Leanne Betasamosake Simpson. Photo: Nadya Kwandibens / Red Works Photography

Peter d'Errico: Leanne Betasamosake Simpson articulates indigenous nationhood in new book

Writer and artist Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, a citizen of the Alderville First Nation, confronts colonialism in her forthcoming book, As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom through Radical Resistance. Retired professor Peter d'Errico offers a review:
Leanne Betasamosake Simpson (Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg) has accomplished an amazing feat in her forthcoming book, As We Have Always Done. She confronts colonialism from the perspective of indigenous nationhood, but goes beyond arguing for changes in politics, writing in a way that enacts changes in our thinking about politics. Simpson articulates indigenous nationhood as “a radical and complete overturning of the nation-state’s political formations.” This reiterates what others have found when they dig to the roots [‘radical’ comes from Latin ‘radix’: root]: indigenous reality in and of itself challenges Western modes of thinking and acting. Simpson deploys the content of this insight in the process of her writing. She writes—rather than writes about—indigenous nationhood.

The content of her critique—fundamental incompatibility between indigenous nationhood and Western nation-state formations—extends what has long been known by thinkers on both sides of that divide. Vine Deloria Jr., for example (in God is Red), discussed the “two concepts of community” that differentiate Indigenous Peoples from Western nation-states. For their part, the colonizers aimed from the start to contain, reduce, and destroy indigenous nationhood, on the premise that the nation-state was the “highest” mode of human society, triumphing over lesser “tribal” modes. As the U.S. Supreme Court put it in Johnson v. McIntosh, Indigenous Peoples were “a people with whom it was impossible to mix, and who could not be governed as a distinct society.”

Simpson allows us to see that contemporary “reconciliation” programs such as in Canada, though supposedly aimed at redressing damages suffered from colonizing attacks like the boarding school system, actually constitute an effort by the state to finalize its “legal right” to indigenous lands: Monetary compensation to individual Native people avoids the question of land restitution to Native Peoples. In Simpson’s phrasing, reconciliation programs function within a “structure of processes” constituting settler colonialism’s ongoing institutional apparatus.

Read More on the Story:
Peter d'Errico: ‘As We Have Always Done’: The Continuing Presence of Indigenous Nationhood (Indian Country Media Network August 26, 2017)

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