This volume makes an excellent companion to Islands and Accident, for readers who are serious about learning (or maybe just long for a little more context to understand her other work), but aren’t prepared to wade through academic language or style. Turtle’s Back is wonderful, too, for the attention paid to indigenous languages.
Even if you have a vague understanding of the importance of protecting these languages, which have been directly targeted by the Canadian government’s genocidal practices (e.g. punishing the students of residential schools who communicated in their mother tongues, working to assimilate children into the dominant culture by boarding them with white families), there is much to learn here.
Simpson offers a peek at these languages’ complexities and the great care she takes to be exact and to be correct reveals just how intricate these systems are. (She also illuminates the risk of deterioration as unschooled speakers make errors, which are recorded and perpetuated, even in their attempts to preserve the languages, when individuals believe themselves fluent but are actually still learning and have not specifically consulted with elders who have an expertise in usage.)
None of this is disorienting either, for she begins at the beginning, inviting readers to learn along with her, from the most basic concepts onwards. She explains her usage of Nishnaabemowin words, which she draws specifically from the dialects of Michi Saagigg Nishnaabeg (or eastern Ontario dialect, usage taught to her by Doug Williams) and the Odawa (or central/Manitoulin dialect, usage taught to her by Shirley Williams and Isadore Toulouse). She begins with the basics:
“Nishnaabeg is translated as ‘the people’ and refers to Ojibwe, Odawa (Ottawa), Potawatomi, Michi Saagiig (Mississauga), Salteaux, Chippewa and Omámíwinini (Algonquin) people. Nishnaageb are also known as Nishinaabeg, Anishinaabeg, Anishinaabek, and Anishinabek, reflecting different spelling systems and different dialects.”