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Leanne Betasamosake Simpson in conversation with Ian Mauro
Land As Pedagogy

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson
Leanne Betasamosake Simpson | © Nadya Kawandibens

Simpson’s keynote described the importance of storytelling as a means of retaining and transmitting Nishnaabeg knowledge systems, as well as resisting the violence of capitalism and settler-colonial dispossession. Throughout her address, Simpson emphasized the role of storytelling as an active practice of building and sustaining Indigenous modes of knowledge.

By David Shaw

On May 25th 2020, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson delivered the opening keynote of New Nature, an immersive Media and Climate Science Exchange between Canada, Germany, Mexico, and the United States.

Simpson is a Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg scholar, writer, and artist, whose work engages with the political and ethical dimensions of storytelling, and her keynote worked to challenge the dominant settler-colonial systems of knowledge that tend to dominate environmental discourse.

maple tree sap from a suburban neighbourhood

Simpson opened the keynote with a reading of three short works, which she described as iterations of the same story. Each piece focused on the practice of harvesting sap from maple trees, and suggested the importance of this practice as an integral feature of the Nishnaabeg relationship to the land. The presentation included a virtual screening of Biidaaban (The Dawn Comes), a 19-minute stop-motion film directed by Michif multidisciplinary artist Amanda Strong. The short film, which is adapted from Simpson’s short story “Plight,” tells the story of a young non-binary Indigenous person as they set out to collect maple tree sap from a suburban neighbourhood. The film, which itself is bookended with recordings of Simpson’s poetry, echoes a theme that carried through her keynote: Nishnaabeg life is actively constructed through practice. For that reason, engaging in traditional Indigenous practices such as sap collecting and storytelling is best understood as a project of world building, through which indigenous peoples can resist settler-colonial structures of power.

Simpson was then joined for a Q&A session with filmmaker Ian Mauro. They discussed the responsibility of storytellers to layer their stories such that they will be accessible to a wide range of audiences. Simpson also discussed the increased role of technological mediation in the storytelling process. She points out that while she remains cautious of the increasing domination of technological platforms by a handful of largely unaccountable tech firms, technology can also serve as a means of developing a better understanding our environment. This sense of cautious optimism provides a powerful point of departure for New Nature, where technology takes centre stage as a medium for better articulating our relationship to the planet as a whole.
In this mesmerizing stop-motion short film from acclaimed director Amanda Strong, an Indigenous youth joins forces with a 10,000-year-old Sasquatch to revive ceremonial sap harvesting in suburban Ontario. ©️ CBC Arts

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