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On Indigenous Futurism: Science-Fiction and Hope by Claudia Chiang-Lopez

by Ethan Tussey

Indigenous futurism shifts science-fiction away from the goal of colonization, instead focusing on "community, coexistence, sharing the land and technology, the honoring of caretakers and protectors" (Roanhorse, 2018). Two writers in this field are Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg scholar and artist Leanne Betasamosake Simpson and Rebecca Roanhorse, an Ohkay Owingeh/Black science fiction writer.

In her essay "Postcards from the Apocalypse" (2018) Roanhorse argues that indigenous folks have survived the apocalypse, and they "stand with one foot always in the darkness that ended our world, and the other in a hope for our future as Indigenous people." But that hope is marred by settler's exploitation of both indigenous people and our earth.

In Roanhorse's "Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™" (2017 Best Short Story Hugo winner, 2017 Best Short Story Nebula winner), indigenous folks perform just-authentic-enough "ancient rituals" for tourists in a virtual reality. Hope here is limited to survival and a rejection of this performance.

Simpson's 2017 "Akiden Boreal" short story features two indigenous folks who yearn to visit a private company's domed nature preserve, the "last place of their kind," where folks can engage in different ceremonies: sharing food, having sex, enjoying a fire. Once there, they wish to stay, and their hope is their return to this place, however manufactured it is.

Simpson’s “How to Steal a Canoe,” reflects this tension of reclaiming in a destroyed world. In it, an elderly Nishnaabeg man and a young Nishnaabeg woman visit a museum that features canoes from their nation, now on display for settlers. The woman dips her fingers into a plastic water bottle, to rub a canoe as she prays. She rescues the canoe - as the elderly man distracts the security guard by instructing him on how to use sage. The video closes when she returns the canoe to a lake. This clip embodies hope, within a world ravaged by colonialism and capitalism.

These stories lack a happy ending in a utopia. Yet hope remains - hope tempered by settler destruction. Hope is resilience, a connection to the past, a re-taking of the things stolen, and survival.

How to Steal a Canoe

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson is a renowned Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg artist, musician, poet and writer, who has been widely recognized as one of the most compelling Indigenous voices of her generation. Revolutions Per Minute F(l)ight.

from How to Steal a Canoe (2016)
Creator: Leanne Betasamosake Simpson
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey