Indigenous: A Conversation



The concept of “Indigenous” is a complex and nuanced one when applied to peoples who have intimate and sophisticated political relationships with the land and waters to whom they belong and whose lives are fraught with the violence of dispossession stemming from different forms of colonialism. In this conversation between Palestine and Canada-occupied Nishnaabe land, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson and Sabrien Amrov generously reflect together on the political usefulness of such a term and their personal relationship to it.

Betasamosake Simpson Funambulist 2
“This is Indian Land” on a railroad bridge in Garden River First Nation. / Photo by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson.


When Léopold first suggested we write to each other, he let me know that you didn’t feel knowledgeable in Indigenous Studies. I don’t feel knowledgeable in very much these days and I understood that caveat as a beautiful expression of humility. It reminded me of something Robyn wrote to me in one of her letters that would become Rehearsals for Living: the idea that we wake up each day more and re-learn the world as if we are learning anew. At the time, I understood this as an intellectual practice that increased my width as a living being on the planet and in this present moment. It compelled me to read outside of Indigeneity in North America every day. It asked me to bring with that practice of reading alongside an openness to engagement beyond fast critique. It had the impact of making me feel like I don’t know very much of anything outside of the narrow lane I usually exist within.

As I grow older, this is becoming a precious daily practice to me. I don’t want to become that person in whatever room resting on arrogance and their understanding of the world from the pedestal of expertise, particularly because what is going on outside of that room is most often the site of radical imaginings and theorizing that is most useful in making otherwise. I always want to know the world anew, I always want to be engaged in broad study. Engaged in the work of unlearning, and relearning and just learning because the world is an ever expansive place full of links and relationships and wiring that impacts me whether or not I know about it. I always want to be a student. And this is crucial for another reason: the drivers of colonialism study their methodologies and outcomes across occupied geographies and peoples and then use what they learn to do the work of colonialism better.