Although it’s often overlooked, 21% of the planet is home to indigenous people.

These groups are the most in-touch with the earth of any humans, often living in perfect balance with their environment.

Through rotating hunting seasons and crop rotation, native lands are often as pristine as national parks, with flourishing flora and fauna (plants and and and animals). 

It may not come as a surprise then that literature from indigenous people is some of the best when it comes to exploring mankind’s relationship with the natural world.

Ever since Native American Renaissance literature in the 1960’s, the continent has provided a steady stream of books written by natives in English. It was in this period, that more Native American communites began recieving formal education in the English language.

Today, literature from indigenous people is flourishing, with Karen Louise Erdrich winning the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction with her book The Night Watchman.

Erdrich is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, an Ojibwe tribe, with the book being inspired by the actions of her grandfather during the 50s against the Indian Termination Policies (1940s to 1960s).

The novel follows Thomas Wazhashk, a tribe member who is also the night watchmen at a jewel bearing plant. He is fully aware that the ‘emancipation bill’ making its way through the U.S. national congress is not about giving native Americans more freedom, but about taking away their land.

Getting in contact with tribal leaders, Thomas works to set up organised resistance against the bill which would force his tribe to re-locate to a city and abandon the land they have looked after for centuries.

Though the characters in the novel are fictional, the book fantastically explores the struggles of native American people during this period, as well as their connection to their land and spiritual relationship with nature.

Another prominent novel from an indigenous author that explore mankind’s relationship with nature is Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson.

Robinson is a member of the Haisla and Heiltsuk first nations tribe in Canada, with her novel focusing on these communities.

The book follows fictional character Lisamarie, a young first nations person who lives with her tribe five hundred miles north of Vancouver in Kitamaat, a remote village surrounded by an untouched environment.

Lisamarie is a bit of a tomboy – if she’s not getting into a scrap then she’s swimming or fishing in the lush rivers that flow into the beautiful green ocean.

But when her brother disappears on a fishing expedition, she decides to venture into the seemingly endless wilderness to try and find him.

The environment is very much a character in this story, with Lisamarie’s adventure into it exploring the deeper relationship between first nations people’s spiritual beliefs and their surroundings.

Climate fiction from indigenous authors isn’t just confined to talking about the past though, with novels such as The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline (an author and member of the Georgian Bay Metis Community) offering a unique take of dystopian fiction by telling the story form a Native American perspective.

In the novel, climate change has almost completely destroyed the environment, and because of the sinful actions of humans, they have been robbed of the ability to dream. Only first nations people retain the ability to dream, because of the way they try to live sustainably.

Instead of trying to correct their actions, everyone else has started to hunt and kill the natives in order to harvest their bone marrow and return their ability to dream.

So called ‘recruiters’ try to take indigenous children to sectioned off schools where they will eventually be harvested. These school reference’s the history of Canada’s residential schools, where from the 1880s all the way to 1997 native children were taken from their communities and forced to live in atrocious conditions in an attempt to obliterate their culture.

To this day, unmarked graves are being re-discovered in the grounds of these schools, with thousands of bodies of innocent children uncovered.

Books such as The Marrow Thieves highlight white supremacist atrocities and ideology that still permeates society today, as well as the fact that whilst the rest of the world is letting down the environment, indigenous people stand courageously against the oncoming tide of climate destruction.

If you liked this post then read Can Cli-Fi save the world? or What would the climate in The Lord of the Rings actually look like? next. 

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Arthur Barratt

Arthur Barratt

Arthur is a journalism student at The University of Sheffield. As well as being a founding member of BLOT, he has also written for Forge Press, Sheff Central and One2Football. His hobbies include climbing, going to gigs and of course, reading.

Favourite genres: Magical Realism and Historical Fiction.