Indigenous futurism is kind of like unfreezing a whole generation and telling it that it can be what it wants to be. It gives Indigenous peoples a freedom to create whatever they want and to imagine it in whatever parameters they imagine. The word futurism itself sounds a little bit far off however it’s actually a lot more closely intertwined than we would think, as I believe that it encompasses everything from the futuristic Pow-Wows that Skawanatti imagined, to the new concepts of indigeneity we are conceiving at this very moment. In todays blog I would like to take a look at the different types of Indigenous futurisms that exist and how they’re currently impacting the way that we look at Indigenous Culture.
Wendy Red Star. Thunder Up Above.
When we close our eyes and think of futurisms, the first thing that usually comes to mind is shiny chrome. I tend to think of the Jetson’s with their hover cars and shiny chrome robot maid. Whatever it is that you imagine, the concept is usually fairly far removed from the reality we currently live in. These images however can mean a lot more than you think. Let’s look at the image above us that was made by Wendy Red Star. Red Star’s met critical acclaim for the artwork that she’s produced often poking fun at the way colonialists interpret aboriginal imagery. In this photo: Thunder Up Above a non-identifiable person is covered head to toe in some kind of dancing regalia with tassel like ribbons adorning them, this is completed with a barren, space-like landscape. Red Star has developed a series of these sci-fi themed photographs and she has stated that she’s wanted to capture the feeling of ‘first-contact’ in them, questioning the way we look aliens vs. indigenous peoples.
Indigenous futurism can be seen the act of imagining indigenous peoples in situations different from where they are now but also as interacting with new technologies. The way that the artist Skawanatti Fragnito interacts with technology as well as the art, which she has produced, can definitely be seen as a form of indigenous futurism. Having pioneered indigenous Machinima, as well as created multiple web-based digital art galleries, Skawanatti has truly moved her art into the digitial format. The concept of Machinima can be defined as creating stories/movies in ‘graphics engines’, these graphics engines are often seen in videogames, like the Sims and World of Warcraft. In these videogame settings artists set off to tell a story with pre-existing character models that usually have some sort of customizable options and they use these models and settings (sometimes customizable) to tell the story that they want to be heard. The interesting thing with Machinima is that it can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be, and not every story has to have block buster levels of detail.
Skawanatti, however, has gained a lot of attention to her Machinima: Timetraveller, as it has explored through indigenous futurism, both issues that aboriginal peoples have faced in the past, and imagined a future for them as well. Timetraveller, follows the adventures of Hunter, an aboriginal man from the future who explores history through a pair of Timetraveller glasses. About half way through the character Karahkwenhawi is also introduced, a young woman from our present day who also manages to get a hold of a pair of glasses as well. The importance of plot which is covered in her series, varies from the stand off of the Oka Crisis to imagining what future Pow-Wows will look like.
TimeTraveller. Oka Scene
The power which Skawanatti gives to her piece actually revolves around the concept of indigenous futurisms as the future which her Machinima takes place in is actually a future which indigenous peoples have prospered and taken back their own rights to both their culture and land. The explanation in the plot for this is that after Quebec separated from Canada, Indigenous peoples started separating as well. In the future Karahkwenhawi is transported to a Pow-Wow in a Stadium that is packed to the gills and which jingle dress dancers dance for huge cash prizes. It is at this Pow-Wow that an announcer (with fabulous hair!) reflects on the far past in which Aboriginal peoples were denied the right to have such events—He states that it is because that the Aboriginal people stood strong that they were able to hold onto their rights and prosper. The power that Skawanetti gives to Indigenous peoples is actually something amazing because it imagines the outcome of all the hard work that aboriginal people are doing right now to reclaim their culture and rights.
From a colonial perspective indigenous peoples have been have long since been stuck in the past and Skawanetti’s work is the perfect example of Indigenous futurism as it unfreezes indigenous culture and it places it somewhere in the future. This act lends a power to indigenous peoples because it moves forwards into the future instead of the past. Something that I would really like to see if Skawanetti ever picked up Time Traveller again would be getting to look at some big moments that have happened in Indigenous Women’s rights in our present. I imagine that this would be portrayed a lot like the flashback (flash forward?) scene in which Karahkwenhawi explains how Indigenous peoples separated from Canada. This would be done through a series of scenes from the 1900’s to 2000’s like the origins of indigenous peoples matriarchal society to the fight for women’s status in the Lovelace case and later the Mcivor case. Indigenous women’s artists would also be featured like Wendy Restar’s works as well as Skawanetti’s galleries herself.
The way this episode would be introduced would be in the future, when Hunter and Karahkwenhawi have their own little girl. Karahkwenhawi would introduce the stories of back when she was young, opening with going back to the Oka Crisis and would talk about how strong indigenous women have always been and how they come from a matriarchal society.
She would talk of how strong her mother was during that time and would then talk about how Indigenous women had lost their rights and how they had to fight for them. Cue: Lovelace case and Mcivor case.
Second Life. Courtroom
Karahkwenhawi would highlight the importance of both legal and cultural influences, highlighting indigenous women’s artwork in galleries as well. The episode would end with her and her daughter putting on their pairs of TimeTraveller glasses and setting off to look at more events with Indigenous women in them.
The power that Skawanetti and other Indigenous women give to Indigenous futurism is something amazing as it gives us ways to reimagine the past and to imagine the future in ways that allow us to challenge our ways of thinking. The impact that they give to indigenous culture lends itself well to forward thinking and moving into the future away from past trauma.