Dreaming, visioning, and building beyond: Anishinaabe consciousness for guidance in a challenging world

We tend to listen a lot less to non-humans, says Leanne Betasamosake Simpson. Simpson, a renowned Anishinaabe writer and artist, confesses that she is worried about her relationship with the land because the land is struggling. She presents her upcoming literary work, Theory of Water, Oct. 26 at Simon Fraser University.

“Within Indigenous cultures, listening is about being present and engaged,” says Simpson. “Indigenous people believe in listening; our cultural practices are oral, and listening to the land is a source of knowledge when you are on the water or in the bush. It connects us and strengthens relationships.”

Dismantling the present moment

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson. | Photo by Nadya Kwandibens

As water is present both inside and outside our bodies, and changes forms throughout the global water cycle from solid to liquid to gas, Simpson explores how she could learn world-making in her upcoming book Theory of Water.

Using Nishnaabeg consciousness, Simpson explores the notion of dismantling the present moment, a slow and serene process where we as humans wield our knowledge and experience to distill the oppressive systems and multiple crises we are facing – including capitalism, heteropatriarchy, and colonialism.

“For centuries, Indigenous elders have been clear that societies based on conquest and extraction of natural resources are not a sustainable way to live on the planet.

“My work is interested in dreaming, visioning, and building beyond,” she says, “and doing that work in constellation with black feminist abolitionists or Palestinian feminists, for instance, who have different but related experiences, analyses, and theories.”

End of the world

Following three heavy years of the pandemic, freedom convoys, disappearing glaciers, police killings, children alone in cages at borders, the resurgence of fascist states, and a dying planet, Simpson feels we’ve reached the end of the world.

“In Anishinaabe, the present is a combination of the past and the future. It is where we have responsibilities and influence,” she says. “We, Indigenous people, have critiques and analyses around the reproduction of colonialism that are unique and instructive in organizing for a future beyond racial capitalism.”

But through the Indigenous practise of dismantling, Simpson feels we can usher in ways of thinking that brought forth more life by considering land, water, and non-human things as worthy sources of knowledge.

“Anishinaabe is good at decentralized leadership, and built societies without police, prisons, borders, enclosures, private property, and hierarchy,” she says. “We were good at weaving ourselves into the natural world as opposed to catastrophic climate change.”

Emerging Indigenous practices, artists, and voices give Simpson hope that we can still pay back to the land, water, and nature. So despite the challenges, Simpson feels elated to witness Indigenous artists, writers, and scholars being welcomed and recognized.

“Indigenous musicians have platforms and support from audiences that the last generation of artists didn’t,” she says.

The common thread of all her works, including her upcoming Theory of Water, is a refusal of capitalism, patriarchy, colonization, and all of the structures that brought us to the present moment of catastrophic climate.

As a storyteller, she aspires to persuade people to think alongside her.

“I would love people to think critically about the moment we are in, and begin to build systems beyond capitalism and colonialism,” says Simpson.

For more information about the show, visit https://events.sfu.ca/voce/event/36614-leanne-simpson-listening-in-our-present-moment