Leanne Betasamosake Simpson is a Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg writer, scholar, and musician, and a member of Alderville First Nation. She is the author of five previous books, including This Accident of Being Lost, which was a finalist for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and the Trillium Book Award, was longlisted for CBC Canada Reads, and was named a best book of the year by the Globe and Mail, National Post, and Quill & Quire. She has released two albums, most recently f(l)ight.
Noopiming is Anishinaabemowin for “in the bush,” and the title is a response to English Canadian settler and author Susanna Moodie’s 1852 memoir Roughing It in the Bush. To read Simpson’s work is an act of decolonization, degentrification, and willful resistance to the perpetuation and dissemination of centuries-old colonial myth-making. It is a lived experience. It is a breaking open of the self to a world alive with people, animals, ancestors, and spirits, who are all busy with the daily labours of healing — healing not only themselves, but their individual pieces of the network, of the web that connects them all together.
Interviewed by Megan Clark
Megan Clark (MC): From the title onwards Noopiming is partially a bilingual book which includes many Ojibwe words that are central to the stories. Why was it important for you to include the Ojibwe language and how did writing in two languages impact the way you told the stories?
Leanne Betasamosake Simpson (LBS): Firstly, because Nishnaabeg speak Nishnaabemowin or Ojibwe and many of us are language learners, so I wanted my people to be able to see themselves inside the book and to give a nod towards their efforts to reclaim our language. Secondly, my language is just a gorgeous, complex, poetic code that is very generative to me creatively. I’m not a fluent speaker or a language expert, but I wanted this book to be told through a Nishnaabe lens and languages helped to do that.
MC: There are many references to the North in this book from the hide camps of the Dene, the work of Vuntut Gwitchin artist Jeneen Frei Njootli, and references to Yellowknife and it seems, Great Slave Lake. You are also a faculty member of the Dechinta Bush University in the NWT. How did your experiences in the North inform this book?
LBS: Jeneen Frei Njootli is a brilliant Vuntut Gwitchin artists that had an exhibit at Artspace in Peterborough when I was writing the book. In some ways, Jeneen brought the porcupine caribou herd and her people with her to my territory, and I wanted to explore that relationship and the idea of connecting to Indigenous peoples from different regions and nations on Nishnaabe terms. Denendeh has given me an opportunity to think about and practice what it means to be Nishnaabe living in someone else’s homeland, and that’s also been a generative practice for me.
MC: This is a very fun book to read because of the variety of writing styles and all the details including the mini fjallraven backpack with its cheap straps and the amazing jayco trailer houseboat. How did you balance including such entertaining and revealing details while also maintaining poetic brevity?
LBS: I think in many ways this is just a reflection of Nishnaabe life as I know it. My people have great sense of humour, and are superb story tellers.
MC: The characters seem to truly delight in one another and there is a lot of care and tenderness in their relationships. What was the process like developing each of these characters and their relationships to each other?
LBS: I carried these characters around in my head for a few years and sort of fell in love with them. I wanted that delight and care and tenderness to be really centred in this book.
MC: The characters in Noopiming are often described carrying their three special things. What were your three special things while you were working on this book?
LBS: Running shoes, sparkly water and coffee.