Books·How I Wrote It

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson on Indigenous freedom and creating change

The Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg author's book, As We Have Always Done, examines methods for radical resistance in today's political and social climate.
Leanne Betasamosake Simpson is an Indigenous writer, musician and academic. (Nadya Kwandibens/University of Minnesota Press)

The work of Leanne Betasamosake Simpson — both fiction and nonfiction — places a focus on the everyday struggles of Indigenous Canadians. The Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg musician, artist and author's collection of songs and stories in This Accident of Being Lost was a 2017 finalist for the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize

Her latest book, As We Have Always Done, is a nonfiction work that examines how Indigenous resistance movements can counteract the destructive thinking of settler colonialism.

Simpson spoke with CBC Books to discuss how and why she wrote As We Have Always Done.

A not-so-academic approach

"I work within the Nishnaabeg intellectual traditions. I wanted to approach the topic in a way that would first serve a Nishnaabeg and Indigenous audience, and have all the other audiences that I wanted to connect to as witnesses. I wanted to make some interventions into what was happening in the academic world, but not in a particularly academic way.

"I wanted the work to speak to a much broader audience and be conversational in nature. I don't like the authoritarian tone of a lot of the academy; that doesn't fit with my intellectual tradition. I wanted to have a discussion with relationality and figuring out what resonates with different ways of thinking."

Connecting with communities

"I think it's important that it resonate within my own immediate community: Nishnaabeg thinkers and Indigenous people. Then, I'm interested in building audiences across communities. Not necessarily taking the approach of wanting to centre whiteness and teach white people or court allyship as a purpose, but about reaching out to Black and immigrant communities who have strong traditions of anti-colonialism and anti-fascist organizing and practices. It's about having white Canadians be a witness to that and try to connect to our work and through our struggles that way."

Finding a way forward

"I want people to go on their own internal thinking process about the society we want to collectively build. What does that alternative world look like? I think we tend to spend a lot of time kind of critiquing what's going on — which is important — but I'm particularly interested in building the alternative and figuring out how we can do that in our communities right now."

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson's comments have been edited and condensed.

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