Expressing perspectives on a future that could be
By Jillian McMullen, Staff Writer
Indigenous futurism, like futurism more broadly, concerns itself with the time to come—specifically what this impending time will look like for Indigenous people in post-colonial Canada.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is an important inspiration for many artists, and for good reason: The Commission’s goal is to mitigate the future of Indigenous relations. However, instead of addressing issues of historical and continued systemic oppression, the Commission asks Indigenous peoples to reconcile themselves with their situation in this country, which has been statistically more difficult than most Canadian citizens, so that the country can move metaphorically “forward.” As Erica Violet Lee, an Indigenous writer and activist, wrote in The Monitor in 2016, “Healing, we are told, cannot begin to happen until we forgive colonial sins of the past.” The future, then, becomes a contentious domain in which Indigenous subjectivity continues to be dictated by a non-Indigenous majority.
This has led to many artists expressing their art forms through the lens of science fiction, often taking on a dystopic perspective. The speculative reality of the genre allows for the artists to speak of their past despite the focus on the commissioned forward move. Some art includes familiar tropes of invading otherworldly creatures coming to a community on unidentified flying objects, recalling memories of first contact. The genre also allows for artists to explore a future unaffected by settler colonialism, one where memories of first contact were never formed.
Erin Marie Konsmo, a Métis/Cree hailing from Alberta, is just one example of how Indigenous futurism manifests. She is a self-taught visual artist who also works as the Media Arts and Projects Coordinator for the Native Youth Sexual Health Network. She encourages Indigenous communities to engage in art, particularly around sexual and reproductive health, rights, and justice. Her own artwork often features images of the effects of resource extraction. One of her pieces, “Discovery is Toxic: Indigenous Women on the Frontline of Environmental and Reproductive Justice,” depicts an Indigenous woman equipped with a gas mask, standing in front of two scenes of settler interruption. The piece articulates a disillusionment towards imposed religion and enforced environmental destruction, while expressing a sentiment of resistance as the woman defiantly stares into the audience. The gas mask hints at a toxic post-apocalyptic environment. Her forward stare echoes forward move desired through the Commission, but halts that push to acknowledge a reality that many won’t turn around to look at.
Indigenous communities are constantly finding new ways to express their personhood. They are informed by traditional art forms and ways of knowing, but all work to shine a light of Indigenous subjectivity.