nîtisânak by Lindsay Nixon is the kind of book that makes you feel grateful to get a chance to peek into someone else’s mind. It’s a unique, genre-defying book that I still vividly remember despite having read it in November of last year! (Yes, I’m very behind in my reviews). I am so excited about the great stuff that Metonymy Press is putting out. See also my reviews for Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars and Small Beauty for other examples of their great unique books!
Nixon is a two-spirit Cree, Saulteaux, and Metis writer (among other things). This is their first book, a memoir about “blood and chosen kin.” They write about: queer love and betrayal, the unexpected death of their white adoptive mother, being a prairie punk, the complex intersections of queer and Indigenous identities, and living in different parts of the prairies and the world, and more. It’s funny, sad, clever, tender, and biting. It’s fun to read, and profound and heartbreaking.
Nixon’s style is intriguing and non-hierarchical. Throughout the book there are footnotes with references, like you might read in an academic essay. (Nixon is a McGill Art History PhD student, and this is clearly one mode they’re used to writing in). But when you flip to the back to see what they’re referencing, it’s just as likely to be Missy Elliot as Judith Butler. Nixon keeps you asking as you read: wait, what is this book? I think that’s the point.
Tonally the book keeps you on your toes too. Nixon can be bitter sarcastic:
“That’s cook, K-Town—keep destroying one another over that little plot of land that the man gave you, calling it the holy land while dictating what NDNs are good enough to swim in your bourgeois waters, as if you could own the waters to begin with. Much teachings. Very tradish.”
But a few pages later, heartbreaking and sincere:
“Can my dad ever truly love me, like decolonially love me, the way my tired spirit deserves? What is corrupt love other than obligation?”
Then they can slip into academic discourse:
“Instead, my intent is to acknowledge the insidious colonial masculinities that have poisoned my patrilineal lines, turning many of my men kin from reciprocal relations into perpetrators of harm, and to describe the parts of my family’s identity that cannot be restrained by colonial law and categorizations of our communities.”
And flow effortlessly into internet speak:
“Tl;dr: the yt men in my family came looking for victims, and the Native men took what was left.”
Throughout, there is beautiful poetic writing and startling realizations, the kind that make you gasp with recognition and awakening. Like when Nixon writes:
“There’s always that yt that wants to say I’m ‘just starting shit.’ Little grrrl, I think what you meant to say was that it makes you uncomfortable that I don’t take shit and that I’m not quiet about it, when you’ve spent your whole life quieting yourself for the status quo, and now do the same in your supposedly radical queer community.”
“Maybe today will be the day my roof is torn off by the prairie wind, exposing me to the open sky. I’ll close my eyes and soar into the emptiness.”
This is turning into one of those reviews where I just quote and quote the book until the review is more the author’s words than mine—oops. But this is what happens to me when I read something like nîtisânak, where it’s just so much its own thing that it feels impossible to convey what it is like except by showing excerpts and saying, see, this is like this, but also like this, oh and also this. The pieces in this book are essays, stories, poems, letters—sometimes all at once. Sometimes they’re only two sentences, like in the section titled “Bitch”:
“I’m not such a man-hater. It’s just that riot grrrl raised me, I’m rigorous af, and I breathe the fire of nookomis into everything I do.”
If you’re a fan of Leanne Betasamosake Simpson‘s work, you will definitely enjoy nîtisânak. Both those writers work from their Indigenous perspectives to defy colonial expectations of form and genre to genuinely fun and profound effects. There’s also an irreverent Indigiqueer humour Nixon’s book that reminded me of Joshua Whitehead’s Jonny Appleseed. (I’ve reviewed that novel too: check it out here).