> Zed Book Club / Bookshelf / Writer's Room / Leanne Betasamosake Simpson Explores the Impact of Colonialism in ‘Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies’

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s new novel explores the impact of colonialism on Anishinaabe culture by connecting the past and present in a world where animals, ancestors and spirits come alive. Photo: Nadya Kwandibens

> Writer's Room

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson Explores the Impact of Colonialism in ‘Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies’

/ BY Kim Honey / August 5th, 2020


What is the cure for white ladies? This novel and its beautiful prose, with sentences that take your breath away and lodge within you long after the last page is turned.

It is in the bush, which is what noopiming means in Anishinaabemowin, the foundation of the book and the language of author Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s nation, the Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg, or Mississauga Ojibway.
The novel is an Indigenous antidote to the white ladies alluded to in the title: Susanna Moodie and her sister, Catharine Parr Traill, who settled with their husbands in southern Ontario in the 1830s on land that belongs to the Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg.

Its title refers to the 1852 book Roughing It in The Bush, Moodie’s seminal settler account of the family’s unsuccessful attempt to clear land north of Peterborough, Ont., and impose a farm on the wilderness. A canonical text still taught in English classes across the country, it has inspired CanLit stalwarts from Margaret Atwood and her 1972 book of poetry, The Journals of Susanna Moodie, to Carol Shields, Timothy Findley and Cecily Ross, who published The Lost Diaries of Susanna Moodie in 2017.

Noopiming: The Cure For White Ladies

 

Simpson has always had a “very complicated relationship” with Moodie’s book, with its “violent and racist” depictions of Mississauga Anishinaabe and Black people as physically and intellectually inferior, which persist more than 150 years later.

“The idea that we are naturally less than our white counterparts continues to produce generations of Native youth that believe they are,” the Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg scholar writes in her 2017 book, As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom Through Radical Resistance.

Noopiming is not a critique of Moodie’s book but a reply to her “removal from the impact that was going on at the time in terms of colonialism,” the author said in a telephone interview from her home in Peterborough, explaining that Anishinaabe stories have many layers.

“My response to that was to invite readers into this contemporary Mississauga Anishinaabe world that’s existing right alongside Toronto and Peterborough … and say, ‘This is what Susanna Moodie couldn’t see.’”

So Mindimooyenh, which means old woman in Anishinaabemowin, spends 11 hours a day each December at the IKEA in North York, where they (all characters take they/them pronouns to be inclusive) smudge in the parking lot before they go in, sprinkle tobacco in the rubber plants and wander the aisles in meditation, repeating “Gersby” and “Hemnes” over and over.

“I really wanted the book to show an Anishinaabe world … that isn’t often seen or affirmed or appreciated outside of Anishinaabe people,” said Simpson, a member of the Alderville First Nation, located about 30 kilometres north of Cobourg, Ont., on the south shore of Rice Lake.

The book begins with the narrator, Mashkawaji, frozen in a lake. Their form dissolved when “tragedy happened again,” an oblique reference to the trauma of colonization because Simpson didn’t want to re-traumatize Indigenous readers with details.

The novel, which is written in prose, poetry and short narratives, jumps into the stories of the seven characters to whom Mashkawaji gives their physical and metaphysical parts: Akiwenzii, their will, lives on the reserve but prefers a tent in the bush; Ninaatig, a tree who represents their lungs, pushes a shopping cart around the city that contains a Mason jar of soil “for emotional comfort”; Mindimooyenh, their conscience, who has encyclopedic knowledge of the sizes and prices of Canadian Tire’s blue plastic tarps; Sabe, their marrow, a benevolent bigfoot creature who roams the city looking after lost souls; Adik, their nervous system, a caribou who wears a Fjällräven Kånken backpack that contains spruce gum balm for their hooves, which always hurt from travelling the city; a stone, Asin, who is their eyes and ears. Lucy, a human who represents their brain, constantly streams Star Trek on Netflix when they are “trapped in the city.”

The novel explores the theme of dispossession – from the land and from culture – at the heart of the post-colonial experience.

Some of the characters – like Akiwenzii, Sabe and Kwe – show up in Simpson’s previous novels, Islands of Decolonial Love (which won the 2013 RBC Taylor Emerging Writer Award) and 2017’s This Accident of Being Lost, and on the singer-songwriter’s companion albums like 2016’s f(l)ight.

Kwe gets the adjective Bougie in this book because they have a house in the city and a backyard they renovate “to classy up the joint,” but then raccoons move in and trash the place.

It is a metaphor for humans imposing themselves on nature and amplifies the idea that there are worlds within worlds, but Simpson said it is also about how difficult it is for Indigenous people to live in the urban settler world.

She hopes readers take the seeds of the ideas she has planted in the book and “think about them over time in different contexts at different points in your life” when they will acquire different meaning. The grand design is to keep the past alive by showing how it meshes with the present, give non-Indigenous people a window on the Anishinaabe world, and allow Indigenous people to inhabit their world without fear.

Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies will be published by House of Anansi Press on Sept. 1.

THE SCROLL

Prince Harry’s ‘Spare’ Continues to Break Worldwide RecordsThe book also seems to have put a dent in the popularity of members of the Royal Family — including the Prince and Princess of Wales.


Prince Harry’s Memoir Breaks U.K. Sales Record On First Day of ReleaseThe publisher of the new memoir, 'Spare", says it had sold 400,000 copies so far across hardback, e-book and audio formats.


Barack Obama’s Favourite Books of 2022The former U.S. president’s 13 titles include Canadians Emily St. John Mandel and Kate Beaton, as well as tomes from Michelle Obama, George Saunders and Jennifer Egan


Here are the 5 Books on Bill Gates’ Holiday Reading ListThe billionaire philanthropist is giving hundreds of copies to little libraries around the world


Sheila Heti and Eli Baxter Among 2022 Governor General’s Literary Award WinnersToronto writer Sheila Heti took home the fiction award for 'Pure Colour,' a novel the GG peer assessment committee called "a work of genius."


Suzette Mayr Wins $100,000 Scotiabank Giller Prize for ‘The Sleeping Car Porter’The 2022 Giller Prize jury called Mayr's novel "alive and immediate — and eerily contemporary."


Writers’ Trust of Canada Awards: Authors Nicholas Herring, Dan Werb Nab Top PrizesThe Writers' Trust of Canada awards amounted to a combined monetary prize value of $270,000.


Bob Dylan Releases ‘The Philosophy of Modern Song,’ a Book of Essays Dissecting 66 Influential SongsIn his new book, Bob Dylan offers up both critique and historical insight into various musical recordings of the last century by a variety of popular artists.


Prince Harry’s Memoir ‘Spare’ Will Be Published in January 2023The long-awaited memoir will tell with "raw unflinching honesty" Prince Harry's journey from "trauma to healing", his publisher said on Thursday.


Sri Lankan Author Shehan Karunatilaka Wins 2022 Booker PrizeKarunatilaka won the prestigious prize on Monday for his second novel ‘The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida’, about a dead war photographer on a mission in the afterlife.


Canadian Council for the Arts Reveals Governor General’s Literary Awards FinalistsThe finalists for the Governor General's Literary Awards spotlight books in both the English and French language, as well as translated works.


New Penguin Random House Award Named After Michelle Obama Will Honour High School WritersMichelle Obama Award for Memoir will provide a $10,000 college scholarship to a graduating public school senior based on their autobiographical submission.


French Author Annie Ernaux, 82, Becomes First French Woman to Win Nobel Prize for LiteratureThe author said, of winning, that "I was very surprised ... I never thought it would be on my landscape as a writer."


Hilary Mantel, Award-Winning British Author of ‘Wolf Hall’ Trilogy, Dies at 70Wolf Hall, published in 2009, and its sequel Bring Up the Bodies, released three years later, both won the Booker Prize, an unprecedented win for two books in the same trilogy and making Mantel the first woman to win the award twice.


Prince William “Cannot Forgive” Prince Harry, According to ‘The New Royals’ Author Katie NichollPrince William “just cannot forgive his brother,” according to Katie Nicholl, author of 'The New Royals: Queen Elizabeth’s Legacy and the Future of the Crown.'


Five Finalists Announced for Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for NonfictionThe winner — to be announced on November 2 — will take home the annual $60,000 prize.


Peter Straub, Bestselling American Horror Writer, Dies at 79Friend and co-author Stephen King has said the author's 1979 book, "Ghost Story," is his favourite horror novel.


Rawi Hage, Billy-Ray Belcourt and Sheila Heti Make the 2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize Long ListThe jury read 138 books to choose 14 titles for the long list, one of which will win the $100,000 prize, one of the richest in Canadian literature


Salman Rushdie, Novelist Who Drew Death Threats, Is Stabbed at New York LectureThe Indian-born novelist who was ordered killed by Iran in 1989 because of his writing, was attacked before giving a talk on artistic freedom.


Raymond Briggs, Creator of Beloved Children’s Tale ‘The Snowman’, Dies at 88First published in 1978, the pencil crayon-illustrated wordless picture book sold more than 5.5 million copies around the world while a television adaption became a Christmas favourite in Britain and was nominated for an Oscar.


Canadian Author Emily St. John Mandel Makes Barack Obama’s 2022 Summer Reading ListObama's list includes everything from fiction to books on politics, cultural exploration and basketball.


Canadian Author Rebecca Eckler to Launch RE:books Publishing House Focused on Female Authors and Fun ReadsThe former National Post columnist says her tagline is ‘What’s read is good, and what’s good is read.’”


Brian Thomas Isaac’s “All the Quiet Places” wins $5,000 Indigenous Voices AwardThe B.C. author, a retired bricklayer, drew on his childhood growing up on the Okanagan Indian reserve for his coming-of-age story set in 1956


Canadian-American Author Ruth Ozeki Wins Women’s Book Prize for “The Book of Form and Emptiness”The UK judges said her fourth novel, inspired in part by the Vancouver Public Library, contained "sparkling writing, warmth, intelligence, humour and poignancy."


The Bill Gates Summer Reading List Includes a Sci-Fi Novel On Gender Inequality Suggested by His DaughterBill Gates' summer reading list includes fiction and non-fiction titles that cover gender equality, political polarization and climate change.


American novelist Joshua Cohen wins the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for “The Netanyahus”The 2022 Pulitzer prizes include this satirical look at identity politics, focused on the father of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at a crucial time in the Jewish state’s history


Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro Among Canadian Authors Recognized in Commemorative Reading List Marking Queen’s Platinum JubileeThe authors are among six Canadian scribes included on the The Big Jubilee Read list.


Queen Elizabeth II’s Aide Reveals Details of Life in Royal Pandemic Lockdown in New Addition to BookAngela Kelly, who's worked for the Queen for 20 years, discusses everything from cutting the Queen's hair to "the light and laughter that was shared ... even in the darkest moments."


New Leonard Cohen Story Collection, ‘A Ballet of Lepers,’ Set for October ReleaseThe collection features a novel, short stories and a radio play written between 1956 and 1961.


Archived Letters Reveal How Toni Morrison Helped MacKenzie Scott Meet Future Husband Jeff BezosBezos hired Scott at the hedge fund where he worked after receiving a recommendation from Morrison. Shortly thereafter, the pair married and Scott helped Bezos launch Amazon.


Prince Harry’s Memoir is Set to Rock the MonarchyFriends say the California-based royal got a million-pound book deal to write "an intimate take on his feeling about the family."


European Jewish Congress Asks Publisher to Pull Anne Frank BookThe Congress says 'The Betrayal of Anne Frank' has "deeply hurt the memory of Anne Frank, as well as the dignity of the survivors and the victims of the Holocaust."


Canadian Author Details Anne Frank Cold-Case Investigation That Named Surprise Suspect in Her Family’s Betrayal in New BookAhead of the 75th anniversary of the publication of Frank's 'The Diary of a Young Girl' in June, a team that included a retired FBI agent and around 20 historians, criminologists and data specialists identified a relatively unknown figure as a leading suspect in revealing her family's hideout.


Man Who Tricked Authors Into Handing Over Unpublished Manuscripts Arrested by FBI in New YorkFilippo Bernardini, an employee of a well known publication house, has been arrested for stealing hundreds of unpublished manuscripts.


Hollywood Legend Betty White Has a Last Laugh in New Biographic Comic BookThe creators of the biographical comic book have released similar books about Hollywood legends like Carrie Fisher, Lucille Ball, David Bowie and Elizabeth Taylor.


Barack Obama Reveals His List of Books That Left “A Lasting Impression” in 2021Obama's favourite 2021 reads include two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author Colson Whitehead's 'Harlem Shuffle' and 'Klara and the Sun,' by Nobel Prize-winning author Kazuo Ishiguro


“Interview With the Vampire” Author Anne Rice Dies at 80 — Tributes Pour in From Stuart Townsend and OthersThe author, who was best known for her work in gothic fiction, died on Saturday evening as a result of complications from a stroke.


Norma Dunning wins $25,000 Governor General’s English fiction prize for ‘Tainna’The Edmonton-based Inuk writer explores themes of displacement, loneliness and spirituality in six short stories


Omar El Akkad wins $100,000 Giller prize for “What Strange Paradise”The former Globe and Mail reporter, who published "American War" to acclaim in 2017, tackles the global migrant refugee crisis in his second novel


South African Author Damon Galgut Wins the Booker Prize For ‘The Promise’Galgut received nominations for his 2003 and 2010 works before finally taking home the prize this year. 


Hollywood Legend Paul Newman Discusses Life, Acting and Aging Gracefully in Newly Discovered MemoirPublishers of the newly discovered memoir say the Hollywood legend wrote the book in the 1980s in response to the relentless media attention he received during that time.


Here’s What You Need to Know About the Toronto International Festival of AuthorsDirector Roland Gulliver lands in Toronto to open his second, much-expanded virtual festival with more than 200 events


Tanzanian Novelist Gurnah Wins 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature for Depicting the Impact of Colonialism and Refugee StoriesGurnah, 72, is only the second writer from sub-Saharan Africa to win one of the world's most prestigious literary awards


Miriam Toews Garners Third Giller Prize Nomination for “Fight Night” after Shortlist AnnouncedSophomore efforts from novelists Omar El Akkad and Jordan Tannahill join debut books from Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia and Angélique Lalonde


Tina Brown’s New Book, ‘The Palace Papers’, Covers the Royal Family’s Reinvention After Diana’s Tragic DeathTina Brown's sequel to her 2007 release 'The Diana Chronicles' is set to hit shelves April 12, 2022. 


Audible.ca Releases Andrew Pyper’s Exclusive Audiobook “Oracle” For New Plus Catalogue LaunchThe thriller about a psychic FBI detective is one of 12,000 titles now available for free to members


Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen to Release Book Based On Their “Renegades” PodcastThe new book will feature a collection of candid, intimate and entertaining conversations


Prince Harry Will Publish a Memoir in Late 2022Harry says he's writing the book "not as the prince I was born but as the man I have become."


> STAY UP TO DATE

Sign Up for the Weekly Book Club Newsletter