A Narrative of Moral Imagination: Collective Survivance in Indigenous Science Fictions

Summer Sutton

Virginia Commonwealth University

Abstract | Science fiction troubles common assumptions about the nature of contemporary society by either imagining new, future worlds or offering a drastically altered depiction of the present world. Two recent indigenous efforts in this vein, Gerald Vizenor’s novel Treaty Shirts: October 2034 – A Familiar Treatise on White Earth Nation and Ryan Griffen’s television series Cleverman exemplify how the world-building characteristic of the SF genre, when placed in an indigenous context, can be used to question the narrative of progress on the frontier that colonialists use to de-value native presence and claim indigenous spaces. Treaty Shirts sets Native American treaty disputes in a future world in which a group of exiled natives create a new society rather than continue in the pseudo-democracy of the United States, while Cleverman imagines an altered present day world in which aboriginal mythological creatures, the Hairies, exist as an exiled population within Australia. This article in turn expands on the scholarship of John Reider, who traces the persistence of colonialist narratives in early Western SF works, and Grace Dillon, who sees the creativity of contemporary indigenous SF as a space of resistance, by considering the ways in which both Treaty Shirts and Cleverman re-imagine indigenous relationships to colonized space in order to enact a type of collective survivance through storytelling, ultimately asserting cultural imagination as a more enduring connection to land than governmental legislation.

Keywords | Indigenous science fiction; survivance; Gerald Vizenor; Treaty Shirts; Cleverman.