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Fiction

gezhizhwazh

"gezhizhwazh" by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson (art by Aana Bracic)

everyone always tells wiindigo stories when they should be telling gezhizhwazh stories. that’s what this old one says.

“why you telling wiindigo stories all the time?”

“maybe because they’re about greed and evil and imbalance, and we’re all living surrounded by that.”

“well then why you want to be surrounded by more of that?”

“i dunno. so we see the wiindigo in ourselves?”

“gaa. you young ones forget everything nowadays. wiindigo more about the inside than the outside.”

“so what should we be telling, then?”

“you know.”

“i don’t think i do, know, that is.”

“tell the ones about that strong young nishnaabekwe who wasn’t afraid of those wiindigo. who was smart and strategic. who was patient, so, so patient. waiting until just the right time. waiting, watching. tell those ones, so those young ones will know what to do. teach those ones. make it so they’ll want to listen. make it so they’ll pay attention.”

“like a movie?”

“gaawin! not like a movie. everything got to be a movie with this generation. everything got to be ‘an app.’ not a movie, that one. a story. i show you. your job is to listen.”

this one came into the world a fast-moving cloud gliding through the doorway like she was riding the southwind, and by the time i met her, she was tens of thousands of years old. you wouldn’t know it to see her, though. she was thin and muscular, but not overly so, not like she spent all her time in the gym. her long black hair was very straight. her skin olive, her eyes a dark, haunting brown. her hair was almost always in a ponytail or a single braid mirroring her spine. she was good at transforming too, that one. one minute she was turning heads she was so sexy, and the next minutes she was walking through the crowd unnoticed.

“do you really think we should be talking about sexy in the middle of this not-a-wiindigo-story, auntie?”

“why not? when’d sexy get so bad to talk about? you wouldn’t even be here without sexy. sexy got you here. no, no, no, we’re talking about sexy. we all sexy. sexy make the world go round.”

“auntie. i don’t want to hear old people talk about sex.”

“what you got against old people talking about sex? you think we not got sexy anymore? you think i didn’t have my share of husbands and lovers? you think sexy expires?”

“um, no, i guess not. i just don’t want to hear the details.”

“hear the details? you lucky if i tell you the details! i’m the old lady storyteller and if i want to put sexy in my story, sexy is in my story. you the listener, and your job is to listen. here we go.”

it wasn’t easy for her. a lot of people had been made to forget. when they did remember, they remembered him, not her. the teacher. the one that taught by never learning. the one that had pissed off every aspect of creation at some point. the only reason everyone seemed to remember him and not her was because of his shameless self-promotion. it was brilliant of him, really, as the teacher he was supposed to reflect back the worst of what had happened, and it used to work. people used to get it.

but for her, this version of him made him a self-centered, egotistical pain in the ass. but when they were alone, it was effortless, and she’d come to rely on them more than she should, given that the situation they were now in was utterly unreliable by nature.

“whoa auntie, i think maybe you going too far with the sexy now. you don’t want to piss, you know, those guys off. some of them ones like to keep it clean, on the up and up. i don’t know about you making all these stories pornographic . . .”

“howah. when did sex get pornographic? who said anything about pornographic? your thinking is all messed up, boy. not all sexy is pornographic. sexy not suppose to be pornographic. hola. i need to get some money from inac to give your generation sexy lessons.”

“well why you using all this big words anyway? why you not talking normal? and where is your rez accent? why aren’t you talking like an indian?”

“howah. i’ll show you my rez accent. not everyone like my accent. not everyone listen when i talk in my accent. some people only think that i’m smart when i talk like peter mansbridge. it’s about audience. some audiences you got to lose your accent and use big english words. you think i can’t use big english words? i’ll show you. none of that stuff is important anyway. what is important is who is listening.”

“i dunno, i think it is more authentic if you speak rez, auntie. it’s more decolonized.”

“what do you know about decolonized? you think sexy is pornographic. you think i can’t use five-dollar words. you think i’m only authentic if i’m talking rez. you the one suppose to be listening, anyway. how can you be doing any listening when you’re all critical about my authenticity?

the two of them were both travelers, but they never traveled together. he traveled from place to place, visiting. checking reality. testing reality. shaking hands, being everywhere at once but still nowhere. telling stories, helping. always helping, that guy, even when it made everything much worse. she was also always in motion, but in the background. she solved problems ahead of time, as a negotiator, a strategist, a quiet protector who no one saw. she’d saved his ass more times than she could count.

“what? you not going to interrupt me and ask about ‘ass?’”

“no. you told me to sit quietly . . . but yes, i think you should change ‘ass’ to ‘life.’”

“oh you do, do you? look at you, the big shot, editing my story. howah, you’re showing signs of zhaganashiiyaadizi. you’re a worry, alright. but right now, the show must go on.”

there was a certain amount of loneliness that came with living through the centuries, and the times she hooked up with him helped with that. or at least that’s what she told herself. he seemed to be able to see her as only one of her own kind could, but at other times, he switched that off entirely, getting lost in the intensity that he carried with him like his own personal whirlwind.

gezhizhwazh, as she was now called, was well known to only the oldest anishinaabeg, as the one that had rather dramatically defeated the wiindigo. many generations ago, she’d planned and carried out a successful resistance against the wiindigo by sacrificing herself. not just a successful resistance, but the successful resistance. they ate her slowly, as they planned an attack on a small anishinaabeg village. she endured, persisted, sacrificed. she learned their plans. she studied them. she learned to think like them. she gained their respect and trust and led them into the village. it was then that her strength of heart rose to the surface and she betrayed her enemy. she told the anishinaabeg of their plan. taught them how to kill wiindigo, and the wiindigo were defeated. and once she did, those old ones say she cut off their balls. it was the greatest defeat in the history of the world, and for a while at least, everyone had remembered. everyone had celebrated.

“how come i never heard about no defeat.”

“i dunno. how come you not heard of a lot of things?”

but by now, the anishinaabeg had lived without the wiindigo for so long, or so they’d thought, that they’d relegated wiindigo out of real life and into the realm of myth. they’d forgotten entirely that story and reality are one and the same. a critical mistake, because the wiindigo had insidiously reincarnated and come back stronger. instead of an insatiable appetite for the anishinaabeg, this time they had an insatiable appetite for anishinaabeg aki and all of its gifts. of course, to the anishinaabeg this was the same thing.

this seemingly minor adjustment in wiindigo strategy had shored up their superior military power and made death for the anishinaabeg much slower and more painful than before, and any potential interventions were that much more difficult to realize. wiindigo had diffused their political power since the old days, their system of replication had become more complex, and they’d hired public relations experts. hell, they’d invented public relations experts. their system of replication permeated everything. they were brilliant instead of just scary, and they found a way to convince people to buy disconnection, insatiable hunger, and emptiness. the lucky ones worked their whole lives so they could buy more disconnection, hunger, and emptiness. the unlucky ones were destroyed by it, and the unluckier still had parents that were destroyed by it. the more people that ate their own young, the stronger the wiindigo got.

for gezhizhwazh, it had become difficult to know where to intervene. things had become so fucked up. the last years she’d spent being a sex worker to the elite of bay street. before that, she’d been a linesman for hydro, a political aide, a nuclear engineer at the bruce, a bureaucrat. she’d deciphered the system. she could think like them. she mimicked them. she’d diagnosed the problem. but this time, the betrayal was more complicated—a search for meaning in a vast sea of contradictions. she won battle after battle after battle, with virtually no impact on wiindigo power. what was she missing? it seemed so much simpler last time. she called on the other guy.

“i don’t get it. i can see them. i know them. i can think like them while still thinking like me, but nothing i do stops them. nothing i do disrupts it.”

“then you’re not thinking like them,” he replied as he ran his big toe slowly up the inside of her leg.

“i am thinking like them, so much so, i sometimes forget i’m me. it’s not that,” she said.

“then what is it, gezh?” he asked, nudging his nose into the space between her earlobe and her neck.

“it’s that this time, their power is all over the place. there is no single target. it’s everywhere.”

“then start at the beginning, even everywhere starts at the beginning. fix the beginning, gezh, maybe the rest will follow.”

gezhizhwazh rolled over facing her other one. that right there was why she loved him. he gently touched her forehead in soft lines, more like breath than touch. he wrapped his body around hers, and then slipped into sleep. she held onto her thoughts.

“how come you not interrupting me? my story no good? you asleep?”

“i thought it was disrespectful to interrupt.”

“it is. but your not interrupting is making me self-conscious, like my story is no good.”

“the story’s good, auntie. keep going.”

“okay. pay attention to this next part, it’s important.”

when gezhizhwazh needed to heal and renew herself, she had learned to mother. the stability and rhythm of a new life filled her up. the constant physical contact. the love. the birth ceremony was renewal in itself. no wonder men had to work to not become lost. no wonder. but birth was the one ceremony that you still had to be careful with. the one that happens countless times every day in the world. wiindigo kept that one controlled through medical intervention for maternal health and of course the health of the baby. this translated into drugging women so they couldn’t be present at their ceremony. planned c-sections. putting a plastic nipple in the baby instead of her own flesh. putting her in a plastic box instead of in the arms of a warm, living, breathing human.

gezhizhwazh knew this was how those wiindigo first planted the hole inside each of these new little people in the first place. the hole that they tried so desperately to fill for the rest of their lives. they filled it up with food, with drink, with stuff. they cut themselves down, flooded themselves, they fevered themselves. they ate, drank, swam, and breathed in the toxic soup they’d inadvertently created, all in an attempt to fill the bottomless hole. they sat in front of screens for most of their waking hours. they became cannibals.

gezhizhwazh figured that part out. she’d figured out the next part too. that if she could bring new life through the doorway without that hole, there would be nothing to feed. without the weight of large gaping holes in their beings, people would no longer be willing to pay for disconnection. with nothing to feed, the entire system would fall apart. so while that other one was out carousing, protesting, or pontificating to anyone who would listen, gezhizhwazh was at work as a bami ondaadiziike, circling around those birthing women to protect that ceremony. foiling those interventions, protecting the circle. for now, her battle with the wiindigo was in its resurgence stage. gezhizhwazh was building an army—a diffuse, scattered group of souls that could see through the wiindigo illusion, because they were whole.

the light of gezhizhwazh’s army of dancing eyes would change the world.

just wait.

“just wait for what?”

“you just wait. that’s it.”

“that’s it? nothing happened? it’s a great set up, but . . . but i don’t know if you should be messing around with gezhizhwazh and wiindigo stories, especially if nothing is going to happen.”

“nothing happened? howah, you don’t even know a story when you hear it. it doesn’t all come to you at once. you can’t just press a button and get all the answers. press the button, get all the answers, then what you going to do, big shot?”

“then what do we do?”

“you just wait, i already told you. and while you are waiting, get me some tea, and maybe something to eat. i’m hungry after all that storytelling.”


nishnaabemowin: zhaganashiiyaadizi means to be colonized, live as a white person at the expense of being nishnaabe, gezhizhwazh means to cut.


© 2013 by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson. Originally published in Islands of Decolonial Love. Reprinted by permission of the author.

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Leanne Betasamosake Simpson

Leanne Simpson by Nadya KwandibensLeanne Betasamosake Simpson is the author of three books: Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back, The Gift Is in the Making, and Islands of Decolonial Love, and the editor ofLighting the Eighth Fire, This Is An Honour Song (with Kiera Ladner) and The Winter We Danced: Voice from the Past, the Future and the Idle No More Movement (Kino-nda-niimi collective). Leanne holds a PhD from the University of Manitoba and has lectured at universities across Canada. She is of Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg ancestry and a member of Alderville First Nation. Follow her on Twitter @betasamosake.