Imagining Indigenous people as space explorers

The first time Lou Cornum saw an explicit depiction of an Indigenous person in a futuristic setting, it was a revelation.
It wasn't until Lou Cornum saw the film The 6th World by Nanobah Becker that they saw a Native American person in space. (Still from Futurestates.tv)

Originally published on March 10, 2019.

The first time Lou Cornum saw an explicit depiction of an Indigenous person in a futuristic setting, it was a revelation.

Cornum, who is Diné, saw other Indigenous-inspired work where the characters are modelled after Indigenous people, but The 6th World was the first time it felt accurate.

"Seeing that film was the first time I saw an Indigenous person in space that was explicitly Indigenous and based on a real, living Indigenous culture," Cornum said.

Lou Cornum is a writer and graduate student based in New York City, whose work focuses on Black and Indigenous science fiction. (Maysam Taher)

"As opposed to something like Avatar, where they're meant to be modelled on Indigenous people but it's much more the romanticized image than anything drawn from a real practice of Indigeneity."

Cornum wrote an article called "The Space NDN's Star Map" for The New Inquiry — which looks at what it means for Indigenous people to be seen as space explorers.

Even in stories where there weren't Indigenous people within a space setting, like Star Wars for example, Cornum, like a lot of others, still felt connected to it.

"I thought, 'this is just my weird, nerdy predilection,' but there's actually something that is connecting for a lot of us now," Cornum said.

In 2013, Star Wars IV: A New Hope was dubbed in Navajo. With stories like Star Wars and Star Trek continuing to diversify its heroes, it's becoming easier to connect with the storylines.

Cornum said the role of people of colour in these futuristic stories is often one of the alien or the mysterious other. "It becomes an easy placeholder for people are are dehumanized on Earth to inspire these figures in outer space."

Many stories, Cornum said, are based around the idea of exploration as a means of finding a new home or finding new resources to exploit — which bares a resemblance to colonialism.

Interaction without extraction is something Cornum said is a part of the Indigenous perspective, and something they expect to be explored more, as more people of colour find their way into these futuristic works.

"So many people just personally can't imagine a future for themselves," Cornum said. "To collectively be able to create a very distant future and to say, 'we will make it there,' that just by heralding it, you're making it possible."