When I was younger, I used to wonder if there was an alternate universe where I spoke Cree.
I used to wonder what it would have been like if my grandfather hadn’t been taught that Cree wasn’t a language worth passing on. Would I have spoken it with my family? Would I be fluent today?
That’s why before I even knew what “Indigenous Futurisms” was, the concept felt important. The term, paying homage to Afrofuturism, was created by Dr. Grace Dillon, professor at Portland State University and author of “Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction.” It’s a collision between art, technology and storytelling that spins together our histories, languages and self-narratives. Indigenous Futurisms is a critical movement, connecting our past, present and future; it demands our curiosity and attention. It’s about re-imagining the future, and it is a necessary vision for moving forward.
In fact, I’d argue that Indigenous Futurisms is a method of healing. At its core, the movement is about envisioning a future from an Indigenous perspective. It’s a way to step outside boundaries and imagine new possibilities within the arts.
Growing up in Canada, I learned about healing through “reconciliation” and “resurgence.” Truthfully, reconciliation is viewed by most as an empty promise, or even worse, a means to justify actions that undermine native sovereignty. Take Canada, where I live – in October, a fight between the Mi’kmaq fishermen and non-Indigenous fisherman escalated when treaty rights were blatantly ignored, leading to violence. This conflict is not isolated.
Resurgence, on the other hand, feels more impactful to me. I only learned about the idea two years ago, but it changed my outlook in a profound way. It’s a goal that supports the continuation of our languages and traditions and focuses on Indigenous success and joy. Indigenous Futurisms is resurgence. It’s the beginning of a paradigm shift, part of our work to change a historical and national perspective on Indigenous peoples that is rooted in the past. Above everything, for me, it represents hope.
The power of Indigenous Futurisms is clear.
In horror, and especially within science fiction, which has always felt like a white, male space, Indigenous Futurisms can subvert the genre and offer a socio-political critique of tropes. In Jeff Barnaby’s most recent film “Blood Quantum,” the zombie apocalypse unfolds – with a twist. Those with Indigenous heritage are immune to the infection, offering a brand-new take on the zombie storyline. The main conflict isn’t an accident, either – the film is reminiscent of past horrors with foreign diseases. (Full disclosure – my dad is the lead actor in this film, but I’d argue it’s required viewing for everyone.) Films like this can help us to unpack narratives of “first contact,” commonly seen in sci-fi as close parallels to, or even the lived experiences of, Indigenous peoples who have already gone through a destructive and traumatic contact with settlers. Additionally, we have novels like “The Marrow Thieves,” by Cherie Dimaline, where dreams and traditional songs are woven together as a form of resilience against colonial powers in a futuristic dystopia.
Furthermore, we have a new generation of creators that are incorporating Indigenous languages and histories into their work. This is one of the most fascinating aspects of Indigenous Futurisms: that we can encode our languages into creative technology. An example that sticks in my mind is “Biidaaban: First Light”, a virtual reality project led by Anishinaabe artist Lisa Jackson. In a futuristic Toronto, the languages of the Wendat, Kanien’kehá:ka and Anishinaabe are a central aspect of this virtual reconstruction. To hear the original languages being spoken and visually represented is powerful; it is a learning tool and a reminder that these languages now exist forever in this virtual reality. These languages will not disappear.
It’s healing to be able to hear and see our languages expanding into new spaces, and it’s necessary to be able to reclaim our narratives through visual imagery – a tool that first enabled the widespread colonization and misrepresentation of Indigenous peoples. While we cannot reconcile colonial trauma through arts alone, it is a powerful medium within the scope of collective healing and empowerment.
Maybe, (definitely) I will cry my eyes out seeing Indigenous actors in Taika Waititi’s new Star Wars film. Maybe, I will one day create my own projects that incorporate the Cree language and culture into an immersive and interactive experience. Maybe, Indigenous Futurisms is the arrival of a dream for the Indigenous kids who never got to see themselves represented as astronauts, as time travellers, as inter-galactic and post-apocalyptic heroes – because I know for me it is.
It’s about ensuring that the stories from our pasts can be found in media that is accessible, empowering and endlessly relevant. And at the intersection of multimedia and technology, I too dream of revitalizing these stories – but most importantly, reminding the world that they were never gone in the first place.
EVA ROSE GREYEYES is a first year in Berkeley College, and a member of the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation from Saskatchewan, Canada. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.