indigenous authors, Reviews

Review: nîtisânak by Lindsay Nixon

Synopsis: How do you honour blood and chosen kin with equal care? A groundbreaking memoir spanning nations, prairie punk scenes, and queer love stories, Lindsay Nixon’s nîtisânak is woven around grief over the loss of their mother. It also explores despair and healing through community and family, and being torn apart by the same. Using cyclical narrative techniques and drawing on Nixon’s Cree, Saulteaux, and Métis ancestral teachings, this work offers a compelling perspective on the connections that must be broken and the ones that heal.

First of all, I have a signed copy of this book, and WOW does that ever make me excited!

nîtisânak is Lindsay Nixon’s memoir, telling the story of their relationship with their mom, growing up as a queer indigenous person, dealing with trauma, and finally healing. Adopted as a child, Nixon reflects on their experience of growing up with white parents and having an Indigenous heritage, and also looks at their Indigenous family. The book is incredibly engaging, with Nixon using slang that they used in their youth to connect us to that part of their life, and creating vivid pictures of their experiences.

One thing that I really loved about the book was the use of Indigenous words and the exclusivity of their use, meaning that I still don’t really know what those words mean. There is no glossary at the back of the book helping you to pronounce them or offer translation into English. And that is what I love about it. As a white person who speaks English, I think that many of us expect to constantly be able to understand everything, all the time. We are, in a way, epistemically privileged, meaning that we are use to being able to understand everything, and have knowledge of everything. English is the accepted language is literature, a lot of academia, and more – if something isn’t in English, it should be translated. Everything should be available! But, Nixon refuses to give that to their readers, and instead makes Indigenous readers those with the epistemic privilege in this case. White, English readers are unable to fully understand words like wîhtikow, or at the end of that chapter where they speak Plains Cree. I think that the only words they translate are money, pigs, and white settlers, which feels appropriate. Basically, at first I was disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to learn the meaning of these words easily, but the more I think about it the more I really love how Nixon leaves some things exclusively for Cree readers.

Another part of this memoir that I loved was Nixon’s discussion of white gays, the issues that can arise in queer relationships, and basically their discussion of queer culture. They really challenge how white queers contribute to structures such as white supremacy and racism, and how queer relationships are often viewed as not being ones which can feature abuse. Of course this last claim is false, but some people still believe it. Nixon really faces these false beliefs head one, talking about how “yt queers say, We all belong here” but “yt queers claim “here” so effortlessly because it’s their space. They don’t see, or maybe don’t want to admit, the ways that queer visibilities and signifiers are made to fit their bodies.” And this is so true. The Queer centers around queers of colour, neglecting to made space purposefully for those who do not easily fit into the definition of queer or gay etc. A great example of this is RuPaul’s Drag Race, which is a huge icon of queer culture, and yet is incredibly white. I thought that their callout of this, and recognition of abuse in queer relationships, was really important, and should be recognized as a huge issue within our community.

One issue that I thought was really relevant to today was raised by another GoodReads user, Jessie, in their review. Jessie writes:
“One of the major issues with anti-blackness on the prairies is non-black folks using AAVE in ways that are both mocking and desperate for a legitmacy that is projected upon black urban bodies by outsiders. In this book there was the grating and innaccurate prairie approximation of AAVE that undergirded the entire text, and just highlighted for me the deep unchallenged anti-blackness of the academy/publishing for just letting this fly. The text talks about the pitfalls of being so wrapped up in a personal struggle that one can perpetrate other oppressions without considering it, and then Nixon goes ahead and falls right into that pit.”
Because of this use of AAVE, they felt excluded from the book. I thought that this was really interesting point to bring up, especially as the appropriation of AAVE is something that I know to be rampant in the queer community. I’m not Black, and I don’t know much AAVE (or if I do then I’m not aware of it) and so it’s difficult to pinpoint where instances such as this come up in the novel. But it definitely gave me something to think about after I finished the book, about how none of us are perfect and contribute to oppressing other groups.

Overall, I really loved this book, and gave it a 5/5, but Jessie’s comment really made me think about the book. I’m definitely doing to be more attentive to issues like the one that Jessie raised, and I think it’s a good practice to read critically. When I re-read this book, I will definitely keep this in mind, and try to be more aware of appropriation of AAVE. If you read this book, let me know what you think, and we can discuss!
Have a great day ducks!
~ Mon

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