Book and author photo of Leanna Betasamosake Simpson; photo by Nadya Kwandiben

Professor Sarah Tyson on As We Have Always Done by Leanna Betasamosake Simpson

March 9, 2020

Note: Leanna Betasamosake Simpson writes that Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg means the “Nishnaabeg people who live or dwell at the mouth of a large river,” located in what is now eastern Ontario, Canada. Nishnaabeg, translated as “the people,” encompasses multiple First Nations people who were colonized by the British.

“I recommend As We Have Always Done by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson (Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg). Simpson is an Indigenous scholar, writer, and artist who, in this book, offers an exploration of how Indigenous people are resisting contemporary colonialism, especially the exploitation of land, water, and nonhuman animals, and the targeting of Indigenous people for violence. As she writes, her book is ‘a manifesto to create networks of reciprocal resurgent movements with other humans and nonhumans radically imagining their ways out of domination, who are not afraid to let those imaginings destroy the pillars of settler colonialism.’ 

“The book is often laugh-out-loud funny. Humor is clearly central to the radical resurgence that Simpson theorizes and practices, for which I find myself grateful given that the book also unflinchingly engages with the overwhelming violence of settler colonialism, both historically and in the present. Simpson draws on and contributes to Nishnaabeg practices of story-telling that enable this confluence of humor and grief, wry observation and perspicacious anger.

“Because I was asked to recommend a book for Women’s History Month, I want to highlight the way the book theorizes binary gender as a mode of colonization. In other words, Simpson explores how categorizing the world into male and female is not only a colonial practice, but a violent means of colonization. She writes: ‘Heteropatriarchy is not a discrimination that has come with white supremacy and colonialism; it is a foundational dispossession force because it is a direct attack on Indigenous bodies as political orders, thought, agency, self-determination, and freedom.’

“Simpson explores refusing this violence from within Nishnaabeg grounded normativity; a normativity grounded in an ongoing reciprocal relationship with the land. Nishnaabeg grounded normativity is not just a concept or even ethical framework, but, as Simpson writes, ‘a series of complex, overlapping emergent and responsive network of relationships of deep reciprocity, intimate and global interconnection and interdependence, that spirals across time and space.’ As We Have Always Done invites readers into Simpson’s practice of grounded normativity, which leaves you with so much more than a book in your hands.”

– Associate Professor Sarah Tyson, Philosophy Department

In our new series Wonderwork, CU Denver faculty, students, staff, and alumni recommend one book, movie, or podcast that deserves more attention. Our ultimate goal is to promote a diverse and inclusive book and media culture. March is Women’s History Month, so we welcome work by women. Nominate your favorite Wonderwork bemailing or posting on social media with #CUDenverWonderwork.