November 12, 2014

Three passages from Islands of Decolonial Love by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson


etienne gets out the lines and in two minutes we know we’re on the school because we’re pulling in mackerel easy. he watches as i hold the hook and snap the fish into the garbage pail, which is my reveal. it’s sunny and it’s windy and it’s perfect and the arms of the day are wide open and no one has to be anywhere. i see a northern gannet and i love gannets because they can disconnect their wings before they plummet into the sea after a fish. imagine disconnecting a body part! the gannet swims over to the boat smelling the fish blood and etienne hands the gannet a fish and says “the bird is my family, all of this, the fish, the seals, the water – this is my family,” which is his reveal.

our eyes meet because now he has my attention. i walk over and hug him and he is the kind of person that can give and receive a real hug and i’m not one of those people because my alarm system goes off when people touch me and I freeze up and shut down. this time that doesn’t happen. i decide to kiss him and it’s perfect and easy and we make out void of awkwardness but with a clearly defined beginning and a clearly defined ending, then he drives back to shore while i gut the fish in the back of the boat using his terrifyingly sharp knife, feeding the guts to the gulls and the gannets. he drops me off on the dock. we thank each other. we say goodbye and i pay attention to each step, instead of looking back.


old lady levi then asked ira to speak and tell them about the project. he lit a cigarette and he told them three things. first, that the band council had asked us to help the elders document all the ways they related to the land in the past and in contemporary times. second, that throughout the project, the elders would be in charge. they would make all of the decisions because as far as he was concerned, they were the experts. and third that the final document could be whatever they wanted.

then he sat down.

old lady levi stood up, thanked us and asked us to leave. she opened the living room door, watched us as we passed through it, and then told us to wait outside until she reappeared.

we did. for probably two hours.

we heard a lot of talking. some praying. some singing. some more talking.

ira smoked. i drank watery maxwell house out of a styrofoam cup, and then bit teeth marks all around the top edge, wondering what was going to happen to me when i hit the end of the prozac prescription no one was monitoring.

then we heard old lady levi’s footsteps. she paused on the other side of the door. i imagined her hand on the handle, hesitating and then opening it.

we stood up.

she looked through us and said, “come back next month, maybe a monday next time. monday is better.” she went back into the room and shut the door.

ira lit another cigarette, did up his coat, and walked outside, remotely starting the car on the way. it was nearly four, and the sun was sinking below the stand of black spruce out my window. we retraced our morning’s steps back to thunder bay. a month later, this time on a monday, we went back, and we kept going back for two years, sometimes moving the meeting twice a month.

i redrew the maps those old ones kept tucked away in their bones. i took these notes:

how to pluck the feathers off a goose
how to roast a duck on an open fire
how to block the cnr lines
how to live as if it mattered


bringing up trauma from my life made therapy-lady cry, especially if it was “aboriginal” themed. she said “aboriginal” a lot, and i knew she was trying to be respectful so i planned on letting it slide until the breaking point and then i was going to let her have it in one spiralling long manifesto. therapy-lady liked to compare my life to refuges from war-torn countries who hid their kids in closets when airplanes flew over their houses. this was her limit of understanding on colonized intimacy. she wasn’t completely wrong, and while she tried to convince me none of us had to hide our kids anymore, we both knew that wasn’t exactly true. 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.

lucy says that I made a critical mistake on my first day of therapy. “you have to lay all of you indian shit out on the first day, drug abuse, suicide attempts, all the times you got beat up, all of that shit. then you sit back and watch how they react. then you’ll know if they can deal or not.” lucy had a social work degree but she didn’t buy it, which is always useful.

[I wrote about Islands of Decolonial Love here and you can order it here. Highly recommended.]


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