silence, or blank space, in her book in order to slow down the reading process and allow for reflection. The silence represents the humble, quiet conversations and storytelling in Anishinaabe communities.
Simpson wanted to “push trauma to the margins” of her book; she wanted to acknowledge it but not stay there and instead focus on Indigenous joy, humour, and hope and a biosphere of care.
Other parts of Simpson’s project Noopiming include the album Noopiming Sessions in collaboration with her sister Ansley Simpson (whose music label is Gizhiiwe), the album Theory of Ice inspired by Willie Dunn, and short films directed by Sandra Brewster, Asinnajaq, and Amanda Strong.
Simpson commented that the night’s event was a chance for everyone to think and study alongside each other and “for that, [she was] grateful.”