Decolonizing the Post-Apocalyptic Landscape: Narratives of Fear, Hope, and Resilience in the Indigenous Arctic
At first glance, the circumpolar Arctic possesses many characteristics that seem apt to be tropified in apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic, and/or horror speculative cinema and literary fictions. Among these characteristics are a typically sparse human population, challenging or even deadly climatic and environmental conditions, potentially dangerous wildlife, and limited access to other parts of the world in terms of geography and, in some cases, technology (Hansson). Widely perceived as inhospitable by those who are unaccustomed to circumpolar Arctic territories (as well as the polar regions), remotely located tundra and icescapes have served as recurring backdrops for survival and Gothic horror since the 19th century, from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798)to H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness (1936). In these texts (notably, by non-Indigenous authors), the frozen Arctic is generally typified in a couple of different ways. The circumpolar or polar regions often serve as hazardous settings within which predominantly male, foreign explorers demonstrate their heroism and capacity for survival against insurmountable odds (Lewis-Jones). On the other hand, particularly in survival horror and in related sub-genres, the Arctic is often represented as a place that can bring out the worst inclinations of mankind as otherwise honorable characters succumb to madness, violence, or cannibalism amidst the chilling terror and isolation of the frozen North (Craciun). In fact, during the Victorian era, these tropes were so prevalent that a popular proto-genre of literature emerged known as the “Polar Gothic,” in which the Arctic and polar regions were popularized in fictions like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as spaces of fear. Here the 19th century human desire for mastery over his environment often went catastrophically awry (Bowers).
These characterizations of the Arctic and Antarctic as liminal spaces within which human survival tales and colonialist dramas play out, of course, have been applied primarily to stories featuring non-Indigenous explorers, scientists, and adventurers (Lam). As Hansson maintains, these tropes rely heavily on “conventional ideas of the Arctic as an empty space,” and concomitantly as a “natural rather than a social world” (69). However, in fiction penned by those peoples indigenous to the circumpolar Arctic territories, these tundra regions are characterized quite differently. Rather than being represented as inhospitable, stark, or barren, in Indigenous Arctic fiction the region is characterized as a social and cultural landscape lavishly occupied by spirits, legends, life, and culture. Further, rather than being presented as victims of the conditions of a fundamentally hostile territory, Indigenous characters written by Indigenous authors are often strategic, resourceful, and innovative, with deeply rooted familial and spiritual connections to their land that allow them to survive and thrive in potentially difficult environments or even amidst horrific circumstances.
In this article, I will be focusing on the circumpolar Arctic and near-Arctic as settings for post-apocalyptic horror fiction written by Native and First Nations authors. I will emphasize that, while the themes of dread and terror that distinguish these kinds of speculative fictions are still ubiquitous throughout their texts, Indigenous authors often approach representations of their land and their people in a way that emphasizes resilience drawn from the continuance of cultural tradition, adaptability, and active “survivance” (as coined by Gerald Vizenor). Thus, Indigenous styles of post-apocalyptic and/or survival horror literatures set in the Arctic or near-Arcticstand in stark contrast to the corpus of similar texts by non-Indigenous authors. As I will elucidate through analyses of the novel Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice (Wasauksing Nation) and a short story from Taaqtumi: An Anthology of Arctic Horror Stories, “Wheetago War II: Summoners” by Richard Van Camp (Tłıchǫ Nation), horror elements in Indigenous fictions arise amidst a complex network of culturally specific themes and motifs. These elements will often blend frightening characters from mythology and folklore with contemporary issues that continue to impact First Nations and Native populations including colonialism, displacement, and environmental degradation and exploitation, among others. In other words, the fear does not necessarily arise from the isolation and austerity of the Arctic environment; it arises principally from settler colonial issues impacting the Arctic, its cultures, and its peoples.
I will also note here that I am concentrating thematically on the notion of apocalypse-as-horror in this article. This is because apocalypse serves as a particularly apt metaphor in an Indigenous context. In the words of Grace Dillon, editor of Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction, “it is almost commonplace to think that the Native Apocalypse…has already taken place” (Dillon 8). More specifically, I will be focusing on the ways in which Indigenous authors use apocalypse as an allegory for the colonization and brutalization of Indigenous peoples by settlers and/or outsiders. As Weaver puts it, “the apocalyptic paradigm of revelation and disaster can work effectively to interrogate the history of colonization and relations between white and [Indigenous peoples] and propose spaces of hope for the future” (100). Indeed, I will explore the ways in which the Indigenous literary use of apocalypse-as-horror utilizes the common literary horror themes of apprehension and fear while concomitantly investigating the ways in which apocalypse allows for possibilities for survival, renewal, and the continuance of Indigenous resilience.
Moon of the Crusted Snow
Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice is a post-apocalyptic horror novel set on a fictional Anishinaabe reservation in the Canadian North. The people of this particular reservation have been displaced from their native homeland in the South because of assimilatory and colonial policies in Canada; nevertheless, they have managed to survive and thrive in the remote North. Indeed, Rice makes it clear that the “proud rez lifer[s]” enjoy a “comfort and familiarity [in their] community,” and that they are able to navigate deftly through the variable obstacles inherent to life in a relatively isolated far Northern community (20). Many of those challenges are environmental and cyclical. For example, in the beginning of the novel, our protagonist Evan Whitesky is preparing for what he describes as the “great annual test,” the near-Arctic winter (Rice 13):
In the coming weeks, the temperature would drop…and the snow and ice would be with them for six months. Like people in many other Northern reserves, they would be isolated by the long, unforgiving season, confined to a small radius around the village only as far as the snowmobile’s half tank of gas (Rice 11).
Indeed, Rice does not shy away from conveying how difficult the winter can be for this community. On the other hand, the “great annual test” is presented as something Evan and his community are well-equipped to weather (Rice 13). In fact, Evan maintains that during the frozen winter he feels “more relaxed in some ways, falling into the natural rhythm of the days and the tasks that [need] to be done” (72). Among these tasks is, perhaps most significantly, hunting to provide sustenance for his partner and two children throughout the long winter months. The novel opens with Evan slaying a moose, after which he offers a prayer of reverence and gratitude for the life he has taken in accordance with the Anishinaabe ethos:
‘Gchi-manidoo,’ he said aloud, ‘Great spirit, today I say miigwech for the life you have given us….’ Evan expressed thanks for the good life he was trying to lead… He finished his prayer with a resounding, solitary miigwech before putting the tobacco on the ground in front of the moose. This was his offering of gratitude to the Creator and Mother Earth for allowing him to take this life. As he took from the Earth, he gave back. It was the Anishinaabe way, as he understood it (Rice 5).
Here the reader is offered some insight into what Aamold describes as the “unseen” landscape of the Arctic, that which is rich with Indigenous values, aesthetics, and spiritual cosmologies (85). Evan’s hunting tactics and principles offer a glimpse into the complex cultural and spiritual relationships that bond the Anishinaabe people, the land they occupy, and the non-human lives that inhabit the Northern territories. Immediately, we have established that Evan has a profound relationship with the cultural landscape of the Indigenous near-Arctic, but he also exhibits a keen understanding of, mastery over, and intimate familiarity with his far Northern home.
Rice makes clear many of the challenges unique to living in a small, relatively isolated, near-Arctic community in Northern Canada. For example, it is established that the reservation has relatively limited and sporadic access to technologies and resources that are more abundant down South. One of the first indicators that something is going wrong down in the more populated southern territories of Canada happens early in the novel when cell service is unexpectedly terminated on the reservation. However, as Evan reminds the reader, “cell service outages were common. The cell tower had gone up only a few years before, when the community was finally connected to the hydro grid” (Rice 14). For this community, cell service is more of a recent luxury than a necessity. Many reservation residents confirm lightheartedly that the “moccasin telegraph” will do the job of transmitting essential news (22). We are immediately presented with a pervasive sense of isolation, but also keen self-sufficiency among the “rez lifers” (20).
Nevertheless, concern rises in this Anishinaabe community as television, phone service, and Internet all go down at once. After all, these modalities of communication constitute their only connection to the more densely populated and resource-abundant South. Further, they receive diesel from the southern regions, so these connections are somewhat critical. As questions and apprehensions arise among the reservation residents, their Chief, Terry, calls a meeting to discuss a strategic plan for community safety. Before the meeting commences, Evan assists an Elder, Aileen, in conducting a prayer and a smudge. This action “[represents] a cleansing of the spirit, and the ceremony [is] believed to clear the air of negativity” (Rice 53). While once forbidden by the church and outlawed by the government, Rice explains, cleansing ceremonies such as these were kept alive by “people like Aileen, her parents, and a few others [who] had kept the old ways a secret…even when they were stolen from their families to endure forced and often violent assimilation at church-run residential schools far away from their homes” (53). Described as “soothing” and “calming” for the attendees, the smudging ceremony represents one of many instances in which Evan and others seek comfort and strength in their culture and tradition, even against a backcloth of apprehension and adversity (Rice 52).
The reader begins to understand how truly dire the situation is when two young college students from the reservation, Kevin and Nick, escape from their university lodging in the South and return to the reservation via snowmobile to attend to their families and update their community. During the subsequent reservation meeting, Nick explains to his community that, like Evan, neither he nor Kevin were too alarmed when a blackout hit their school. However, they explain that panic escalated further at their university as it became clear that power, food, water, heating, phone and Internet service, and all other modern amenities were failing to return. When the first student starved and died alone in his dormitory, violent riots ensued, indicating to Kevin and Nick that they needed to escape and return to the reservation. Finally, the reader understands after a long, measured build-up that the situation—in Canada at least—is apocalyptic.
With that being said, over the next four chapters or so, Evan and the other members of this Anishinaabe community endure their seemingly apocalyptic circumstances in relative peace. Rice indicates to his reader that the lack of panic on the reservation emerges from a very particular cultural context. He emphasizes that adherence to Indigenous values and ways of living coupled with a longstanding history of active survival and adaptability have allowed the Anishinaabe people to endure and thrive in the midst of apparently insurmountable adversity:
Despite the hardship and tragedy that made up a significant part of this First Nation’s legacy, the Anishinaabe spirit of the community generally prevailed. There was no panic on the night of this first blizzard, although there had been confusion in the days leading up to it. Survival had always been an integral part of their culture. It was their history. The skills they needed to persevere in this northern terrain, far from their original homeland farther south, were proud knowledge held close throughout the decades of imposed adversity (Rice 48).
It is not until an outsider arrives from the South that the true horror materializes in Moon of the Crusted Snow. A colossal traveler called Justin Scott comes to the reservation, having followed Kevin and Nick’s tracks via snowmobile. He is an imposing figure, a massive white man dressed in all black, with a “wide, bald dome,” “bulbous nose,” and “square jaw” (Rice 101). The man immediately makes an argument for his semi-permanent presence on the reservation: “‘I can help provide for your community. I’m a survivalist. I know how to live on this land without the comforts and luxuries people in the South have become too dependent on. I know all about emergency management’” (107). Ironically—and patronizingly—he continues: “I can help your people adapt to this situation” (107). Evan is immediately put off by Scott’s excessive bravado and condescension, but Chief Terry tentatively accepts Scott as a member of the community as long as he contributes to the well-being of the collective.
Scott starts causing problems on the reservation almost immediately, with deadly consequences. For example, one evening Evan finds him inappropriately cavorting with many of the younger community members at a house party, during which alcohol—a pervasive taboo in this Indigenous community—is flowing in abundance. The next morning, two young women who were at the party are found frozen to death. The situation only escalates further when three more non-Indigenous strangers arrive via snowmobile, having followed Scott’s trail. Scott promptly shoots one of them after he rushes Chief Terry in a wild, starved panic. “‘There’ll be more coming, Terry,’” Scott tells the Chief, “‘We gotta make a stand’” (Rice 141). Evan observes that Scott is covetous of power and has already made allies to that effect. At the same time, paranoia and, tragically, suicide rates are on the rise on the reservation.
The quiet, creeping horror in Moon of the Crusted Snow ascends to a climax as it is ultimately revealed that Scott has begun to cannibalize the dead. Aside from the general, conceptual dreadfulness of human cannibalism, Scott’s flesh-eating serves as a source of terror that derives from a very specific cultural context in Moon of the Crusted Snow. Rice presents Scott as, in his own words, an “allegory for colonialism” through the cultural metaphor of the Windigo, a frightening cannibalistic creature in many Indigenous stories (Rice). In the Anishinaabe mythos, the Windigo is often described as a human who has morphed into a flesh-eating monster, having succumbed to the vices of spiritual weakness and greed (Smallman). Rice states:
…the Windigo isn’t explicitly discussed in the story itself—only hinted at in a few subtle ways. It’s a figure in Anishinaabe and Cree stories that exploits communities at their weakest during the wintertime… As kids in our community, we learned that Windigo stories were told to warn people from cannibalizing one another and succumbing to evil and weakness in winter (Rice).
Here I return to an idea presented at the beginning of this article. Specifically, in non-Indigenous survival horror and/or post-apocalyptic literature set in the Arctic, readers often observe cannibalism used as a literary device representative of the “devastating effects of the icescape on the minds and bodies of foreign explorers” (Lam 196). This trope is especially relevant in the mythos of Canada’s Arctic North, the location of perhaps the most notorious example of (alleged, but highly likely) cannibalism in the nation’s history: the doomed expedition of Sir John Franklin, who set sail from Greenhithe, England with his crew on 19 May 1845 (HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror) on an ill-fated expedition to Baffin Bay (McCorristine). According to Dr. John Rae’s (October 1854) historical claims, much to the horror of the Inuit people, Franklin’s stranded crew members began to cannibalize each other in a tumult of madness and desperate starvation (Keenleyside et al). While this was a real event, the mystery and horror of the Franklin expedition has become almost a mythological part of Canada’s history and has served inspiration for many Canadian novels (such as Rudy Wiebe’s A Discovery of Strangers) and short stories (Margaret Atwood’s “The Age of Lead”).
Conversely, in Indigenous literatures such as Moon of the Crusted Snow, cannibalism instead serves as a “a metaphor for the imperial consumption of lands and bodies, implying that colonial conquest leaves its lasting marks on the bodies of those who live in the Arctic, as well as those who came to claim it” (Lam 196). In Rice’s novel, Justin Scott represents colonialism-as-cannibalism. He is illustrative of the material consumption of Indigenous lands, resources, and bodies, but also the defilement and desecration of Indigenous values. Indeed, Scott’s disregard for life and disrespect for the legacies of Indigenous lives lost stands in stark contrast to Anishinaabe values, which have been repeatedly and clearly articulated in the novel through the act of hunting; hunters always give thanks for the life that has passed on, and it is plainly established that they must never take more than what is necessary [“It’s not the Anishinaabe way to take more than you need,” explains Jeff, Evan’s friend, to Scott during a hunting mission (Rice 125)].” Scott, in contrast, is presented as a pragmatic, unscrupulous, power-seeking survivalist whose primary aim is to preserve his own life and satisfy his appetite at any cost. Like the cannibalistic Windigo, Scott is an insidious, sinister figure who takes advantage of the vulnerability of an Indigenous community under unusually challenging circumstances.
Scott represents an additional dimension to the colonialism metaphor in an Indigenous context; specifically, he signifies colonialism-as-apocalypse. In Moon of the Crusted Snow, the termination of cellular services, internet, radio, and other amenities signals the commencement of a widespread “apocalypse,” but it is not the end of the “civilized” world as one knows it that truly brings terror for our First Nations characters. This is because, for Indigenous peoples, the “apocalypse” has already happened, and has been managed and dealt with repeatedly throughout history. During a private discussion between Evan and the Elder Aileen, the reader is provided some insight into what the “end of the world” means to this First Nations community. To note first, Aileen maintains that there is no such translation for the term “apocalypse” in their language. “‘Yes, apocalypse!’” she declares, “‘What a silly word. I can tell you there’s no word like that in Ojibwe’” (Rice 149). She continues:
‘The world isn’t ending. Our world isn’t ending. It already ended. It ended when the Zhaagnaash [colonial settlers] came into our original home down south on that bay and took it from us. That was our world. When the 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 we had to adapt and luckily we already knew how to hunt and live on the land’ (Rice 149).
“‘Yes, apocalypse,’” she says, “‘We’ve had that over and over. But we always survived. We’re still here. And we’ll still be here, even if the power and the radios don’t come back on…’” (Rice 150). Indeed, the arrival of Justin Scott and his ghastly actions are directly reflective of the consumption, abuses, and defilement of Indigenous bodies and values that are part and parcel of settler colonialism. However, as Aileen maintains, Indigenous peoples have already encountered these atrocities and injustices through forced, often violent, assimilation and other aggressive colonial policies. While they have signified the end of a certain way of living for their communities, Indigenous peoples have nevertheless actively—and repeatedly—survived, adapted, and endured.
At the end of Moon of the Crusted Snow, Evan and two of his friends are compelled to take Scott down in a violent final face-off. In the epilogue, we follow Nicole as she loads her children and her belongings in their truck to meet with Evan, who has been scouring for new territories to settle with a few companions. “There was no use staying somewhere that had become so tragic,” Rice explains (211). Further, “the collapse of the white man’s modern systems…withered the Anishinaabeg here. But they refused to wither completely, and a core of dedicated people had worked tirelessly to create their own settlement away from this town” (Rice 212). Finally, Nicole, Evan, and a few other survivors “begin a new life nestled deep in the heart of Anishinaabe territory” further South ( 213). Though Moon of the Crusted Snow ascends to a violent and disturbing climax, the conclusion provides space for hope and revitalization for this Indigenous community. Though the “white man’s apocalypse” has deeply disadvantaged the people of this reservation, they continue on as they always have, creating new possibilities for their collective future, while rooting their existences in the continuance of Indigenous values, knowledge, and tradition.
Wheetago War II: Summoners
“Wheetago War II: Summoners” by Richard Van Camp is the third short story installment in Taaqtumi: An Anthology of Arctic Horror Stories, which is comprised almost entirely of contemporary tales of Arctic terror written by Indigenous authors. In Wheetago War II, we follow a nameless narrator as he guards a bush school field trip through a perilous landscape during a near-future in which monstrous creatures have been awakened by global environmental degradation and misuse. These creatures are called “Wheetago,” or “Body Eaters,” and are loosely analogous to the legend of the Windigo. These barbarous beasts freeze humans with their petrifying screams and suck the brains out of the victims through their eyes while they are frozen, subsequently possessing and then consuming their bodies. While these beings eat adults, it is revealed that they abduct children: “And why do they want our children? You ever think of that? It ain’t killing. It’s something more. Something…for their rituals. We seen their altars out there on the land. Some of our scouts have seen them smudging with human hair” (Van Camp 32).
Despite the ominous premise, it is made clear in “Wheetago War II” that this Inuit community has continued to live effectively off their land and maintain their cultural traditions even against a post-apocalyptic backcloth. Our nameless narrator explains that bush schools have been established in the community to teach children how to survive and manage their environment efficiently. For safety, each child embarks on expeditions with Silencer rifles around their chests along with brightly colored life jackets. Further, the narrator explains, “Each [child] was marked in the way of the walrus or the caribou: this signified if they were guardians of the land or the sea” (Van Camp 21). I suggest that this signification indicates a perpetuation of Indigenous ways of teaching in terms of practically and spiritually sound environmental ethos, which overwhelmingly emphasizes responsibility and guardianship in relationship to the land in the Indigenous lifeworld (Kawagley). Concomitantly, the narrator demonstrates a keen affection and appreciation for his Arctic environment even amidst a series of circumstances that ought to make the landscape seem overwhelmingly threatening: “It was a beautiful day,” the narrator states as he leads a group of children into the wilderness. “The leaves were yellow, gold. Frost had been on the grass just that morning. No wind. You could hear for miles” (Van Camp 24). Like Evan in Moon of the Crusted Snow, the narrator of “Wheetago War II” sees beauty through brutality in the frozen tundra, an ability that I suggest is heavily informed by Indigenous values and land relations.
“Wheetago War II” also emphasizes storytelling as a vitally important way of Indigenous tutelage (Barnhardt & Kawagley). For example, a teacher called Norma cites an Inuit legend to the children on their trip: “A long time ago, there were Na acho, the giant ones… See that mountain? Look along the sides. That was all scraped smooth by giant beavers as they made their way south for war” (22). Additionally, much like in Moon of the Crusted Snow, the characters in “Wheetago War II” adhere to the Inuit way of honoring the dead. The children, for example, are taught to harvest porcupine quills ethically and with respect for the deceased being:
[Norma]…motioned for us all to approach the body of a dead porcupine as she pulled on thick gloves… ‘I saw this little one yesterday when we were picking berries. We drop tobacco in honor of this little life’s passing’ …So the teachers and students dropped tobacco and offered it to the earth and to our mother (Van Camp 23).
Like in Moon of the Crusted Snow, in “Wheetago War II” there is much to be found in the “unseen” spiritual and cultural landscapes of the Indigenous Arctic North through the actions and values of its characters (Aamold 85). Despite the apocalyptic conditions rendered upon the landscape, the characters of “Wheetago War II” use their Arctic environment to find meaning and utility, as well as gratitude. As Norma further explains during the bush school field trip, “Today…we give thanks for all we have. My husband’s birthday is soon approaching, and I want to make him new moccasins…you can use porcupine quills to decorate just about anything if you know what to do (Van Camp 23).” But tragically, as Norma bends down to conscientiously harvest the porcupine quills, it is revealed that a Wheetago has possessed the body of the dead animal. The creature attacks Norma, seizing possession of her body and snapping her spine in half. The narrator and other guards swiftly pursue the Wheetago, shooting it with their Silencers while attempting to protect the group of children from abduction. It is a gruesome scene, resulting in several disappeared children and countless adult bodies ripped apart and devoured.
In “Wheetago War II,” our narrator elucidates a theory regarding the events and circumstances that caused the Wheetago to emerge to his nameless listener. Specifically, he refers to pervasive environmental degradation and resource exploitation and overpopulation resulting in climatic warming:
Let me think about this: they say that Earth had seven billion humans before the Wheetago returned, right? I think that was their magic number. I think they warmed the world and unthawed themselves from whatever Hell they came from. I think seven billion was the magic number for the food they’d need to make the world maggoty with them and their kind (Van Camp 30).
The narrator of “Wheetago War II” offers a critique of industrialization in excess while the events of the story champion the sustainability of Indigenous ways of caring for the environment, which inform their relationship to the land. Despite the intensely graphic nature of this story, the narrator of “Wheetago War II” can’t seem to help but hope: “I think if I make it, I’m gonna witness an answer to all our prayers,” he asserts (Van Camp 30). He continues, “…we have to take back our kingdom. But, first things first, we have to find our children” (Van Camp 33). It is heavily implied that the resilience of his Indigenous community and its collective values are part of what provides him with this courage and resolution: “The Outpost was growing. Again, we had hope. Strength in numbers” (Van Camp 25). Much like in Moon of the Crusted Snow, the apocalypse described in “Wheetago War II” often results in brutality and violence, but also provides a discursive and actionable place for the resilience of Indigenous peoples, whose traditions and community values endure while much of the rest of the world dramatically changes or even perishes. Further, I suggest that the characters of “Wheetago War II” demonstrably ground the root of their survivance in community land relations; rather than being solely apocalyptic and desolate, the Indigenous Arctic as depicted in this short story maintain their collective values, eco-folklore, and environmental ethos, both drawing out and offering life and character to the Arctic landscape.
In the corpus of global literature thematizing “Indigenous issues” or centralizing/utilizing Indigenous characters, outsiders’ literary voices have been historically paramount. This discrepancy has, in recent years, given rise to what has been described as an “Own Voices” movement, which attempts to decolonize the literary sphere by championing the works of Indigenous writers so that Native and First Nations communities may enjoy ownership over their own stories and their own portrayals in both fiction and non-fiction (Jensen 2020). This movement is important for several reasons; first, Own Voices novels and short stories allow Indigenous writers to rectify stereotypes and humanize the Native experience through narrative. Further, Indigenous storytelling is essential for the survival of Native and First Nations ethos and cosmologies, and, most relevantly for the purposes of this paper, values regarding land relations, which critically underpin Native systems of ethics. Moon of the Crusted Snow and “Wheetago War II” serve as critical examples of Own Voices fictions that champion the survival of Indigenous environmental ethics and values through a very specific lens – through the post-apocalyptic horror narrative – and through very specific settings – the near-Arctic and Arctic North. Indeed, in both of these texts, the characters exemplify Indigenous resilience and active survivance through the maintenance of Native values and land relations, lending social, ethical, spiritual, and cultural character to a tundra environment that has been historically portrayed as frightening, barren, and desolate by outsider novelists. In this way, I suggest that Own Voices literature possesses the opportunity to portray Indigenous characters empathetically, but also to portray Indigenous environments and landscapes with greater depth and complexity.
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Kelsey Lee earned her PhD in Social Anthropology from Durham University in 2021, having just passed her viva in April. Her thesis explored Sámi cinema as part of a broader decolonial endeavor in the Arctic European North. She graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a Master’s degree in Social Anthropology in 2013, earning High Distinction on her dissertation exploring the complex intersections among cosmology, traditional knowledge, and reindeer herding practices with the Indigenous Sámi peoples of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the Kola Peninsula of Russia. She also has a background in museology and has worked alongside and for Indigenous curators and museum professionals in the American Southwest and beyond. She loves reading Indigenous literatures of all genres but is particularly drawn to speculative fiction.