Tuesday November 14, 2017

How Indigenous and black artists are using science fiction to imagine a better future

Cree/Metis filmmaker Danis Goulet's latest work, The Hunt, is a virtual reality time travel to the year 2167.

Cree/Metis filmmaker Danis Goulet's latest work, The Hunt, is a virtual reality time travel to the year 2167. (The Hunt/Danis Goulet )

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Alien invasions are a common trope in science-fiction writing, and according to author Drew Hayden Taylor, they're also an apt metaphor for Indigenous life in Canada.

'The concept of Native science fiction for a lot of people is an oxymoron.' - Drew Hayden Taylor

"I don't know of another culture in North America that can really relate [to] the experience of strangers suddenly showing up and taking over everything and imposing their will on the people," Taylor tells The Current's host Anna Maria Tremonti.

The award-winning playwright, novelist, journalist and filmmaker from Ontario's Curve Lake First Nation is the author of Take Us To Your Chief and Other Stories, a collection of Indigenous-themed science-fiction short stories.

Drew Hayden Taylor

Drew Hayden Taylor is an award-winning playwright, novelist and filmmaker from the Curve Lake First Nation in Ontario. His latest book is Take Us To Your Chief and Other Stories. (Suzanne Carroll)

"The concept of Native science fiction for a lot of people is an oxymoron," Taylor says, pointing to the common narratives around Indigenous people centre around their past and what they've lost through colonialism.

"We're not historical beings. We're contemporary and future beings," Taylor says.

Imagining different futures through science fiction

Indigenous and black futurists in Canada are making sense of their past and imagining radically different futures through science fiction. 

Author Minister Faust, whose work focuses on African civilizations and techno-futures, says Eurocentric science fiction commits "a kind of literary genocide by wiping us out from the future."

Faust, the author of multiple books, including The Alchemists of Kush, says his work and the work of other Afrofuturist writers imagine people of African descent "building the future and making things that make the new worlds go round."

'What happens is that people's imaginations get colonized.' - Minister Faust

According to Faust, imagining the future is also about decolonizing minds. 

Minister Faust

Edmonton-based science fiction and fantasy writer Minister Faust focuses his work on African civilizations and techno-futures. His latest book is The Alchemists of Kush. (Minister Faust)

"What happens is that people's imaginations get colonized," he says.

"For most North Americans, the histories of (the) African continent amounts to grass skirts and bones through noses."

Through sci-fi, Afrofuturist writers draw from magnificent pasts on the African continent and imagine a world where Africans continue to create and build futures using advanced technologies.

"If you can't imagine it, you can't make it," Faust says.

'Action and agency starts with the ability to imagine'

It's an idea that resonates with Danis Goulet, a Cree/Metis filmmaker in Toronto, who recently made a virtual reality film called The Hunt, which is set in the year 2167.

"Action and agency starts with the ability to imagine," Goulet tells Tremonti.

Goulet says colonization has affected all aspect of Indigenous life, including Indigenous imagination.

'As soon as you can dream about the future, you have hope as well instead of despair.' - Danis Goulet

Most Canadians take for granted that the futures they dream of are possible, she says, but hope for the future requires the belief that you have options and opportunities available to you.

Danis Goulet

'Action and agency starts with the ability to imagine,' says Cree/Metis filmmaker Danis Goulet. (Danis Goulet)

Through the residential school experience, generations of Indigenous people have been taught subservience and had their lives regimented, Goulet says, adding in sci-fi terms, that's called brainwashing and reprogramming.

"As soon as you bring imagining a future into this context, it can be a very powerful thing because then we have the ability to imagine different futures other than what was literally  programmed and predetermined for us," Goulet says.

"And as soon as you can dream about the future, you have hope as well instead of despair."

Listen to the full conversation above.

This segment was produced by The Current's Yamri Taddese.