Unreserved

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson draws story from the land

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson is a wealth of stories and ways to tell them. What she doesn't have is a lot of down time. Simpson is a professor, award-winning writer, musician, activist and a mom. Her second album, (f)light, just came out.
Leanne Simpson and her band Cris Derksen, Ansley Simpson and Nick Ferrio are touring her new album f(l)ight. (Facebook)
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The land tells Leanne Betasamosake Simpson stories and she writes them, teaches them and sings them to life.

"The spine of my practice as an academic and as an artist is my relationship to the land," she said. 

Simpson, who is Mississauga Nishnaabeg from Alderville First Nation in Ontario, is a professor, land-based educator, award-winning writer, musician, activist and mom.

f(l)ight is Leanne Simpsons second album, interweaving Simpson’s complex poetics and multi-layered stories of the land, spirit, and body with lush acoustic and electronic arrangements. (Facebook)
Her second album, f(l)ight, is a hybrid of poetry, story, and lush acoustic and electronic arrangements. Her next book, This Accident of Being Lost is being published by the House of Anansi Press and will be out this spring.

To say she is busy is an understatement but Simpson says she always has time for the land.

"For me, it's really the source of my creativity and it's the source of my ideas and it's sort of what propels me in my life and my work."
Leanne Simpson draws story from her connection to the land. (Facebook)

It wasn't always like this. Simpson grew up in Wingham, Ontario to a non-Indigenous father and Anishinabe mother without any cultural connections.

"Sometimes when people, especially young people, when they read my work they make an assumption that I was raised in this really super, traditional, sacred, healthy family," she said.

Reawakening

Simpson said it wasn't until she was a young woman, taking her undergraduate degree at the University of Guelph in the early '90s that her life changed.

"I remember very clearly seeing Ellen Gabriel on TV at the Oka Crisis in the summer of 1990 and that to me was sort of my political education and a reawakening," Simpson said. "To see a young woman so articulate and so embodying Mohawk ethics and governance and being so strong, I think I woke up."

After that she sought out elders to learned about her culture, her language and the Indigenous connection to land, animals and water.

"Every word in Anishinaabemowin, every concept, every story is something that I've had to kind of claw back and put back at the centre of my life so that my kids can grow up in that kind of environment and then deepen it as they walk through their own lives."

Simpson said many young people first connect to culture through activism because they recognize their responsibility as protectors of the environment.

Her next book This Accident of Being Lost comes out in Spring 2017. (Supplied)
"Our lives are intertwined with the plant nations and the animal nations, the waterways and beneath our feet. I think we see a responsibility to act in solidarity with animals and plants and water and that comes from our stories and that comes from our ceremonies and our songs. And so I think it makes sense to me that people would see themselves as protectors and not protestors because of that responsibility," she explained. 

She said Canadians haven't had much opportunity to understand that history and context  because the only times they are exposed to it is when there is a conflict.

But she said that is starting to change as more Indigenous peoples from artists to activists continue to articulate the distinction.

"We come from this beautiful history of resistance and of love, love of family, love of culture, love of our ceremonies. It was a very, very rich and generative place for me to find my own voice and to learn how to ground myself in my land and in my culture in spite of the violence of colonialism."