I’ve recently found a new favourite genre – post apocalyptic fiction written by First Nations authors. In Moon of the Crusted Snow, Waubgeshig Rice’s character sums up why I have such a deep feeling towards these books. This is one of the community elders talking:
Yes apocalypse! What a silly word. I can tell you there’s no word like that in Ojibwe … Our world isn’t ending. It already ended. It ended when Zhaagnaash came into our original home down south on that bay and took it from us. That was our world. When Zhaagnaash cut down all the trees and fished all the fish and forced us out of there, that’s when our world ended. They made us come all the way up here. This is not our homeland! ….But then they followed us up here and started taking our children away from us. That’s when our world ended again. And that wasn’t the last time. … We’ve had that over and over. But we’ve always survived. We’re still here.
Who better to write about the end of the world than peoples who have already experienced it, and who continue to experience displacement, racism and pressure to minimise or cease their traditional practices?
In Moon of the Crusted Snow the power goes out in a small Anishinaabe community in the far north. This is not unexpected – the remoteness of the community means the power supply goes out sometimes, especially during the harsh winter. But soon two of the community’s young men return from college with disturbing stories of what is happening in the outside world and the community leaders understand they are in trouble. The community draws together in order to survive – although as in any community tempers flare and there are disagreements, trouble makers and those who want to shirk off contributing as they know they will still be taken care of. When strangers arrive, things become more tense. These newcomers don’t know or respect the ways of the community and it causes further friction, which builds to the nail biting denouement.
In Trail of Lightning, Rebecca Roanhorse explores a more fantastical apocalypse – the world has drowned and the Dinetah are thriving for the most part. There are gods and monsters who occasionally make life difficult. Maggie is a monster hunter (and is questioning if she is a monster herself). But something is stealing children, and Maggie is hired to find out what. This takes us through an amazing story of monsters, and gods, and also allows us to see how Maggie has and still is suffering at the hands of others who think she is too different, and the impact that has on her.
Terra Nullius by Claire Coleman is a book I’ve been talking about all year. Australia has been invaded – again. Coleman skilfully weaves the story of colonisation, it’s impact on the Natives, the views of the Colonisers. We follow the stories of Jacky, a child who has run away from the mission with it’s abuse and mistreatment; Esperance, who is trying to keep her mob alive and away from the Colonists; and Johnny Starr, who after being part of a brutal massacre of Natives, walks away from his fellow troopers to join the Natives.
These three authors weave the stories of the suffering of their people through their books, and allow us to see through a close up and personal lens not only the hardships and difficulties they have faced, but their grit, determination and strength in the face of a majority who has, and in most cases still is, trying to wipe them out.
I love the idea of First Nations people writing books like this. People have always told stories to each other, but a lot of the colonists don’t want to hear these stories and are probably unlikely to pick up something like a memoir which gives a first hand account of how colonisation has been a bad thing for their people, and the terrible consequences it has had on them for generations. I hope that these stories in fiction will be more likely to find their way into the hands of people who need this perspective to better understand the trauma suffered by those who continue to be oppressed.
The other thing these books do is allow First Nations people to see themselves represented accurately in a genre where they would usually see themselves portrayed as the exotic other, if at all. I also hope this brings more First Nations people to both read and write in this genre.
While I’m coming to Trail of Lightning and Moon of the Crusted Snow as a non North American person, these books have given me better insights to the traditions of the peoples as well as their continuing suffering – the impact outsiders who don’t understand or care have on the community and possible fracturing and continuing loss of tradition, the terrible impact of ongoing violence from both inside and outside the community. (Note – I am aware that Roanhorse has attracted some criticism for her sharing of some parts of Diné culture and spirituality. You might like to have a read of this article which I found helpful.)
As a white Australian, Terra Nullius is a brutal read, with each chapter being heading by some form of letter, journal entry or other epistolary writing to give the perspective of the Colonists or the Natives. It’s particularly difficult to read knowing that the views of the colonists in these are visited upon our First Nations peoples every day by present day colonists who are just as ignorant as the ones in the book.
I highly recommend you getting your hands on these three, particularly if you are a white reader in a colonised country, or if your country has been responsible for colonisation in the past. Even if you aren’t, these are damned good reads.