There are many aspects of “Plight” by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson that bear scrutiny with a socio-economic lens. The narrator and the characters in the story are Mississauga indigenous people, who are planning to tap some sugar maples in a largely white, well-to-do neighbourhood that is not their own.
Although we never meet the neighbourhood residents, we learn a lot about them. The details of their lives, such as planting perennials, having local, organic food delivered, shopping at the farmer’s market and voting NDP or Liberal paint a picture of people with positive intentions. The final detail in this paragraph delivers the twist: the residents are trying to preserve their historic district, which means they “can’t do renovations that make your house look like it isn’t from the 1800’s or rent your extra floors to the lower class.”
Our group of indigenous people seem to identify with the “lower class”, or at least not with the class that lives in the neighbourhood. In the next paragraph, the narrator comments, “Let them bask in the plight of the Native people so they can feel self-righteous.” The whole paragraph clearly draws a line that’s between “us” and “them”. Throughout the story, the narrator identifies the group with many identities: their actual names, Mississauga, Fourth World Problems Collective, Nishnaabekwewag, “Not Murdered, Not Missing”, and NDN, while the neigbourhood residents, while mentioned often, are always “they”.
The classes are clearly delineated, and the imbalance between the power they hold is made plain, when the narrator points out, “This is our sugar bush.” This comes after the discussion of how to frame their collecting of the sap in such a way that the current residents of the area will be okay with. They have crafted their flyer carefully so that they will be given permission or at least not have the police called on them. This is despite the fact that this is their traditional land and their traditional activity. Twice, the narrator mentions “plight”, which is what she feels the white people see them as having.Our narrator is knowledgeable about indigenous lore and shows the reader the richness of traditions involving smudging and tobacco. She draws on the help of Sabe, a kind of spiritual mentor. But she also shows us through clothing (“running shoes with plastic bread bags inside them to keep my feet dry”) and the lengths the group must go to in order to get “permission” to tap trees on traditional lands that they are not of the privileged class and do not hold the power.
The author’s website tells us that she is an off-reserve band member of Alderville First Nation, with regained Indian status, so it is likely that she identifies with the indigenous characters in her story. She has first-hand knowledge of what it is like to hold a less powerful role in society and draws her readers, both powerful and less powerful into a reflection of what the “plight” of indigenous communities might really be and at whose hands it really is.
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