A correction of stereotypes: Rebecca Roanhorse's post-apocalyptic books draw on Indigenous experience

Rebecca Roanhorse searched for a sci-fi or fantasy book with an Indigenous lead character, but she couldn't find one. So, she wrote it.
Rebecca Roanhorse's fantasy book, 'Trail of Lightning,' features a Native American lead character. The book was a huge success with Indigenous communities in North America. (Rebecca Roanhorse/Supplied)

This segment originally aired November 18, 2018

Rebecca Roanhorse searched for a sci-fi or fantasy book with an Indigenous lead character, but she couldn't find one.

So, she wrote it.

"All the science fiction and fantasy that I loved growing up was still dominated by white men — farm boys on quests," Roanhorse said. "Native characters, particularly Native women, they don't get to be the heroes of their stories."

Roanhorse, who is black and Ohkay Owingeh, moderated a panel at Indigenous Comic Con on representation in comics, where authors talked about the importance of Indigenous characters within their work.

Roanhorse's 10-year-old daughter — who is Navajo on her father's side — was one of the biggest reasons she wrote her hit novel, Trail of Lightning.

"To be able to make this story for her and for her little cousins, it's pretty big," she said. "I'm honoured to be able to do that."

Her book follows Maggie Hoskie, a young Native American woman living on the traditional lands of the Navajo people. Roanhorse describes Hoskie as "badass," and notes she has no braids and no feathers.

It's part of her plan to show Native American people outside of the traditional regalia look. "This book, to me, is a correction of a lot of the stereotypes in a lot of the limited representation I've seen of Native characters," Roanhorse said.

"I think a lot of Native characters that we see are stuck in the past. So it was important for me to do that, to show Native readers and non-Native readers that we're alive and we're thriving in our cultures."

She first started writing fantasy as a break from her busy life as a lawyer and mom — but following the success of her first book, Roanhorse is already slated to release the second book of her series The Sixth World, called Storm of Locusts, next April.

The stories come naturally to Roanhorse, who draws from the Native American experience to reflect the post-apocalyptic world in her books.

"I think Native folks have already experienced an apocalypse," she said. "All the sort of dystopian tropes you see in movies, we've experienced those — our land lost, our children taken away, sent to schools and things like that. And we've survived."

But that's not the only reason she feels her books have succeeded.

"Plus, there's just a lot of Native nerds," Roanhorse said, laughing.