Resistance and DisruptionArts

Imagination and Liberation: Indigenous Futurisms

This Place, a CBC Podcast adapted from the graphic novel of the same name, takes us through 150 years of Indigenous people’s stories after contact with settlers. The final story, “Kitaskînaw 2350” follows Wâpanacâhkos, a teen who is sent on a mission back in time to 2016 to determine if Indigenous peoples can live in harmony with settlers. This mission was done in preparation for the return of other humans who left Earth to colonize Mars 300 years prior. Creator, Chelsea Vowel, and host, Rosanna Deerchild invite us to engage in reflection and imagination through her visions of this decolonized future, speaking to the power of art, creativity and dreaming in the process of creating a better future.

In Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction, Grace Dillon termed this genre “Indigenous futurism,” in a nod to its predecessor, Afrofuturism. What Vowel does in This Place is an excellent example of an assertion of Indigenous sovereignty through art.

To describe Indigenous futurisms as Indigenous Science Fiction or Speculative Fiction would be doing a disservice to the many things that the genre can be and do. Indigenous futurism is not a genre that can be easily defined, but a movement towards a decolonized future, an alternative reality and a possible way forward. To call Indigenous futurism a genre at all is an oversimplification of the many forms it can take — its resistance cannot be confined to a certain medium or artistic space. Whether the Indigenous futurist is exploring the past, present, future or some other space, there is room to stretch beyond colonial understandings and constraints which have served to oppress and undermine Indigenous knowledge and personhood.

Science fiction is often rooted in Western conceptions of what our future should look like. Who is included, what is true and what is untrue, are all based in colonial ways of understanding and knowing, which are reflections of narratives that continue to perpetuate and justify the destruction of Indigenous cultures. In making excuses for colonialism, Western narratives like to relegate Indigenous knowledge and ways of being to the past, as bygone or outdated, in order to frame the forced assimilation as necessary or even noble. However, Indigenous science and understandings that have been held for years, are more needed than ever with the rapid decline of our environment. In spite of sci-fi narratives’ tendency to reject “primitive” or “past” technologies, Indigenous futurisms portray those stories and knowledge systems as the past, present and future rather than as relics. Through explorations of contact, time travel, science and apocalypse, these works imagine this place we call Canada as something else entirely. Indigenous futurisms are not bound by what is “real” or history, but instead transcends those constructions in order to rebuild and strengthen what is true.

Our western ways of understanding claim objectivity, but fail to acknowledge how their biases determine the questions they think are even worth asking. Arrogance and overconfidence in Western technology and ways of knowing has left our planet in an environmental crisis which nothing short of radical change can rectify. These radical futures that Indigenous futurists are imagining are exactly the stories we need to push ourselves into a new era. Science may not always map neatly onto Indigenous knowledge systems, but oftentimes they agree on what is the best way to take care of this Earth. Instead of incorporating Indigenous understandings and ways of being as a novelty, we must start centring voices and governance systems that are Indigenous to the land we’re on. I think it is time we stop asking how we can make reparations for the past without challenging the structures which perpetrated the very atrocities we are trying to atone for. We should and instead start imagining what a better future could look like completely free from those systemic chains which keep actual change from occurring.

When engaging in the work of decolonization, one must be careful not to fall into the trap of centring settler experiences and structures. Scholars such as Eisenberg point out how efforts to reconcile such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission are statist interventions. Few of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission have been adopted, and even if every single thing was taken into account, Eisenberg argues that it would only serve to reinforce state power and responsibility rather than calling into question the oppressive state and fundamentally changing the way things operate. Tuck and Yang make the point that reconciliation is still focused on settler comfort, and when decolonization is used as metaphor, or sentiment, then we centre settler futures rather than Indigenous sovereignty. They put it best by saying “Decolonization is not an ‘and’. It is an elsewhere” (p. 36).

Land Back is an Indigenous-led movement advocating for Indigenous sovereignty and decision-making power. Land Back calls for a change in land governance from the Canadian government to include the Indigenous communities who have claim to them. A fundamental misunderstanding of relationship to place led to treaties being signed, which the government used as justification for displacement and dispossession of the land’s people. While the crown saw treaties as a purchase of land, the Indigenous populations did not agree to cede or surrender anything, but rather agreed only to coexist.

As settlers engaging in the process of trying to decolonize our minds, looking towards Indigenous futurisms to help us conceptualize and visualize what another world could look like can act as a liberatory tool from oppressive colonial structures. Land Back is where a lot of those futures can begin and start to blossom. While many are comfortable tokenizing or appropriating Indigenous ways of knowing when convenient or fashionable, the end goal should be the upheaval of all that suppresses and undermines these Indigenous knowledges in exchange for an alternative space, a future beyond Canada. Vowel says “It’s not on Indigenous peoples to decolonize the planet, it’s on all humans to decolonize their relationships with one another, with the planet [and], with all other living things.” (0:24:15)

In “Kitaskînaw 2350” humans have left Earth to colonize Mars and those left behind have rebuilt and reimagined the land. The future we step into is one where we are in relationship with the Earth we are on. Vowel creates a future where language and culture are rooted in land; where there is respect for youth and elderly rather than a dismissal of their knowledge; where there is the embracing of others in spite of differences and forgiveness of past sins. A lot of these principles are not inherent to the oppressive systems we inhabit and sustain. Indigenous futurisms centre the voices of those whose epistemologies have been undermined and erased to imagine an “elsewhere”. If we want to leave this place better for our descendants, these “elsewhere[s]” need to be translated from page, stage or canvas, to the land on which we sustain ourselves. 


Header image source: Pexels


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