- Indigenous Futurism
Ambelin Kwaymullina and Ezekiel Kwaymullina
208 Pages; Cloth, $8.99
Among the celebrated diversity of YA fiction's #ownvoices movement, indigenous voices are still rarely heard. At the same time, indigenous futurism—a term coined by Anishinaabe scholar Grace Dillon to refer to the non-realist (in the old school, genre vs. literary fiction sense) fictions produced by indigenous peoples of the world—from Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific cultures are little known in the wider Anglophone world. The writing of Ambelin Kwaymullina and Ezekiel Kwaymullina, a sister-brother team from the Palyku people of Pilbara, Western Australia is one of the few examples of indigenous Australian futurism known beyond its local scene.
Ambelin's YA trilogy, The Tribe, is a critically well-received series of fantasy novels that draw on aboriginal stories to tell about a future in which children born with inexplicable abilities are considered "illegal" and imprisoned by the (Australian) government—a clear and productive analogy that can refer to the "stolen generations" of aboriginal children, to the detention camps set up on Australia's northern coastal border, and to the wider refugee crisis that endangers children from the world's poorest regions at the richest nations' borders. Ezekiel is not as internationally reputed as his sister but has written a number of YA and middle-grade novels that were well-received in Australia and New Zealand. Their mother is Sally Morgan, one of the most famous aboriginal creatives and a children's author herself. Ambelin, Ezekiel, their brother Blaze, and mother have collaborated numerous times as part of a tradition of shared storytelling.
Catching Teller Crow, released in the US as The Things She's Seen, is the most recent of the Kwaymullina family's collaborations, a YA indigenous Australian futurist novel and detective thriller that blends notions of realism and magic, indigenous belonging, and family obligations. In this quickly paced novel, the ghost of Beth Teller helps her grieving dad with his latest case. Of course, what appears at first to be just a fire turns out to be a double homicide—and much more, the murdered men ran a decades-long sex trade ring that targeted aboriginal women. Teller, a teen at the time of her recent death in a car accident, works with her dad to get answers from the only other person who can "see" her and who just might be responsible for the murder, an aboriginal girl named Isobel Catching.
Though a YA novel, Catching Teller Crow does not shy away from the grittiness of noir nor the violent actualities of indigenous history and racism in Australia. Though Teller's dad is a cop, we learn that he took the job precisely to become the man that his father—a racist white outback sheriff—wasn't; he is a complicated, sensitive father for a YA novel, a depiction for teens (and adults) of the responses some men have to loss, and
the Kwaymullinas' is not a stereotypical depiction at all. Teller, moreover, is part aboriginal and proud of her mother's ancestry. Catching, too, speaks fondly of her aboriginal heritage, of the strength of the Catching women who came before her.
Priming a non-indigenous readership with these two women's aboriginal identities, the Kwaymullinas lean heavily into colonialist desires to associate indigenous people with the non-realist. It is thus easy to take at face value the magical elements of the story Catching tells Teller and her dad about monsters abducting her, stripping color from the world and their victims, and finally escaping with the aid of a gigantic crow-girl. Moreover, the YA genre relies heavily on the idea that parents are the natural enemy of their children; so when Teller's dad takes Catching seriously, but claims to Teller that the story can only be allegory, it seems our readerly duty to say "No way, you don't get it!" In the end, though, the realism of the detective novel wins out and Catching admits to Teller that the story is, indeed, a metaphor for her and other...