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

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A review of Kelley Armstrong’s “The Culling” in Strangers Among Us: Tales of the Underdogs and Outcasts (Laska Media Groups Inc., 2016)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Kelley Armstrong’s near future fiction story “The Culling” examines the relationship between resources and disabilities. Her story is set in a future where there is resource scarcity and a general lack of water and food resources and this future society decides to deal with resource scarcity by killing disabled members of that society each year. Although set in the future, Armstrong’s tale brings attention to the treatment of disability as simultaneously a resource depletion, the disabled body being treated as socially non-productive, and the eugenic attitudes that are part of modern society as much as they are part of the future or past of social treatments of disability. 

This future society uses multiple methods of de-humanizing disabled people, beginning first with the rhetoric of weakness by suggesting that society would be stronger without disabled people in it. It then treats disabled bodies as drains on society resources, acting as though disabled people are not contributors to that society. The strongest rhetoric for de-humanizing disability is to put a person with mental illness on display in front of the society, strip him down, forbid him resources for cleaning himself, and post a sign above him that states that he murdered his family because people with disabilities are a threat to others. 

Armstrong illustrates the danger of rhetoric around disability, illustrating that the portrayal of disability as unproductive and as threat can lead to social actions of ostracism and violence against disabled bodies. Her near future fiction is not only “near future” because of its temporal setting, but because it is “near” and close to present realities. She uses The Culling to symbolically represent the violence against disabled bodies – the ostracism, institutionalization, and the lack of resources given to disabled people. Armstrong brings attention to the dangers of “normalcy”, creating a society whose violence against the non-normate is deadly. She also links non-normate bodies (disabled bodies) to cultural dissent by having teachers and medical doctors consider any act of resistance to be the same as a disabled body and both be subject to termination. In doing so, “The Culling” suggests that control of disabled bodies is a form of enforced normalcy and the suppression of deviation from an external norm. She illustrates that scapegoating certain people is always a form of social control, distracting people from the controls that are placed on them by letting them direct their fears and hostilities onto another group that is already considered abject, considered Other. 

Rather than concentrating on physical disability as many speculative fiction authors do, Armstrong entwines aging, physical disability, psychological disability/mental illness, cognitive disabilities, and non-normate appearance to create a sense of connection between those bodies and minds that are seen not to belong in a society that is hyper-focussed on maintaining ideas of normalcy that Other certain bodies. 

Marisol has a family history of mental illness and her parents, fearing that she will be culled like her aunt, train her from an early age how to avoid looking different in any way in public, how to pass medical tests that are geared toward rooting out dissent, and how to pass as ‘normal’. She is always aware of the presence of systems of control that exist around her throughout her life and her need to pretend to be as normal as possible, and is more aware as she ages and becomes more aware of her own psychological disability. Yet, she is aware of the work that other people with psychological disabilities have done and is aware that the rhetoric of unproductive bodies is a social lie since she has seen the beautiful artwork produced by her aunt, who was culled for her psychological disabilities. 

It is significant that Armstrong made her protagonist a teenager both because this is the time period when most psychological disabilities become apparent, but also because teenagers are often subject to a normalizing influence, encouraged to conform, and yet are viewed as being rebellious and non-conformist. Her character is at the perfect age to invite social questions even while she is trying her hardest to fit in to a society that has already rejected her.

To discover more about Kelley Armstrong, visit her website at http://www.kelleyarmstrong.com
To discover more about Strangers Among Us: Tales of the Underdogs and Outcasts, visit http://laksamedia.com/strangers-among-us-an-anthology-with-a-cause/ 

Cripping the Light Fantastic: Disability and Speculative Fiction

A Brief Exploration of Disability in Speculative Fiction
By Derek Newman-Stille

This post will explore some of the notions we examined in my panel at Can Con on Disability in Canadian SF. The panel went extremely well, and I hope to be able to share some insights with Speculating Canada readers who were unable to make it to Can Con.

The various speculative genres of fiction can engage with notions of the disabled body in a variety of different ways: through the notion of the medical cure or the augmented body of Science Fiction, the magically changed body of Fantasy, body horror and notions of disfigurement in Horror. Speculative Fictional engagements with the body are often problematic and disabling, much as the superstructure of our society is disabling in its construction of certain bodies as “problematic”. Through the absense of disabled bodies, or the treatment of the disabled as people who “need to be fixed”, SF can disable.

Disability is a socially constructed phenomenon, casting certain bodies as “unable” when the social structure itself is unwilling to accommodate bodily diversity. Texts (books, films, televisions, and other items of culture) can disable in the way they present certain bodies, re-affirming societal biases or reinforcing power dynamics. BUT, they can also disrupt these power dynamics. Literature has the power to change the way people think. It can reinforce or change social conditions. Speculative fiction, in particular, can SPECULATE. It can ask questions, encourage its readers to ask questions, and these questions can challenge social notions that are largely unchallenged and taken as unquestioned truths in our society.

Speculative Fiction has the power to present a different world of possibility where ideas about disability can be questioned, where disability is treated as a social issue, not an issue with the bodies of specific individuals. However, this requires a deep awareness of the issues and a desire to see social change on the part of SF authors.

As readers we can ask questions like:

-How is disability presented in this novel?

-Does this portrayal empower people with disabilities or does it disempower them?

-Is disability treated as a convenient plot device or is it a part of a wider narrative?

-Is disability portrayed accurately?

-What questions is the author asking about disability?

-Do I feel like the portrayal of people with disabilities is stereotypical.

Remember, as a reader, you can (and should) pose critical questions about what you read – interrogate it, challenge it, and question it. That is part of the enjoyment of reading and being an engaged reader.

As authors we can ask questions like:

-Have I consulted with the disabled community about this?

-What questions about disability does my work bring attention to?

-Do I construct disability as a “problem body” or as an issue of a society that is unwilling to accommodate bodily diversity?

-Have I made my character with disabilities a complete character or a walking symbol and plot device?

-Does my work challenge stereotypes or does it reinforce them?

-Have I considered how disability would relate to all situations or am I only applying issues of disability when it is convenient to my plot?

-What common tropes about disability do I want to avoid?

One of the most important things to consider is the axiom “Nothing About Us Without Us”. If you are an able-bodied author writing about disability, you should make sure to talk to members of the disability community about your characters. In the same way as you may research ideas of physics for your starships or the history of portrayals of the werewolf for your horror novel, consult with the experts about disability. This is even more important research than physics or mythology because it pertains to real people, and real readers that you may alienate or disempower through your writing.

 

Here are a few common tropes of disability that I observed when reading and watching portrayals of disability in Speculative Fiction novels, comics, movies, and television. I used these to create a disability trope bingo for the panel on disability at Can Con, and I thought I would replicate it here for you to explore:

 

Disability Trope Bingo

Mark your bingo card whenever you see a disability trope appearing on the slide. Feel free to mark multiple spaces if there are multiple categories that apply.

Here are the questions for each of the categories:
B1: My disability is a superpower
B2: “Better dead than disabled”
B3: The magical / technological cure
B4: Other senses magnified to “cope” with “deficit”
B5: Disabled person as inconvenience to others
I1: Disabled person as inspirational
I2: People helping disabled people as heroic
I3: Disability as burden on the social system
I4: Disabled person as perpetual victim
I5: Disabled in Distress (always needing to be saved by the Able-bodied)
N1: Exclusively plot relevant disability that is forgotten at other times
N2: The “Who is at fault for this person being disabled” trope
N3: The token disabled character
N4: Assuming disability means ubiquitously unable
N5: Disability as ugliness
G1: Disability only as contrast with perfection or to highlight the perfection of another character as the opposite
G2: Disability as moral weakness of character or villainy
G3: Assuming every emotional state of the disabled person relates to his/her disability
G4: Character angry at world because of their disability – defined by frustration
G5: “Heroic Disabled” able to “overcome disability”
O1: “Tragically damaged” former hero – often a person who is disabled in an act of heroism and is now unable to accomplish heroic feats
O2: Disability as only a state of mind – the idea that a person can overcome disability with enough willpower
O3: Cursed Disabled – victim of magic
O4: Disabled as mentor for hero
O5: Disability hiding other difference

 

 

 

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Regarding the title of this post, as a disabled person, I am reclaiming (like many scholars of disability and people with disabilities) the term “crip” that has often been used to oppress and disempower people with disabilities.

This is only an initial exploration of the topic of disability in SF and should not be considered complete. It is used here only to open dialogue about disability in SF.