Reciprocal recognition as resistance: reading Leanne Simpson

Since I got my heart and mind on Leanne Simpson’s work, I haven’t been sleeping much as if I found new treasure! (Or, is it my “settler adoption fantasies” syndrome?)

In a directed studies reading, I came across the piece where Simpson talks about generative refusal and Nishnaabewin concept of reciprocal recognition. These two are super important in what she advocates “radical resurgence as indigenous resistance” (Sorry, I will have to explain what is radical resurgence in another piece).

Radical resurgent organizing =
Generative Refusal of state recognition/settler colonialism framework+ Embodiment of Indigenous “Reciprocal Recognition”

Generative refusal is moving away from fear of disappearance (from colonial determined framework), in order to regenerate a resistance rooted in indigenous thoughts. By “productively” refusing the settlers colonial mechanism, the indigenous presence brings forward a grounded normativity.

Here’s an example. Simpson wrote in her book,“…what if our [Michi Saagiig Nishinaabeg] leaders saw heteropatriarch as an attack on our nations and refused to uphold it as an act of sovereignty and self-determination, and we focused intensely on taking care of our own and having each other’s back?”
“What if no one sided with colonialism?” 

Then she went on to discuss, “what makes me a member of my nation?” Mohawk author Audra Simpson’s work inspired hers.

In her book Mohawk Interruptus, Audra asked her also Mohawk fellow interviewee, “what is the ideal form of membership for us?” Her interviewee answered, “when you look in the mirror, what do you see?”

Leanne S. was really taken by this part of the book, and went on to recognize the true meaning of recognition in her own Nishnaabewin culture.

The Nishnaabewin concept of reciprocal recognition can be summed up in the word “Aaniin”.

Aaniin is the word Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg use to greet each other. Leanne Simpson went to her elder Doug to learn about the true meaning. Doug explained that the “Ah” sound places them in the spiritual context, in the Nishnaabeg universe; the Ni is a “taking notice as sound”. (p.181)

The word Aaniin then means How do you recognize/see yourself in your journey in the universe? It also means: I see your light/essence. That is saying to the person you greet, that you “see the energy they put into the universe through their interactions with land, themselves, family and their community” (p.181)

I love this quote: “What do I see when I look in the mirror?……Do I see a network of intimate relationships rotating through time and space in all directions across human, plant, and animal nations and in the context of a spiritual cosmos? How do I , how do we reflect back the indigeneity of our unique nation? how do I both see my reflection and act as a mirror?” (p.180)

In this sense, reciprocal recognition is internal. It’s a self-recognition. Rather than searching for recognition outside of yourself, reciprocal recognition is fully understanding yourself or another being.

In their language, there’s another saying “Maa maa ya wen du moovin”, which means “the blending of all thoughts and feelings into recognizing another being.” (p.185) wendanmoowin means “what is your thought process as you move through life?” and maa is “it’s in my heart.”

Reciprocal recognition is also an act of practice that builds resilient relationship. Meaningful relationship, in Indigenous context, is recognizing and affirming the light in each other and reflect back to them their essence. “What do I mirror back to my kin?” through which they “reproduce and amplify indigeneity” (p.182), self-worth and dignity.

I couldn’t stop jotting down quotes and lines as I was reading. “Reciprocal recognition” is exactly what I was taught and we have been teaching at OUR Ecovillage in our Honoring Circle practice! I remember all the conversations with my mentor B in recognizing the essence in others and giving it back to them. And the songs we sang to each other. Seriously, based on Tuck and Yang’s critique on metaphorizing decolonization, our practice will be considered “settler adoption fantasies”(see previous article). But is it really a move to innocence? Could it be a experiential learning that non-indigenous people relearning to be in deep and intimate connection with one another? Is it appropriating colonial framework if we don’t have an indigenous person teaching us the way of relationality? Is it creating more settler-violence to indigenous community by us remembering our way back to be villagers again?

She closed the chapter with a discussion on shame. How to deal with shame? Grow indigeneity. Leanne S. explained that shame is a settler colonial mechanism to destroy indigenous system of reciprocal recognition. It stereotypes indigenous peoples as wrong, not because they have done something wrong but they are wrong.

Searching for state recognition is like looking at the colonizer’s mirror.

She wrote “…and that mirror is reflecting back that we are shameful, that we are not good enough, that we are … not white enough, or Canadian enough, or together enough to organize….but why is the colonizer our mirror? ….they certainly do not reflect back anything that has to do with land, sovereignty, or my power as kwe.”(p.188)

Growing indigeneity intellectually and artistically and use those as mirrors, thus become powerful and simple intervention. She uses example of Nanabush, a spirit and figures in Anishinaabe storytelling, as the original teacher and “researcher” whose “methodology” created relation-based knowledge; and indigenous youth with whom she work in creating film telling stories that reflects their light.

She ended with a call to resurgence not only within her own indigenous culture, but other indigenous nationals. “Resurgent organizing has to be concerned with building a generation of indigenous nationals from various indigenous nations who think and act from within their own intelligence systems.”

I have so many thoughts on that, and they go twofold: Were the Laus’ a indigenous nation century ago? How far back do I go to find my indigeneity? Is it traceable? On the other hand, how do I stand with indigenous nationals as they organize resurgence? How do I respect their cultural sovereignty as a colored settler/immigrant on their land? What do I do with this privilege?