Indigenous Futures: Possible and Present

Reviewed by Michael Minor

It seems fitting that one of Métis leader Louis Riel’s most influential declarations is not precisely documented. It is, apparently, passed down from a time near Riel’s death in 1885 to today, mostly through word of mouth. Regardless of the exact context, there can be no denying the power that Riel released when he said, “My people will sleep for a hundred years, but when they awake, it will be the artists who give them their spirit back.” We are living in the present of Riel’s prophecy. It is a present where Indigenous voices continue to speak about the future and a present where prophecies of the past are confirmed. These two volumes embrace diverse Indigenous views of what could be and what is.


Me Tomorrow is the fourth installment of Ojibwe author Drew Hayden Taylor’s “Me” series, which already includes Me Funny (2006), Me Artsy (2008), and Me Sexy (2015). Each of these edited volumes collect writing from a wide range of Indigenous people in what is now called Canada. Robert Henry (Métis) is an Indigenous studies scholar who has compiled the stories and photography of six Indigenous women who have lived as part of street gangs. While these two volumes are collaborations representing diverse Indigenous perspectives, they each present visions of the present and future where Indigenous knowledges, lifeways, and peoples are depended upon for survival.


Like previous editions in the series, Me Tomorrow offers an intentionally diverse and discursive approach to its topic: predicting the future. From mother and son collaborators Cyndy Baskin and Minadoo Makwa Baskin, to experienced political leaders like Romeo Saganash and Clarence Louie, to activists like Tracie Léost and Autumn Peltier, or writers like Lee Maracle and Drew Hayden Taylor—this volume collects the wisdom of generations to project the hopes and anxieties of Indigenous futures on Turtle Island.


Darrell J. McLeod’s essay “Me Tomorrow: Paint it Red” sets an ambitious tone for the collection. It interweaves the four elements and the four directions into what McLeod dubs the “Nehiyaw cosmovision” (6). He draws on the unparalleled visions of his mother and Vine Deloria Jr. to plot a future of reclamation and hope for Turtle Island. As is true for so many of the contributors to the collection, McLeod’s hope for the future is hard-earned. He reveals the thoughtless harms done by believing the earth can be owned and the colonial quest for ever more “fire power” (15). His hope for the future is born out of the many crises facing the earth and Indigenous people. There is hope for the future as long as McLeod and his co-conspirators can “paint it red.”


Cyndy Baskin, Shalan Joudry, and Shelley Knott Fife are among those who, directly and indirectly, focus on the concept of two-eyed seeing. Related to Indigenous prioritizations of balance and holistic being, “Etuaptmumk (Two-Eyed Seeing)” is a concept taught by Mi’kmaq Elders Albert and Murdena Marshal (44, 96). It is the art of seeing “with Indigenous ways of knowing” in one eye and “mainstream ways of knowing” in the other (44). The critical element of this balancing act is “learning to see with both eyes together.” Similar to McLeod’s perspective, the hopeful predictions of proponents of two-eyed seeing are contingent on balanced, relational ways of being.


Alongside the prediction that Indigenous knowledges and lifeways are the solution to so many of the world’s existential threats, there is a deep weariness of what Nez Perce Chief Joseph described “over 120 years ago” as “the good words and the broken promises” (105). Former MP Romeo Saganash and Chief of Osoyoos Indian Band Clarence Louie draw on their considerable experience with broken promises to give heavily guarded predictions for the future. For these men, something major in the current political system will have to change before Indigenous people can live in the world that they dream of for their children. They are both unequivocal that, regardless of the remote possibility of significant improvements, Indigenous people today need “to put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children” (Sitting Bull qtd. by Louie 119).


Lee Maracle is, most appropriately, given the final word in Me Tomorrow. Maracle died in November 2021, just a few short months after this volume was published. With characteristic candour and care, Maracle points to, among other things, quickly accelerating political instability in the United States and concludes, “We appear to have fallen on dark times” (198). The world on the brink of a global conflict and yet another devastating wave of COVID-19 do nothing if not bolster Maracle’s understated conclusion. Yet she preternaturally predicts that, with incredibly hard work, in one hundred years “I will be looking down at my grandson’s and granddaughters’ aging children, who are such golden-hearted human beings, and I will swell with pride” (206).


Indigenous Women and Street Gangs is part of Henry’s photovoice work with six Indigenous women. This work is in collaboration with STR8 UP 10,000 Little Steps to Healing, a program helping people leave street gangs in Saskatoon (xi). Photovoice methodology blends the stories of participants with photos that they take to illustrate their experiences. It is becoming increasingly common in social sciences and social work pedagogy. However, Henry’s work stands out because there are few examples of photovoice being published for general audiences. As Henry points out in the introduction, there is also a deficit of photovoice work “with Indigenous women who are or have been engaged in street gangs” (xi). In many ways, documenting these women’s stories is a powerful form of decolonization, and it fulfills calls to hear Indigenous women’s voices without the interference of researchers speaking for them. Henry has made a concerted effort to give agency to the authors in all editorial decisions and encourages readers to look past facile assumptions about victimization. Instead, readers are urged to understand these experiences as “acts of survivance.”


The remarkably unified message delivered by each of these women is familiar to readers of Indigenous literatures in Canada, especially path-setting works by Maria Campbell and Beatrice Mosionier. Amber, Bev, Chantel, Jazmyne, Faith, and Jorgina clearly articulate the almost incalculable damage done when children are isolated from places of love and belonging. This isolation takes different forms for each author, but they all find the corresponding community and loyalty that they require in street gangs. Taken together, the women’s stories are compelling evidence that child welfare, social assistance, and judicial systems have mistakenly prioritized mere biological survival at the expense of fulfilling the human need to be loved and to belong.


In a present that continues to defy past predictions of the demise of print publishing, both books create innovative new spaces for Indigenous knowledges. Still, the ever-increasing pressure to shorten the time to bring books to press is occasionally apparent. In Indigenous Women and Street Gangs, there are a small handful of conspicuous typographical errors, and there seems to be some uneven copy-editing between different sections. Despite these minor concerns, the collaborative process that Henry engaged in for each participant has succeeded marvellously in transmitting a distinct oral character for each speaker. Similarly, the selection and organization of the photos serves to powerfully reinforce the agency of each participant to tell her story on her own terms. Me Tomorrow might benefit from a little more experimentation with form. Aside from Jordanna George’s excellent cover art, which includes an artist’s note, and Norma Dunning’s stunning poem “Future We In-U-Wee,” the remaining pieces are fairly standard essay forms. Then again, not every book can be large format with full colour photos.


Me Tomorrow resounds with some of the only credible predictions of a future that is anything other than disaster for all of us. Indigenous Women and Street Gangs reminds us that we are living in yesterday’s future. How happy is the present, when the voices that nations were built on silencing are now amplified? How pregnant with potential is the future, when the gloom of this colonial apocalypse clears to reveal a path to wellness?

This review “Indigenous Futures: Possible and Present” originally appeared in Canadian Literature, 9 Sep. 2022. Web.

Please note that works on the Canadian Literature website may not be the final versions as they appear in the journal, as additional editing may take place between the web and print versions. If you are quoting reviews, articles, and/or poems from the Canadian Literature website, please indicate the date of access.

Canadian Literature is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.