The Teaching Rocks

The Teaching Rocks

A review of Drew Hayden Taylor’s “Petropaths” in Take Us To Your Chief (Douglas &McIntyre, 2016)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Drew Hayden Taylor’s “Petropaths” is a tale of the ongoing nature of colonial violence, centred on the exploration of the way that this continued assault has created a generation of indigenous youth who are, as he suggests “stuck between the past and the future”. He points out a need for youth to connect to their past and to create a future, something that colonialism has sought to deny indigenous peoples by erasing the past and presenting imagery of a white future. It is significant that Hayden Taylor uses science fiction as a genre of critique when exploring the issue of most science fictional texts presenting a very white future that portrays an absence of indigenous people. Hayden Taylor uses science fiction and a time-travel narrative to explore the idea of temporal uncertainty, but also calls attention to the problematic way that indigenous people are portrayed in most time travel narratives.

Hayden Taylor centralizes elders in “Petropaths”, pointing out their role in providing educational opportunities for youth that ground them in the ongoing practice of engaging with teachings. The narrator, an elder, explains to his grandson along with the other elders that “he need to know who he was, where he came from and what his path was”. Elders in this tale are situated not only as guardians of the past (as they are in many narratives that feature ageing), but also as guides to the future, having a role that subtends time.

“Petropaths” is a tale about petroglyphs, sacred carvings in rock, and Hayden Taylor situates these rocks as a text that extends through time, connecting the person exploring the texts to the past when they were created, to their presence now, and to the future they will survive into. Hayden Taylor is from Curve Lake First Nation whose territory extends to the petroglyphs frequently called the “Peterborough Petroglyphs”, and often acknowledged as “The Teaching Rocks” by Anishnaabe people. Teaching is central to this tale and the relationship between Hayden Taylor himself and “the teaching rocks” underscores the role of the petroglyphs in his story as storytellers and teachers themselves.

Hayden Taylor illustrates the role of conversation that the petrogyphs represent in his tale when he says “It took me a while to understand these were musings and dreams of our ancestors, the thoughts and history of our people carved into Mother Earth for us to see.” These are not static background images in his tale, but, rather, are centred and engaged in a conversation with the characters. He describes these stones as teaching “a lot more than one of those degrees at university”. These stones are not static, rather they “tell their own story their own way… like a whisper in the wind…. Like it was the Earth telling us a story… or, more accurately… like it was a song waiting to be sung”. The stones are not static background figures, but, rather they are storytellers and teachers, engaged in a process of conversation.

The imagery of stone is not isolated to the petrogyphs, but is also evident in the imagery that Duane’s grandfather ascribes to his dissociation from his emotions. He discusses “the wall he had spent years building, emotional brick by emotional brick”, paralleling and yet also contrasting the petroglyphs, which the story situates as a wall. Yet, although both are walls, the petroglyphs are a living, changing text that speaks and shifts for Duane, and may have the power to disrupt the static wall he has constructed for himself.

“Petropaths” is a story that acknowledges the importance of learning and, especially learning through storytelling. This learning is not individualistic, but, rather, it exists in conversation with petroglyphs, the land, animals, and community elders. It’s a story about taking the time to listen to others, but also to listen to oneself. This community of teachers engaging in storytelling is part of the process of beginning to heal Duane from the colonial violence that he has experienced. Storytelling is not just something that Duane hears, but, rather, Hayden Taylor has him engage in storytelling, adding his stories to others while also becoming part of the story. The past is not something fixed or static in Hayden Taylor’s tale, rather it is something that shifts and changes while bringing new voices into it. Duane’s time travel is part of this conversation with storytelling and his role in becoming part of the story. He is an active participation in the past and Hayden Taylor uses this active participation to illustrate that history is not passive, but, rather, that we are always in conversation with the past and the stories told about the past. As Duane says “History isn’t in books anymore. We can walk through it.”

To discover more about Take Us to Your Chief, visit http://www.drewhaydentaylor.com/books/take-us-to-your-chief/

To find out more about Drew Hayden Taylor, visit http://www.drewhaydentaylor.com

Dreaming of Justice

Dreaming of Justice

A review of Drew Hayden Taylor’s “Dreams of Doom” in Take Us To Your Chief And Other Stories (Douglas & McIntyre, 2016)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Dream catchers have fascinated the cultural imagination and been used by white authors as a plot feature in their stories (such as Stephen King’s Dreamcatcher), so it is powerful that Drew Hayden Taylor, an aboriginal person, reclaims the image of the Dream catcher in his fiction. “Dreams of Doom” is a story about government conspiracy connected to Dreamcatchers. Pamela Wanishin, a writer for a small, Aboriginal newspaper, gets mailed a thumb drive full of secret government documents and finds herself at the heart of a conspiracy by the Canadian government to control and further oppress Indigenous peoples.

This is a common tale of a reporter who finds herself followed by government agents who want to silence her, but Hayden Taylor puts a spin on the tale, combining the traditional story with aspects of the Canadian government’s oppression of Aboriginal people. Hayden Taylor uses metatextual approaches to point out the way that he has played with a common text by putting an Indigenous slant to stories, even referring to some of these stories in his tale, but with names altered to highlight their Indigenous connection like All the Prime Minister’s Men, Ojibway Holiday, The Blue Heron Brief, and The Girl with the Orca Tattoo. He also connects the events of his story to other aspects of Canada’s oppression of Indigenous people, bringing up attempts in the past to pacify First Nations through things like the White Paper, the Oka Crisis, Ipperwash, and Idle No More.

Hayden Taylor disrupts Canada’s image of itself as a “Just Nation” by illustrating the history of injustices the country has perpetrated as well as the country’s ability to hide its injustices and erase them from history or wash over them. As for the connection to Dream catchers, I will leave that for Hayden Taylor to tell you all about in “Dreams of Doom”.

To discover more about Take Us To Your Chief, visit http://www.douglas-mcintyre.com/book/take-us-to-your-chief

To find out more about Drew Hayden Taylor, visit https://www.drewhaydentaylor.com

Decolonized Space

Decolonized Space

A review of Drew Hayden Taylor’s “Lost in Space” in Take Us To Your Cheif (Douglas & McIntyre, 2016).

By Derek Newman-Stille

In “Lost in Space”, Drew Hayden Taylor explores the first Anishinabe man to travel into space. He is travelling as part of a mining operation set out amongst asteroids. Hayden Taylor uses the imagery of being Lost in Space to explore how an Anishinabe man negotiates his connection to Earth and to the four directions when he is in space, without a reference point. Although he knows exactly where he is in space, he ponders his relationship to his planet and to his people. He explores the sense of disconnection with home.

Hayden Taylor shapes these questions partially through a conversation between Mitchell and his grandfather. His grandfather invites critical questions about what space will mean for Mitchell: “But being Native in space… Now that’s a head-scratcher. Think about it. We sprang from Turtle Island. The earth and water are so tied into who we are. There’s an old saying, ‘the voice of the land is in our language'”. Mitchell seeks to find his own language and his own connection to his culture while away from home, having been denied his hand drum, which scientists said would put too much vibrational pressure on the hull, he needs to find new ways of expressing who he is and expressing his connection to family and home.

To discover more about Take Us To Your Chief, visit http://www.douglas-mcintyre.com/book/take-us-to-your-chief

To find out more about Drew Hayden Taylor, visit https://www.drewhaydentaylor.com

Colonialism

Colonialism

A review of Drew Hayden Taylor’s “A Culturally Inappropriate Armageddon Part II: Old Men and Old Sayings ” in Take Us to Your Chief And Other Stories (Douglas & McIntyre, 20160.

By Derek Newman-Stille

Indigenous people have been accustomed to alien invasions and the decimation of land and culture and Drew Hayden Taylor adapts the history of colonialism to new frontiers of science fiction in his book Take Us To Your Chief and Other Stories. In A Culturally Inappropriate Armageddon Part II: Old Men and Old Sayings, Hayden Taylor focusses on an old man, Willie Whitefish, and his experiences of care homes, but, beyond that, he explores Willie’s history of surviving residential schools and his unique ability to see potential warning signs when he hears about an approaching alien space ship. Willie’s history of dealing with a violent, colonial government has prepared him for what he (and the rest of the world) is likely to experience.

Although ignored by most of the PSWs in the care home he is living in, Willie reflects on his knowledge of history “everything from Columbus straight through the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock, to the Traill of Tears, to the impact of the sale of Alaska on the Inuit and the Aleutians”. Willie is aware of what happens with the arrival of strangers from a distant place and that it traditionally means mass murders of the indigenous people of a region and the cultural genocide of those people in following generations. He points out that people should know better, but, then again, most of the people welcoming these visitors from the stars have been the colonizers, not the displaced and colonized people and therefore that the people excited about visitors from the stars haven’t paid enough attention to history from an indigenous perspective.

To discover more about Take Us To Your Chief, visit http://www.douglas-mcintyre.com/book/take-us-to-your-chief

To find our more about Drew Hayden Taylor, visit https://www.drewhaydentaylor.com

Stealing Resources From Indigenous People

Stealing Resources From Indigenous People

A review of The Champions: Northern Lights (Marvel Comics, 2018)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Although an American comic created by Marvel Comics, The Champions: Northern Lights is set in Nunavut and features some distinctly Canadian elements.

Firstly, the superhero team Champions comes into contact with Alpha Flight, another Marvel Comics creation – a superhero team set in Canada and created by Canadian John Byrne. It is extremely exciting seeing Alpha Flight continuing to appear in Marvel Comics since they haven’t had a series of their own in many years. The current Alpha Flight appears to be under the control of American Captain Marvel and features figures like Puck, Snowbird, Talisman, and Sasquatch.

Beyond just the Alpha flight connection, the comic features ideas of The North, setting the story in the winter and connecting the story to critical questions about global warming and the Arctic thaw, engaging questions about Canada’s relationship to the North and the idea of Canadian paternalism of Northern landscapes. The comic raises questions about the relationship between English and Inuktitut language, and explores the invasion of Inuit lands by a white man who believes he is doing the right thing and who steals resources from the landscape. As often happens, indigenous protestors mobilize to protect the landscape from continual colonial oppression and exploitation and from illegal resource extraction and attempts to assert white authority over indigenous land.

Champions raises critical issues for current Canadian issues around the attempts by the Canadian government to build a pipeline through unceded indigenous land. Currently, Wet’suwet’en protestors are seeking to protect their land from the Kinder Morgan natural gas pipeline that is being built through their territory and once again, a white, male, colonialist power is seeking to invade indigenous land for a nonrenewable resource.

In the Champions: Northern Lights comic, the colonialist, white person invading indigenous land calls himself The Master, highlighting ideas of power hegemonies and the exploitation of indigenous people. Moreover, the nonrenewable resource that he seeks to exploit in this case is the literal “Soul of the North”, a goddess named Sila. Indigenous protestors in the comic call out The Master, telling him: “face your crimes, corruptor!”.

Champions: Northern Lights brings up key critical questions about power structures, indigenous rights, exploitation of resources, and conflict over the landscape

To find out more about The Champions, go to https://www.marvel.com/comics/series/22552/champions_2016_-_2019

Radical Acts of Beauty

A review of Daniel Heath Justice’s “The Boys Who Became The Hummingbirds” in Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection Volume 2” (Edited by Hope Nicholson, Alternative History Comics, 2017)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Daniel Heath Justice’s “The Boys Who Became The Hummingbirds” is a comic about resilience and transformation, highlighting the desire of a two-spirit boy to change the world around him through acts of beauty. Despite homophobia, environmental degradation, and all forms of hate against each other, Strange Boy seeks to heal others by bringing beauty into the world. Like many people who seek to bring healing and beauty into the world, especially if they are marginalized, Strange Boy experiences violence. He discovers that a lot of the violence from the people around him is an externalized form of self loathing, their hatred of themselves projected outward toward anything beautiful, anything that represents a reminder of joy that they can’t imagine themselves having.

“The Boys Who Became The Hummingbirds” is an act of beauty in a harsh and close-minded world, it is Daniel Heath Justice’s act of transformative magic, sharing a story of transformation with a world that needs beauty. It is a tale that reminds us that no matter how much violence the world inflicts on us, we can speak back by bringing beauty into the world. Our acts of art can be transformative, remaking the world and opening up others to express their beauty. 

Beautifully illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre, “The Boys Who Became The Hummingbirds” is filled with images of movement and light. It is a comic that can show the interiors of bodies and make even our bleeding, organic insides things that can be filled with a certain magnificence and wonder. Alvitre is able to capture the etherial quality of hummingbirds, their darting magnificence.

The intwined arts of Daniel Heath Justice and Weshoyot Alvitre add to the message of the story, emphasising the focus of the story on collaborative arts and the ability of one form of art, one story, to resonate in another.

To discover more about Daniel Heath Justice, visit http://imagineotherwise.ca

To discover more about Weshoyot Alvitre, visit https://www.facebook.com/Weshoyot/

To find out more about Moonshot Vol 2, visit https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1350078939/moonshot-the-indigenous-comics-collection-volume-2

Canada Day Complexities and Questioning the 150

By Derek Newman-Stille

Art by “Chippewar”

Like many marginalized Canadians, Canada Day can evoke some complicated feelings. We are often very aware of the oppressions that have been carried out in the name of “Canada”: residential schools for aboriginal people, asylums that perpetuated the torture of people with disabilities, the Pink scare, bathhouse raids, and other attacks on queer Canadians, the razing of Africville and so many other acts of violence that seek to position white, straight, able-bodied, Anglophone Canadians as the only “true” Canadians. 

Canada 150 has been constructed as a celebration of Canadian history, and yet, in the nation’s attempt to construct itself as a country of justice and benevolence, it has erased large parts of its past, trying to make itself seem as though it is a country of constant justice, rather than a country that needs to acknowledge that it has carried our horrible abuses of people in the past and continues to do so. Even the title “Canada 150” carries a problematic assumption, erasing the thousands of years of aboriginal presence on this landscape in trying to make it seem as though Canada was born from nothing 150 years ago. Canada’s acts 150 years ago were a theft of land, an oppression of people who have lived on this landscape and who have continued to be robbed of land and have been oppressed for the length of those 150 years. 

Canada has supported arts for its 150, but only if those arts celebrate the message that it is trying to evoke, and the arts council positions artists within its “cultural mosaic”, but only if one fits into the mosaic in the right way, only if one performs identity the way that the arts council wants to see. 

As writers, researchers, and fans of speculative fiction, we have an opportunity to ask big questions (the speculative part means being inquisitive). We can ask these questions of our past through historical fiction, inviting questions about what could have happened in Canadian history if things had gone differently and invite readers to learn about Canadian history beyond the canonical history we are often taught in our schools (the sanitized version that constructs this nation as heroic). We can invite questions about where we are going from here, ask questions of our future, and interrogate possibilities and alternatives that we are told are impossible or improbable. With our creative energy we can invite those impossibilities to the table and see how they play out. We can write dystopian fiction that invites critical questions about how things can go wrong if we continue on our current path. We can write utopian fiction that imagines a radically new nation of justice and inclusion. We can write horror that showcases the horrors that constantly take place behind closed doors in our nation, imagine fantasies where Canada can be transformed through a different relationship to our environment, superhero fiction that doesn’t end up just being nationalistic tripe, and science fiction that imagines different ways of understanding the sciences that we use to justify our actions. 

Speculative Fiction, like all fiction, is an act of imagination, and, as such, it is about the potentials that we can dream up. It is a genre of our imagination, our thoughts, our perspectives, our aspirations, our anxieties, our fears, our dreams and our nightmares. It is a genre of ideas, and we need to remember that ideas are powerful, transformative, and, yes, dangerous. A nation is a boundary – one that is placed on geographies and people and that uses techniques to try to bind those disparate people and geographies together. But we aren’t defined by our boundaries. Canada’s boundaries have separated people, sought to erase aboriginal territories and nations, and the process of drawing that boundary was as much about exclusions as it was about inclusions. It is up to us to redraw boundaries, or, better yet, to imagine beyond boundaries and conceive of new types of definitions and new ways of understanding ourselves and the places we access. We need to remember our history, and that means all parts of it, including (or possibly especially) the ugly parts of it. We need to question the way that borders have been drawn around what is appropriate Canadian history and what is not. We need to invite questions of our government when it tells us that it has given people enough and as it why, ask it to give access to fresh water to aboriginal people, ask it to make spaces actually accessible for disabled people, ask it to stop pathologising queer people and trying to portray only one type of queer person (normally the most normative behaving) and actually open things up for areas of radical expression and radical inclusion. 

We can imagine new possibilities in our arts and our critiques and we have a responsibility to imagine better.
To find out more about the art by Chippewar above, visit http://www.chippewar.com/product/free-150-years-of-colonization