Thriving Indigenous Futures
In “Postcards from the Apocalypse” Rebecca Roanhorse explains Indigenous Futurism as, "a term meant to encourage Native, First Nations, and other Indigenous authors and creators to speak back to the colonial tropes of science fiction." Going further, Indigenous Futurism can function as a hopeful vision, an affirmation, and a blueprint for futures where Indigenous Peoples and their Sovereign Nations can thrive. This essay will discuss the importance of Indigenous Futurism as a genre and analyze an example of the genre Nanobah Becker's "The Sixth World" (2012) as an example of how art challenges the status quo.
The work of Indigenous Futurism is vital to decolonial efforts and inherently oppositional to hegemonic norms in the United States. There are strains of Science Fiction (SF), which are frequently identified as canonical to the genre, which are written by white cisgender heterosexual men and reflect pro-capitalist, colonial, and racist values. Indigenous Futurism is a tool that Indigenous and First Nations writers can wield powerfully to challenge the inherently racist ideas that have tainted much of the SF genre while simultaneously celebrating Indigenous Peoples' cultures and existence. The importance of Indigenous Futurism as an affirmation of Indigenous Peoples' ways of life and world views cannot be overstated. As the United States continues to be an ongoing apocalypse, as Roanhorse puts it, Indigenous Peoples and First Nations writers are creating texts that depict bright possibilities and blueprints for societies that value "relationship and connection to community, coexistence, and sharing of land and technology, the honoring of caretakers and protectors," (Roanhorse).
"The Sixth World" is a short film that depicts an international space mission to colonize Mars called Project Emergence. Two scientists are on-board a spaceship that is built to create its own oxygen using corn. When Dr. Tobias Smith from Omnicorn Corporation genetically engineers a type of corn with no stalk, no tassles, and no husk, he explains that the corn he designed will have no "useless" parts. A leader from the Navajo Nation General Bahe visits to see off his friend CDR. Tazbah Redhouse who will pilot the spaceship. General Bahe criticizes Dr. Smith's approach to growing corn. The leader gifts Redhouse a Navajo Astronaut flag and says goodbye. Later, the artificial corn fails, and the ship begins to run out of oxygen. Redhouse discovers that her friend General Bahe brought corn into the ship with the flag, and she plants Navajo corn, saving the mission. The end of the film shows corn growing on the red planet.
The narrative of the film depicts a white capitalist scientist and the narcissism of Eurocentric science as antagonistic forces. The scientist's pride risks the lives of the people on the ship and the future of Mars. Additionally, the narrative embeds a critique of capitalist ideals. The capitalist ideal of efficiency is rejected when the GMO corn fails to grow without its stalk, tassels, and husk. Corporations that put their profits before the needs of their people and the quality of their products risk the lives of everyone they effect, and "The Sixth World" does not shy away from showing the dire consequences of capitalist tendencies left unchecked. General Bahe saves the astronauts' lives by disregarding the corporation's regulations, and Indigenous knowledge outshines the egotism of the corporate scientist.
The way Redhouse thinks of colonizing Mars also rejects SF tropes. Instead of "conquering" Mars, the Navajo astronaut sees it as her people's new homeland. Therefore, Redhouse sees Mars as a natural place for her and her people to live. This is in contrast to SF that views other planets as alien, "other," and too different to be thought of as anything other than dangerous. While Dr. Smith claims to be a "hero," CDR. Redhouse rejects the label. Her motivations for space travel are tied to the well-being of her nation and her people, while Dr. Smith, the antagonist, thinks only of himself and his narcissistic need to be right and recognized as heroic. While Dr. Smith covers up the beginnings of corn failure, risking both astronauts' lives, Redhouse uses quick thinking and spirituality to overcome the challenges of space-faring. Redhouse's prayers help the Navajo corn grow. Compare this depiction of Mars to other representations in SF, and the difference in worldviews becomes obvious.
One difference in the worldviews of the astronauts is in how they view dreams. Redhouse takes her dream of corn crops dying seriously, asking General Bahe about it, who assures her that she is protected as the person chosen to lead her people into the next world. When Dr. Smith hears of CDR. Redhouse's dream he tells her she cannot let dreams spook her. He does not take her instinctual reaction to the corn dying seriously, and his world view that only things tested in labs can be trusted does not allow him to question himself. Meanwhile, CDR. Redhouse at first agrees with Dr. Smith and assures him that she is not usually superstitious. The interaction depicts the ways hegemony influences the way people interact when capitalist and secular belief systems reject anything that cannot be measured by the instruments of their choosing (to their own detriment). If Dr. Smith had listened to Redhouse sooner, then the crisis of oxygen levels becoming too low could have been avoided. Dr. Smith's approach to the conversation is also an example of white patriarchal violence. The two Astronauts should be able to cooperate as equals, but Dr. Smith treats CDR. Redhouse as if she were a child. Microaggressions and condescending approaches to conversations with women and people of color undermine working relationships, and they can cause those subjected to tactics of humiliation to doubt themselves (even when they have done nothing wrong). Redhouse overcompensates and allows Smith to continue with the mission without reporting the corn failure to Corporate because she worries that she will be perceived as "superstitious," which is a negative stereotype related to racist ideas about Indigenous inferiority.
In spite of all that Smith does to undermine the mission, Redhouse saves the mission and his life. "The Sixth World" challenges ideas and tropes common in SF. Instead of a future of space colonization which centers on white men dominating landscapes, it shows a Navajo woman in a position of power nurturing corn through her spiritual and Indigenous knowledge in order to make Mars her peoples' new home. Fighting racist stereotypes of Indigenous inferiority, "The Sixth World" shows Indigenous knowledge filling in gaps that eurocentric sciences lack. Indigenous Futurism offers legitimate criticisms of white patriarchy and capitalist systems and blueprints for how to grow community instead of rugged individualism and harmony instead of domination.
Becker, Nanobah. “The Sixth World.” SnagFilms Watch Free Streaming Movies Online, 2012,
Roanhorse, Rebecca. “Postcards from the Apocalypse.” Uncanny Magazine, 2018, uncannymagazine.com/article/postcards-from-the-apocalypse/.