Leanne Betasamosake Simpson reclaims Anishinaabe storytelling in her new book
Noopiming was a 2020 finalist for the Governor General's Literary Award for fiction
This interview originally aired on Sept. 19, 2020.
Leanne Betasamosake Simpson is a Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg scholar, activist, musician, artist, author and member of Alderville First Nation.
Her latest is Noopiming, a work that combines prose and poetic forms to create an original narrative form. It's a story told by Mashkawaji, who is frozen in a lake, and who, in turn, tells the story of seven connected characters, each searching for a connection to the land and the world.
The healing lake
"For the narrator, the lake is a place of solace. The beginning part of the book gestures toward this trauma that so many of us as Indigenous people have experienced.
"But the book doesn't really speak directly to the trauma — it's about this character who is frozen in the lake in response to that trauma. The lake becomes a warm blanket and a safe place to heal, to think, to reconnect. It's not necessarily a feeling of groundedness, but it's still a feeling of being held and of being OK.
I wanted to elevate that idea of water as some place that we can go for for healing.
"The lake is a character and also a setting in the book. I wanted to play a little bit with that. For Anishinaabe people, we think of the lake as a relative with a spirit. Oftentimes the lakes in our territory — including Lake Ontario — is talked about in terms of contamination and in terms of the destruction that the lake has experienced. I wanted to elevate that idea of water as some place that we can go for for healing."
"I wanted to have in the book a real sense of presence, of being in the presence and a real sense of relationality and the sort of complexities that come from relationality.
The characters have different relationships to the narrator based on who they are — and the circumstances through which they're living their lives.
"The characters have different relationships to the narrator based on who they are — and the circumstances through which they're living their lives. They are reflecting back and amplifying different aspects of their characters' being.
"I wanted that relationality to be at the centre at the centre of the book."
"I wanted the reader to be able to see themselves in the book, regardless of how they identified in terms of gender. For some of the readers, they will see the characters in very clear terms — as either gender nonconforming or male or female. Everybody will see that a little bit different.
For some of the readers, they will see the characters in very clear terms — as either gender nonconforming or male or female.
"It does come from Annishinabe storytelling and from the way that our language works and not having a gender binary and not always having gender so rigidly infused in storytelling.
"It's a way of affirming the genders of the reader — and making space for transformation and for movement."
The feeling of home
"Part of what Indigenous people have to do in the face of colonialism is you continually have to remake home and you have to figure out how to feel that belonging.
I wanted to have this sense of home and belonging, in spite of everything that has happened to all the main characters in the book.
"Some of us only get glimpses of it. Sometimes there's just fragments of it. And sometimes that whole making is an entire process of figuring out where we fit in.
"As you go through life, it often changes. I wanted to have this sense of home and belonging, in spite of everything that has happened to all the main characters in the book."
Leanne Betasamosake Simpson's comments have been edited for length and clarity.