Pack It in Your Bones

Reviewed by Alexa Manuel

The opening pages of Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson (Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg) reflect the frozen state of the narrator, Mashkawaji (they/them). Each sentence floats in blank space as if the words themselves were encased in ice. Throughout the rest of the novel, as the sizes of each paragraph fluctuate with each page, Simpson’s characters thaw and unfold through rich contemplations of the traditional and the contemporary. In this novel, Indigenous knowledges are centred by characters who utilize what they can to survive but also endure.


In her previous work of non-fiction, As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom through Radical Resistance, Simpson writes about an elder who sometimes could not afford tobacco to offer the animal that he was hunting, so “he would gift the animal whatever he had with him of value”; often, this meant giving “a piece of his baloney sandwich,” as this was all that he had (139). “He felt that the animal spirit would understand his intent and accept this gift in the spirit it had been intended,” Simpson recalls. “These tiny rememberings are instructive to me.” This tiny remembering is imperative to one of the main lessons of Noopiming: that ceremony need not be grandiose or perfect for it to be meaningful, as with the old woman Mindimooyenh’s annual visits to Ikea, where they “smudge in the parking lot” and offer semaa (tobacco) “to the Ficus elastica plant in the warehouse section” (48). When one participates in ceremony, it is easy to become lost in the idea that there is only one way to do it, but Simpson reminds us through these characters that ceremony can be found anywhere and that all of the land, wherever we might find it, is to be taken care of with the best intention of spirit. It is also important to use whatever means we can to the best of our abilities, as Mindimooyenh demonstrates with their “twenty 15 x 20 blue tarps” from Canadian Tire (85). Although polyethylene is not a sustainable product, Mindimooyenh’s tarps have a wide range of applications and are the best thing available: “Tarp as tent. Tarp as sleeping bag. Tarp as blanket.”


Noopiming highlights the hard and sometimes tedious work that it takes to live as an Indigenous person in a world where colonial forces attempt to limit traditional practices and English is the default language. Simpson invites readers to take on a very small portion of this work, in part through her unwillingness to provide clear translations of the Anishinaabemowin terminology that she frequently utilizes. Many of the terms can be found quite easily online, but without prior knowledge of any kind of Indigenous storytelling practices their context may not always be clear. However, this lack of context is less a barrier than an invitation to deepen our understanding of what it is to begin seeing the world outside of colonization. Noopiming also highlights the strengths found in living as someone connected with other beings—human and non-human alike. Simpson accomplishes this most profoundly through her description of Ninaatig, the maple tree, renumerating the sugar-making ceremony (89). By describing maple trees in ceremony, Simpson asks us to imagine for a moment that humans are not the only beings with consciousness, which in turn encourages us to think further about the responsibilities that we have to these beings and to the world around us.


Ninaatig recounts their participation in the sugar-making ceremony, in which their body is “pierced” (89). Although the ordeal is painful, it is also useful, requiring “focus and commitment.” The ceremony also serves to bring Ninaatig closer to their friends and neighbours, who support them by keeping them hydrated and offering words of encouragement. Although the ceremony is halted for many years due to Ninaatig’s location in a public park where “tree cops” disallow the practice, Ninaatig merely considers their responsibilities to have “shifted,” and they still act as a protector to those around them. In This Accident of Being Lost (2017), one of Simpson’s characters worries about the effects of “piercing” a maple tree for its sap: “I hesitate, and then I take out the drill. I hope this doesn’t hurt” (8). In Noopiming, Simpson has effectively changed the perspective from a human taking sap from an unwitting tree to a tree lovingly giving their sap, even if it does hurt them. It is in this giving that we feel connection.


Noopiming is a novel about the power of giving one’s time, energy, and love to others and also about the power of allowing oneself to be loved and to be taken care of by others, and the many ways one can do so. It is a novel about what it means to live in the world as a human being, one with responsibilities not only to others but also to oneself, to one’s past, and to one’s future.


Works Cited

Simpson, Leanne Betasamosake. As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom through Radical Resistance. U of Minnesota P, 2017.

—. This Accident of Being Lost: Songs and Stories. Anansi, 2017.

This review “Pack It in Your Bones” originally appeared in Canadian Literature, 3 May. 2022. Web.

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