Pain and Reassertion: Leanne Simpson’s Islands of Decolonial Love

Leanne Simpson, Mississauga Nishnaabeg writer, editor, activist and scholar, is the author of two other story collections: Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back and The Gift is in the Making. Islands of Decolonial Love, like her other collections, situates story in the Nishnaabeg narrative tradition and worldview. Her narrators and characters negotiate complex contemporary settings in efforts to regain and repair relationships with one another and the natural world—relationships that are inherent to the Anishnabe worldview but are fractured by colonialism and capitalism. Simpson’s characters’ emotional lives are intimate glimpses into modern Indigenous peoples’ navigation of a world that excludes and alienates Indigenous belief systems and mores—plaguing individuals with self doubt, suspicion, lack of trust, and isolation. One of her narrators muses, “I knew what every ndn knows: that vulnerability, forgiveness and acceptance were privileges. she made the assumption of a white person: they were readily available to all like the fresh produce at the grocery store.” In another story entitled “Buffalo On,” the narrator states, “right off the bat, let’s just admit we’re both from places that have been fucked up through no fault of our own in a thousand different ways for seven generations and that takes a toll on how we treat each other. it just does.” The legacy of this pain is the central organizing impulse of the character interactions in Islands of Decolonial Love.

In addition, Simpson’s characters’ natural emotional responses—of anxiety, anger and depression—to exploitive colonial forces and inequity are further layered within a medical and mental health system that pathologizes their feelings. Simpson’s characters adopt sarcasm and a wicked wit in response to a political and economic regime that is repressive and soul-destroying; however, Indigenous resistance, language and worldview prevail to ground these characters in their “authentic” earth-centered selves.

Some readers may take exception to Simpson’s unconventional approach to story structure, characterization, and European literary aesthetic, but her use of Indigenous rhetoric when working in the English language exposes the power imbalance inherent in the colonizing effects of English, which undermined our stories as legend and our songs as entertainment. Through her moving stories and credible characters, Simpson reasserts and honours Indigenous forms of expression.

Award-winning poet Marilyn Dumont has held Writer-in-Residence positions at five Canadian universities and the Edmonton Public Library. She freelance writes, edits and teaches for a living.


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