I am an Indigenous author who comes from the Palyku people of the Pilbara region of Western Australia, and I write speculative fiction. But in so many ways, what I write about is what all the storytellers of the many Indigenous nations of this planet write about. We write about the land. For it is the land that births and shapes us, and the land that is the source of all story. In the words of Blackfoot theorist Leroy Little Bear: “Earth is our Mother (and this is not a metaphor: it is real.)” (Little Bear 2000:78) So we tell stories, always, of our realities. But we are frequently misconstrued as writing of myths rather than truths, and of engaging with metaphor rather than metaphysics. And we continually suffer the indignity of having our stories, our cultures, our knowledges and our very identities characterised as relics of the distant past. Therefore, the very act of conceiving of an Indigenous place in the future – or of the future as an Indigenous place – is an act of defiance. To be an Indigenous speculative fiction writer is to be part of what might be called, in Star Wars parlance, a ‘rebel alliance’. All of those of us who contribute to the field of research, commentary and artistic practice known as Indigenous futurisms – and this includes Indigenous writers, artists, game designers, and academics, to name just a few – are part of this rebellion. And we fight, of course, against the forces of Empire.

 

This is not a new battle. It is one the Indigenous peoples of the globe have been fighting since invaders first came to our lands. In Australia, it began with the arrival of Captain James Cook in 1770 and reached my people, the Palyku, in the 1860s. The struggle for the land remains the context within which all Indigenous peoples exist. It shapes many of the stories we tell – including those written by Indigenous spec fic authors – not only because we all carry the trauma of colonisation, but because to confront this context is an integral part of our continuing resistance to Empire. As Anishinaabe scholar Grace Dillon notes:

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References

 

Australia Council for the Arts, Protocols for Producing Indigenous Australia Writing, available online 

Leane, Jeanine, ‘Aboriginal Representation: Conflict or Dialogue in the Academy’, in The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, 39 (2010) 32 – 39

Little Bear, Leroy. ‘Jagged Worldviews Colliding’, in Battiste Marie (ed), Reclaiming Indigenous Voice and Vision, Vancouver: UBC Press, 2000

Dillon, Grace, ‘Global Indigenous Science Fiction’ in Symposium on Science Fiction and Globalization, Science Fiction Studies, 39(3) (November 2012) 374 – 384

Morgan, Sally, ‘The Balance for the World’, in Morgan et al (eds), Heartsick for Country: Stories of Love, Spirit and Creation, Fremantle: Fremantle Press, 2008, 253 – 278.

Wright, Judith, Born of the Conquerors. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press, 1991.

Indigenous sf authors often write “fiction” that allegorizes the facts of historical trauma in an effort to promote social justice. Their storytelling represents “decolonizing methodologies,” “Indigenous self-determination,” and “survivance.” Survivance rejects the notion that Indigenous peoples ought to remain content that they survived colonization; self-determination compels Indigenous peoples to define their own identities and to regain lost sovereignties; decolonizing methodologies reflect the participation of scholarly activists in this enterprise. (Dillon 2012:378)

The battle for land also shapes many, perhaps most, of the stories that others tell about us. We too-frequently encounter tales that devalue our ways of knowing, being and doing, across all Western story-categories and forms – including novels, non-fiction texts, academic commentary, judicial decisions and government policies. These are old stories, born of the colonial necessity of establishing physical domination of, and an ideological right to, our homelands. And yet these tales of the past can be found in many narratives of the future as Indigenous peoples become the archetypes for ‘primitive’ aliens to be ‘civilised’ and the colonial nation-states of the earth enact their so-called manifest destiny across the stars. My mother once told of what it was like to watch Star Trek and be at once captured by future possibilities and repelled by the treatment of new cultures and lifeforms:

[A]s an awkward teenager, I sat glued to my family’s black-and-white television set watching the adventures of Captain James Kirk, of the USS Starship Enterprise. From then on, I was an avid fan of science fiction shows and films, but I was unaware at that time in my life that the Star Trek series drew inspiration from the life and adventures of the famous Lieutenant James Cook, of the HMS Endeavour. I remember, though, that I wanted Captain Kirk to play fair when first contact with another planet was made. I wanted him to keep secret the location of any peoples who might be vulnerable because human explorers, no matter how genuine they seemed, couldn’t be trusted. And I wanted him to be humane, to choose defiance of his Federation superiors over condoning harm to different races or other forms of life. But all heroes are flawed, and Kirk, like the man from which he was cloned, often stumbled his way through the galaxy with little thought of the consequences that might follow in his wake. (Morgan 2008:264)

How are we to achieve a future which does not repeat the past? The colonial apocalypse is certainly nothing Indigenous peoples would wish to live through again, nor see inflicted on others. But none of us yet exist in a post-colonial world in the sense of colonialism being ‘over’ or finished, and we will not while the legacy of Empire continues to so profoundly affect our lives as Indigenous peoples. As Wiradjuri academic Jeanine Leane writes:

In an Indigenous context, post-colonialism is a continuation of colonialism through different or new relationships concerning power and the control and production of knowledge. Postcolonial theories are embedded in intellectual movements such as philosophy, literature, political science and film by the representation and analysis of the historical experiences and subjectivities of “victims” of colonial power. This casts us as “victims” and thus powerless in the colonial scheme. … What post-colonial discourse does in literature is intervene and in some cases re-write colonial histories. Often, it re-casts Indigenous peoples as powerless victims and while it does have the potential to represent the colonised in a more human light, it risks absolving the colonisers of responsibility for addressing the impacts of colonisation by assuming that Aboriginal inhabitants were already doomed to a timeless, un-evolving fate. (Leane 2010:35-36)

In an Indigenous context, post-colonialism is a continuation of colonialism through different or new relationships concerning power and the control and production of knowledge. Postcolonial theories are embedded in intellectual movements such as philosophy, literature, political science and film by the representation and analysis of the historical experiences and subjectivities of “victims” of colonial power. This casts us as “victims” and thus powerless in the colonial scheme. … What post-colonial discourse does in literature is intervene and in some cases re-write colonial histories. Often, it re-casts Indigenous peoples as powerless victims and while it does have the potential to represent the colonised in a more human light, it risks absolving the colonisers of responsibility for addressing the impacts of colonisation by assuming that Aboriginal inhabitants were already doomed to a timeless, un-evolving fate. (Leane 2010:35-36)

 

In this context, the use of Indigenous knowledges and cultures by non-Indigenous writers is a fraught issue. In the past, I occasionally have had would-be writers put the view to me that they wish to incorporate aspects of Indigenous culture into their work out of respect; but all too often many of these writers have very little knowledge or understanding of Indigenous people, and certainly not enough to understand when they are transgressing fundamental cultural protocols. It seems to me that it is a strange kind of respect that incorporates Indigenous material in a way that disempowers Indigenous voices and violates our laws. In fact, I don’t believe it is any kind of respect at all. This is not to say that non-Indigenous peoples can never engage with Indigenous cultures (although I would add that I believe the best practice model for doing so involves equitable partnerships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples that result in a sharing not only of knowledge but of credit and royalties). And those who wish to engage with Indigenous peoples without repeating colonial patterns need to proceed with considerable caution. Detailed guidance as to the kinds of issues that are relevant and can be found in The Australia Council for the Arts Protocols for Producing Indigenous Writing, which was written by Murri lawyer Terri Janke, Wiradjuri lawyer Robynne Quiggan, and peer-reviewed by Wiradjuri author Anita Heiss (see reference section for the link to these Protocols).

 

The non-Indigenous poet Judith Wright famously wrote of Australia as a haunted place: “These two strands – the love of the land we have invaded, and the guilt of the invasion – have become part of me. It is a haunted country.” (Wright 1991:30) So it is. So it will always be, and so will the lands of all the colonial nation-states be, until the destructive cåycles of stories born of colonialism are resolved. In this regard, it is important, as writers and readers, to be aware of the degree to which some works of speculative fiction have reproduced colonial story-cycles. But it is also a genre which offers much hope. It can be a powerful tool for social justice and a means of imagining positive possibilities for all the peoples of the earth, and of dreaming of futures which have at their core respectful relationships between different peoples, cultures and species.

 

And as we can imagine, so we can achieve.

 

 

 

Ambelin's YA books The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf and the Disappearance of Ember Crow are out now:

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