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Indigenous Futurism

Yoda Art by Bunky Echo-Hawk

What would the world look like if tribal supernatural entities ruled? How will Native people survive a climate apocalypse? What would Turtle Island look like if it had never been colonized? Would we have high speed canoes?

Indigenous futurism is an artistic movement — that includes novels, video games, comic books and more — that explore questions like these to reimagine what Indigenous people lived like in the past and consider an unlimited future. The term was first used by Anishinabe professor Dr. Grace Dillon in the book Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction.

In mainstream science fiction, Native people are virtually non-existent. Yet many science fiction stories are actually about colonialism. For example, the first massively popular science fiction book, H.G. Wells’s 1898 The War of the Worlds, was about martians invading England and was inspired by the British colonization of Tasmania, an island off Australia. The 2009 film Avatar was also a story about colonialism and displacement of Indigenous people. Even though stories about colonialism are popular, Native Americans continue to be excluded. Indigenous futurism pushes past the removal of Native Americans in science fiction and mainstream media.

Dr. Darcie Little Badger, a Lipan Apache scientist and Indigenous futurist author, reflected in an interview that: “Both in and outside fiction, we are pushed to the past tense. The reality is, many Indigenous cultures in North America survived an apocalypse. The key word is survived. Any future with us in it, triumphant and flourishing, is a hopeful one.”

Indigenous futurism is an exciting genre that helps us rewrite and reimagine historical events, critique the exclusion of Native people in science fiction and mainstream media, and recognize the strength of Native cultural practices and beliefs.

Create your own Indigenous futurism! Here are a few prompts you can use to write, draw, or create other forms of art:

  • You have been given the ability to travel through time. Do you travel to the past or to the future? What do you experience? Who do you want to talk to?
  • What does your ideal community look like? Describe what it looks like, sounds like, smells like, and who is there. How does it make you feel?
  • The year is 2321. How do people of the future use your tribe’s values? What traditions or knowledge has allowed your tribe to survive and thrive in 2321?

Want to learn more? Check out these books written by Indigenous authors:

Yoda art by Bunky Echo-Hawk

Author: Abaki Beck (Blackfeet and Red River Metis) is a freelance writer and public health researcher passionate about health equity in Native communities, particularly for justice-involved community members. She earned her Master’s in Public Health in 2020 and grew up in Montana.

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A teen recently told me that using the phrase “find your tribe” or using the word “tribe” is offensive to Native Americans. I wanted to ask a reliable source if this is true or is simply an opinion. What are your thoughts?

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