Welcome to this week’s installment of Geek Girl Authority Indigenerd Wire, wherein we shine a spotlight on the indigenous people in pop culture. This column will feature the people, shows, movies, art and books that celebrate the progress of indigenous perspectives in mainstream pop culture and STEM.

Indigenous people of the future are rare. Filmmakers and television shows feature Indigenous people from time to time, but not as primary characters. That’s why storytellers have taken these imagined futures and put Indigenous people in them. It’s a concept called Indigenous Futurism. Dr. Grace Dillon coined the term Indigenous Futurism, based on Afrofuturism. Much like Afrofuturism, Indigenous Futurism weaves in traditional knowledge and culture with futuristic ideas through art, literature and other forms of media. Here are some examples of Indigenous Futurism.

Art of the Future

The image above, “If Yoda was an Indian” was created by Yakama and Pawnee artist Bunky Echo-Hawk. In the painting, the beloved sci-fi character Yoda wears a traditional Native American Plains headdress, bestowed only to the most respected and honored of tribal members. Yoda is much like the stereotypical Indian in that he is wise, speaks in broken English, and lives a simple life in a remote location. This painting symbolizes the balance of Indigenous traditions and modernity that is much needed in art. 

Echo-Hawk is also a graphic designer, photographer, writer, a non-profit professional, dancer, singer, and activist. He blends Native American issues into familiar images from popular culture, putting the Indian into the modern world, like the painting above. He uses his art to fight back against the Hollywood stereotypes, taking the imagery and modernizing it to show that Indians are still a part of this world. The blending of a sci-fi character into a traditional Indian chief is just an example of how Indigenous Futurism works. 

Among Us – In the Land of Our Shadows (Akornatsinnlittut – Tarratta Nunaanni)
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The first thing to know about this film is that it was made in Greenland and draws on Greenlandic myth and folklore. The story is about a young indigenous man named Nukappi, who finds out he’s an Angakkoq (shaman) with a power needed to maintain the balance between good and evil in our world.  

The film is visually stunning and despite having to read the subtitles, the script is captivating. Most independent films are made with a small budget, but this film makes the most of its environment and its actors. There is lots of action and humor. The greatest part, in my opinion, is how the past and present are shown importance to the future. To understand our future, we must know our past. And this film makes a clear connection.

This film is mesmerizing. The story kept me guessing at every twist and turn. It’s too bad it’s not available in the US, but you can get a glimpse of it by watching the trailer below.

Marc Fussing Rosbach wrote, directed and starred in the film. Akornatsinnlittut – Tarratta Nunaanni also stars Casper Bach Zeeb, Jørgen Kristensen, Kathrine Petersen, Navarana Davidsen, Milla Petersen, Laasi Biilmann, and Nivi Bohm Nathanielsen.  

Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna)
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Nuna in Never Alone Video Game. Courtesy of neveralonegame.com

Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna) is the first video game developed in collaboration with the tribe featured in the game. Upper One Games, a for-profit branch of the Cook Inlet Tribal Council, and New York-based E-Line Media worked together to create a game that could help the Iñupiaq tribe supplement funding for community programs. The developers went through several tribal approved traditional stories before settling on “Kunuuksaayuka,” an Iñupiaq tale about a boy who goes on a quest to save his people during a blizzard. They worked with the community to change the story up a bit and Never Alone was born. 

Alaskan Native elders, storytellers and community members contributed to the development of the game. The primary character is Nuna, an Iñupiat girl who takes it upon herself to seek out the cause of blizzard threatening her community. Nuna has a companion, Fox, who helps her along the way. The game is currently available on PC, Playstation and Xbox One. This form of media gives tribes a new way to share their stories in an engaging way. Go to the Never Alone website for more about this awesome venture. Watch the trailer below. 

A Tribe Called Red

Bear Witness and 2oolman/MATT BARNES PHOTOGRAPHY

There aren’t many Indigenous music artists and groups out there who have combined the sounds of the past with the music of the future. Meet A Tribe Called Red, a First Nations electronic duo from Ottawa, Canada. They describe their sound as a combination of “dance music with elements of First Nations music, particularly vocal chanting and drumming” or powwow step. Bear Witness (Cayuga First Nation) and 2oolman (Mohawk First Nation) currently make up ATCR, founded in 2008 at a club party for Indigenous students. The duo gained a lot of recognition since then, playing large venues such as Coachella, AfroPunk, and New Orleans Jazz Fest. They are the first Indigenous group to win the Breakthrough Group of the Year award at the Canadian Grammys, the Juno Awards.  

Their message is simple. “A Tribe Called Red promotes inclusion, empathy, and acceptance among all races and genders in the name of social justice. They believe that indigenous people need to define their identity on their own terms.” And that is exactly what they are doing with their music, defining their identity on their own terms. They use their music to reflect the state of Indian nations and activism, such as Idle No More and Standing Rock. And at the same time, they are showing the world that Indians can make modern music as well.

A Tribe Called Red released three albums, all available on iTunes and Spotify. You can also find their videos on YouTube that show the blending of the traditional and modern lives of Indian people. Check out their video for my personal favorite, “Sisters, featuring Northern Voice” featuring Indigenous actress Devery Jacobs.  

The Sixth World Series by Rebecca Roanhorse
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Rebecca Roanhorse/The Sixth Word Series Book 1-Trail of Lightning and Book 2 – Storm of Locusts. Courtesy of Simon and Schuster

In 2018, Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo/African-American author Rebecca Roanhorse released her first novel titled Trail of Lightning. It is the first in a four-part series of books titled The Sixth World. The story follows a young Diné woman named Maggie Hoskie, a survivor of a broken world, living in her ancestral homeland of Dinétah. Maggie is special, but she’s not the only one. The end of the Fifth World brought about many changes for the people of Dinétah. Ancient gods and monsters awoke and some mere mortals manifest special powers based on their ancestral clans. The Diné people built a great wall to protect their lands and save the Diné people. Sound familiar? The end of that world brought forth the Sixth World for the Diné people, setting Maggie and her girl gang in a post-apocalyptic world. 

If it sounds magical, it is, but it is also dangerous. After gaining unwanted friends, Maggie sets out on another adventure to save her friends in book two, Storm of Locusts. Maggie becomes the center of attention in both books, not only for her powers but also for her past associations with the gods. So far, we know Maggie is part of a greater story, but we don’t know whose story it is, and why they like Maggie so much. 

This isn’t Roanhorse’s first trek into Indigenous Futurism. She wrote a short story, Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience that sent travelers into a virtual reality world to have the experience of a lifetime. Think Westworld meets Ready Player One. That story won the 2018 Hugo and Nebula Short Story Awards. Trail of Lightning is currently nominated for the 2019 Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel. Trail of Lightning and Storm of Locusts are available in book stores and online now. 

To Infinity and Beyond

The first time I saw an authentic Indigenous character in a futuristic world was on Star Trek: Voyager. Commander Chakotay, played by Robert Beltran didn’t identify as Native American immediately. The series finally addressed it in season two. It was a cheesy storyline, connecting Native Americans to aliens, but it was also pretty cool. It’s a wonder that it has taken this long to show another Native American beyond our present timeline.  

This movement is exciting. I recently discovered it after reading Trail of Lightning. There are some issues with the content that comes out. Some people are afraid artists and writers will give away too much of our traditions. We don’t have to give away all of our secrets. Speculative fiction gives us the opportunity to create something new and exciting based on what we know. Just like everyone else, except…Indians are Magic!

Yakoke (Thank you in Choctaw)!

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Noetta Harjo
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