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?

“A Dish with One Spoon” treaty — intact memories seeking to contribute

I learned about “A Dish with One Spoon” Treaty from yesterday lecture “A second cup of tea and a few more stories: Deepening our understanding of Indigenization” by two indigenous women scholars on indigenizing the academy (see more)

Dr. Ruth Koleszar-Green said that it is a treaty of peacemaking, represented by the wampum belts, which is the law, that says the dish has more than enough for all of us, so don’t take more than you need and make sure that everyone also has what they need. She said that we all use one spoon, and no one is gonna use to knife to dice the dish to make it even. The spoon represents that we will not bring weapon.

My mind went, “Isn’t that what we have been teaching at the Ecovillage? Every time at our Gratitude Circle before meal, we would say ‘there’s enough food for all of us if we don’t eat like a North American. Take what you need for the first round and make sure that everyone has their first before you go for seconds.” The village culture is a reindignezing practice.

Later I came home, and searched about “A Dish With One Spoon”. I found out from another indigenous woman scholar Lee Maracle, that “A Dish With one Spoon is a Haudenosaunee Confederacy law called the Haudenosaunee Great Law of Peace.

I looked up documentation online, and I found out (via this article) that it is stated in the Great Law of Peace,

“[that] it will turn out well for us to do this: we will say, ‘We promise to have only one dish among us; in it will be beaver tail and no knife will be there’… We will have one dish, which means that we will all have equal shares of the game roaming about in the hunting grounds and fields, and then everything will become peaceful among all of the people; and there will be no knife near our dish; which means that if there is a knife were there, someone might presently get cut, causing bloodshed, and this is troublesome, should it happen thus, and for this reason there should be no knife near our dish. [Concerning the League, p. 458]

On April 7, 1757, Thomas Butler wrote to Sir William Johnson about a meeting between the Haudenosaunee and the French at Montreal. According to his report, the Haudenosaunee told the French:

“…we can’t write but know all that has past between us having good memories.

after the Warrs & troubles we together met you at this place where every trouble was buried & a fire kindled here. Where was to meet and Treat peaceably; you are daily now working disturbances and Seem to forget the old agreement &c. The Tree Seems to be falling, let it be now put up the Roots spread and the leaves flourish as before. You formerly said take this bowl and this meat with this Spoon let us Eat always friendly together out the one Dish but you now forget and have separated the Indians very much So as they can’t well come together To Eat out this Dish which is very hard as we have children here & there Scatred through ye Country by your Means.

The English your Brothers & you are the common disturbers of this Country. I say you white people together. We term the English your Brothers as you must have some. We Indians you call Children you both want to put us Indians a quarreling but we the Six Nations know better if we begin We see nothing but an Intire Ruin of us as we would leve of till all was Gone. So we are Resolved to keep Friends on both sides as long at possible & not meddle with the Hatchet but endeavor always To pacify the white people Our arms shall be between you endeavoring to keep you a Sunder.”[Sir William Johnson Papers, II, 705]

At the University of Waterloo Indigenous Speakers Series 2018, Lee Maracle said at her speech that the Haudenosaunee Confederacy is a 1000 years old confederacy, that “A Dish with One Spoon” is the oldest form of democracy happened on this land, when five nations agreed to respect each other’s cultures and languages together. “Even nations fought among nations, they honor and respect each other.”

She ended the speech with this, “Imagine, 168 nations of peoples are in Toronto, probably a 100 nations in the Guelph area. All kinds of knowledge, all kinds of stories, all kinds of art; all kinds of sensibility, religions, philosophies, we could learn from that. We could put these things together. We could recreate the world. And Canada is fit for that. We could create intellectuals who have a powerful sense of cultural theory that embraces the people of the world that are right here. Intact memories, seeking to contribute to this great new land because it’s new now….”

Intact memories seeking to contribute. But the premise is, don’t forget everything you/I learned from your/my own people.

We have a chance to get there.