When Indigenous protesters stand up and draw the public’s attention to fracking and protected waterways in Canada, you can count on scholar and activist Leanne Simpson for a deeper understanding of what’s at stake.

And when you are looking for a good traditional story about land and water, something to read to your kids at bedtime, you can count on Simpson for that too.

Activism and storytelling go hand in hand. The rule of indigenous art is that we’re trying to get people to engage and think about the situation we are in.- Leanne Simpson

Writer and activist Leanne Simpson has found her voice in two worlds.

Her latest book The Gift is in the Making, re-tells traditional stories about Nishinaabeg cultural values and people.

The Gift is in the Making

“Storytelling allows you to connect (the reader) to the land, elders and language,” says author and activist Leanne Simpson. (Portage and Main Press)

“They are the kind of stories that grow and you can carry with you for the rest of your life,” said Simpson.

Simpson, a member of Alderville First Nation in southern Ontario, began telling her children some of the stories that eventually made it into the book. And when her own knowledge ran out, Simpson sought out more stories from elders and other sources. From there, she started telling the stories to other groups of children and her love for the oral tradition grew.

Simpson wanted to be able to give back to the families of the children she told the stories to, and the families that shared their stories. She decided to write them down and was simply going to photocopy her versions and give the copies away.

That was when she met fellow professor and writer Niigaanwewidom Sinclair at the photocopier and he suggested she turn it into a book.  

The Gift is in the Making is the second in a series that Sinclair has a hand in publishing with Portage and Main Press. The first one was Sinclair’s edited Manitowapow: Aboriginal Writings from the Land and Water.

“Her stories embody a sense of change that resemble the best stories I know,” said Sinclair. Which brings us to Simpson’s activism and how that cross-pollinates with writing.

“Storytelling allows you to connect [the reader] to the land, elders and language,” says Simpson. “It will give people the opportunity to connect to the beautiful part of our culture,” she said, whether readers are Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal.  

“Activism and storytelling go hand in hand,” she said. “The rule of indigenous art is that we’re trying to get people to engage and think about the situation we are in,” said Simpson, adding if you can get people to think critically then you can get them to understand what their responsibility is.

“It’s a non-threatening way that brings people's minds and hearts together.”

Leanne Simpson will be reading from her new book, The Gift is in the Making, at McNally Robinson Booksellers on Wednesday, Oct. 30 at 7 p.m. and speaking at the University of Manitoba at 2:00 p.m..