Indigenous Culture and Post-Apocalyptic Fiction

I attended my first CanCon (The Conference on Canadian Content in Speculative Arts and Literature) in Ottawa last month (Oct 13 – 15, 2017)  and was very much impressed by the level of programming offered. It went beyond a lot of the rehashed 101 SF & writing topics I have seen at some other conventions. One of the panels that I wanted to talk about in particular was “The End is the Beginning: First Nations Post-Apocalyptic Fiction” .

The panel description reads:

Join author and journalist Waubgeshig Rice and writer, artist, and television producer Jay Odjick as they discuss how to end the world – only in writing, we swear!  – and the intersection between First Nations issues and post-apocalyptic fiction.

I wanted to try to recap / review the panel and share it with a larger audience. During the panel I had tweeted one particular insight by Jay Odjick that garnered some attention and had people asking if there was any recording / transcript of the session. Having said that, I caution that this is my imperfect recollection of the panel and I don’t try to claim its completeness or verbatim retelling.

Brandon Crilly, an organizer and programmer for the con, was the third person on the panel. Technically, the moderator, Brandon did a terrific job of playing host and giving the floor to the two guests. The panel started with Brandon having to stick his head into the hall to locate Jay Odjick who had been waylaid talking to other con goers as happens at these gatherings. Jay entered apologizing for being late and announcing in a booming jovial voice “Welcome to Big Fucking Indians with Tattoos” as he took his seat at the table, cracking up the audience and making a grand entrance.

Introduction were made. As an illustrator / writer Jay developed the graphic novel  Kagagi: The Raven which was later adapted for television on the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) as an animated series with Jay producing and writing. Jay also recently illustrated a children’s book by Robert Munsch called Blackflies. Jay has also illustrated and written The Outsider which he described as a post-apocalyptic meets grind-house type of comic with lots of cussing and gore. The introductory issue is available for free download through his site.

Waubgeshig Rice is a journalist working for the CBC (Canadian Broadcast Corporation) formerly out of Ottawa, but recently relocated to Sudbury, Ontario. He’s also a writer with several books to his name – Midnight Sweatlodge and Legacy. His yet to be released (2018) book from ECW Press called –  Moon on Crusted Snow – deals with a post-apocalyptic world from an indigenous character’s POV.

(What follows is my recollections and paraphrasing of what was discussed. It may be far from chronological in what was discussed when during the 50 minutes of the panel discussion).

Jay talked about how in end of the world movies like Independence Day it’s always the  Americans swooping into save the day. Everyone in the movie is standing around saying “About time the American’s showed up”. How that these stories always American-centric and that no one else can survive without their intervention.

Jay also talked about how America is already filled with post-apocalyptic like landscapes stemming from economic collapse and that you only need to look at towns such like Rochester, New York (where he was born) where the main industrial employer Kodak has been obliterated from the landscape leaving economic devastation in its wake.

At one point Jay posed the question: “Are we talking about the world as a whole ending or YOUR world ending? Because I know of some people are already living in a post-apocalyptic world”

Personally, I felt the statement threw into focus the topic in a way that many of us white privileged people sitting in the audience hadn’t considered fully. Sure we’ve seen the news reports detailing life on Canada’s reserves and the inadequacies that First Nations people are forced to live with daily, but I think few have first hand knowledge or realize what lead directly to these conditions.

At one point Waub elaborated by discussing the history of the Wasauksing First Nation people. Traditionally they migrated up and down the eastern shores of Lake Huron hunting and trading. With the signing of the Robinson Huron Treaty in 1850 between the First Nations chiefs and the Crown, they quickly found their movement greatly restricted and they were moved off the best land. Economic interests in logging and prime forests kept them contained in places like Parry Island near Parry Sound Ontario.

Both men also gave the audience (some of whom weren’t Canadian) a bit of background in other issues affecting First Nations people in Canada such as Residential School System and what’s been in the news lately of the “The Sixties Scoop”. Jay mentioned that his family was unaffected directly by the abuses of the Residential School System, but went on to tell a harrowing tale about how his father (as a young child) and his father’s siblings narrowly avoided being taken from their parents by Jay’s grandfather standing his ground with a rifle. (I could recount more of the details of the tale, but I think they’re Jay’s to tell not mine.)

Both Jay and Waub talked about how they always thought in the case of an apocalyptic world ending event that they would both retreat to the familiarity/safety of the reserve despite both being self described urban Indians. Both men joked about becoming “soft” living in the city and that their fishing and hunting skills were not up to par. Jay recounted how his brother was a regular Native Indiana Jones type that put him to shame. Jay said the best plan in case of an apocalypse was to stick close to his brother. Waub said that he knows of several First Nation communities that have disaster plans in place with assigned roles and caches of supplies.

Waub talked about living on the reserve as a kid during the wide-spread power outage in 2003 and how not knowing what was going on at first was pretty scary. It got him to thinking about survival skills and world ending events.

Both men were asked how they thought the world might end. Jay was convinced it would be something “unsexy” like a economic collapse. Jay said that few people realize how close we came to having a societal collapse during the economic crisis of 2008 all because of a bunch of bankers. Waub said that he felt the apocalypse might be brought on by failing infrastructure.

When asked if they were optimistic or pessimistic about civilization’s chance for survival in the event of an apocalypse (I think) both said they were relatively optimistic that we could survive if we pulled together. Jay recommended people watch the TV show Jericho to see what he thought one version of a post-apocalyptic society could look like. Jay said he thought society in general could learn a lot if they just looked at the history of First Nations people and how their civilization was destroyed by colonists and settlers.

When discussing his forth-coming book Moon on Crusted Snow, Waub said that every time the power would flicker or go out while he was working on the final draft he would nearly shit himself thinking the end was here. He had immersed himself that much in the possibility of a post-apocalyptic world.

There was probably more discussed, but those are the highlights as I recall them. It was the panel where I took the least amount of notes this weekend, just because I was engrossed that deeply in the conversation.

Con Report: Ad Astra 2016 – Part I

The annual Ad Astra convention in Toronto* is one of those local SF&F conventions that I have been attending off and on since early 2000s. After I moved North ten years ago, its gotten a lot more challenging to attend, logistically, financially, and  requires a time commitment from both my work and family for me to attend. I was undecided about attending this year’s convention (Apr 29 – May 1st, 2016) for a while due to all those factors, but in the end decided I had to go.

There’s something to be said for devoting a weekend to talking about the craft of writing and geeking out over books, authors, and all stuff science fiction and fantasy related with old friends and people you just met.  I find it reinvigorating and gets me excited all over again about writing. Especially my own writing.

This year I didn’t go so much for the Guest of Honours as I did the panels. That’s not a slight on any of the guests, they had fabulous GOHs in Tom Doherty of Tor (Publishing), Jack Whyte (Author), Sandra Kasturi and Brett Savoy of ChiZine Publications (Editors/Publishers), and Catherine Asaro (Author / Musician).

Despite the schedule not being released until the week before the con, the panel descriptions were available a month or more ahead of the convention and helped solidify my decision to go. When the schedule was finally released I had a number of conflicting decsions to make and one of the panels near and dear to my heart was being held from 2-3 pm on the final day of the con when I had planned to travel home.

Below is a run down on my weekend and a brief glimpse at the panels and what I thought I got out of them.

Friday – April 29th, 2016

I arrived at the hotel around supper time, checked in and dealt with a few irregularities with my room (AC was not working) and ran to meet fellow writers from Sudbury for dinner in the hotel bar. We compared notes on our 1st and 2nd picks for the weekend and tried to figure of which ones we had in common. After supper it was off to our first panels of the weekend.

7 pm – Gateways to Science Fiction and Fantasy

What draws writers, and readers, to science fiction and fantasy in the first place? For some it’s their childhood reading tastes; for others, it might be RPGs, a movie, a tv show, or a specific book or author encountered as a teen or adult. Does how you came to the genre affect what you expect of it?


Panelists:
JD Deluzio, Robert Boyczuk, Stephanie Bedwell-Grime, Simon McNeil

I was curious about this panel for a couple of reasons. Firstly, one of the writing associations I am involved in locally is a mix of writers from all genres and only a handful of us are SF&F writers. We’re having a discussion in May on what got us into the genre and I thought this panel might help spark some ideas to discuss and recommendations to make to the non-genre readers in the group.

The evidence of the greying of fandom was evident in the audience for this panel with most of us in attendance being north of 40 and probably the majority was closer to 60 if I had to guess based on the comments. One of the moderators was born in late 1970s which made him probably the youngest of the bunch.

Interestingly enough the panellists and audience members fell into one of three camps, although there were some overlap in how they came to SF & F., Either their parents were fully supportive and they read to them from classics like Tolkien  or their parents were indifferent/hostile toward genre and frivolous things like reading comics/watching tv which encourage them to seek it out more. Other people were drawn to it either through a love of space exploration of the 1950s through 1970s and its representation in pop culture of the time. Several panellists and audience members, myself included mentioned getting hooked on Lost in Space and Twilight Zone.

When the conversation turned to getting other people involved in SF&F the suggestion was don’t try to immediately introduce them to the “classics”. Chose something contemporary. One suggestion was Robert Charles Wilson. Another was Robert Sawyer. Both Canadians of course.

There was some discussion about people already reading SF&F and not even realizing it – i.e. Hunger Games. There was also discussion about mainstream culture erasing labels of genres. The conversation also drifted to introducing our own kids into the genre and where to begin. It gave me pause to think about the direct and indirect influences I expose my kids to and that I have opportunity to make a more conscientious effort in that area.

8 pm – The Medium is the Message – Plays, Screenplays, Novels and Other Media

As a writer, you may have considered writing that novel. But what about that screenplay? That play? That board game? That web series? How can you make a living as a writer or create that great work of art while thinking outside the box of simply words on a page? This panel is about transitioning between various mediums to create the universe that lives in your mind, some of which you maybe never even considered, and how to approach each one differently.

Panelists:

Jen Frankel, Leah Bobet

I was interested in this panel for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that I took part in a playwright workshop a few years back and was curious to see other people’s experiences in applying their love of SF&F to other media.

Both Jenn Frankel and Leah Bobet were knowledgable and entertaining speakers with a variety of experience in other mediums. Leah has experience in video games, comics, and art installations in addition to her novels. Jenn has experience in theatre and TV production.

It was interesting to hear their experiences, but I found I was looking for more pointers on how to develop your work in other mediums. I asked them about developing works for other mediums and how does one break into that medium. My point being that its hard enough to get traditionally published, so for a writer to invest time and energy into developing say a play or screenplay without knowing the business side of the industry seems like a very big gamble. The response I got was a combination of  its who you know and that it all depends on who you came up with in the writing world. Encouraging and discouraging at the same time.

One audience member with some theatre background was more helpful in the practical pointers and gave me some suggestions after the panel for which I was thankful. Sorry I never got his name. Good panel over all and don’t regret sitting in on it for a minute.

9 pm – Clockwork Canada: Steampunk Fiction Launch Party

9 pm –  Robert J. Sawyer Birthday Party

These were two separate events that I wanted to pop into that started at the same time. I showed up to wish Rob Sawyer a Happy Birthday and to snag a piece of very delicious cake. Was that maple flavoured icing?  I managed to miss the signing of Happy Birthday (I assume everyone sang?) As you would expect Rob Sawyer has a sizable number of friends and fans so the room was quite busy so I didn’t stay as long as I might have.

I made my way down the hall to the Clockwork Canada launch party where I was just in time for the readings to begin. Editor Dominik Parisien was talking about the anthology and his vision for it before introducing the 4 authors he had on hand to read from it.
Charlotte Ashley,  Kate Heartfield, Kate Story, and Claire Humphrey each read a portion of their stories and I was hooked by each of them. The collection is a blend of steampunk/alternate history in a Canadian setting. Of course I bought a copy and had the authors sign their stories. I look forward to reading the collection. IF you are curious about it Tor.com had a favourable review of it the week before it was launched here – http://www.tor.com/2016/04/29/book-reviews-anthology-clockwork-canada/

Up next Day 2 – Saturday at Ad Astra