Journalist Kate Heartfield‘s essay for Article Magazine, “Decolonizing the future”, provides an exciting take on how indigenous writers of science fiction are rewriting the genre, on imagining futures for their peoples and their cultures.
Wshe was in eighth grade, Darcie Little Badger read in a book at school that the Lipan Apache people — her own people — were “extinct.”
“Like dinosaurs!” she would joke on Twitter years later.
Now she’s an oceanographer who specializes in phytoplankton genetics and a writer of speculative fiction. In one of her recent short stories, “Né łe”, a Lipan Apache veterinarian travels to Mars.
“It really is for me all about the survival aspect,” she explains. “As I was growing up and reading a lot of science fiction and fantasy, I wasn’t really seeing Native characters. That made me wonder why not. Are they all gone, or are they forgotten? This hit me really hard because my tribe really struggled for a long time to survive and is really still struggling… That act of existing, in a science fiction story, in a futuristic setting, is a triumph of endurance to me and it does go against the narrative of colonialism that we really don’t exist.”
The concept of “the future” only exists in the present. It can be shaped by the same colonial structures and narratives that shape the North American present, or it can affirm Indigenous land and sovereignty.
This global, multidirectional work of decolonization has always been a part of the science fiction (SF) canon it critiques — Afrofuturism, for example, has a long literary tradition. It’s long been part of the work of First Nations, Métis and Inuit writers. But Daniel Heath Justice, a speculative fiction writer himself and Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Literature and Expressive Culture, says the Indigenous science fiction of North America is now coming into a “golden age.”
“One of the battles that Indigenous writers had for a long time was to have their work seen as real literature and I don’t think we have that same struggle now in the same way. It’s ongoing but I don’t think it’s as acute as it was. So I think now a lot of writers may feel a little bit more comfort in going into genres that may or may not have been seen as having a lot of literary merit for a while.”