Leanne Betasamosake Simpson draws story from the land
"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.
To say she is busy is an understatement but Simpson says she always has time for the land.
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.
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.
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."