- Witnessing Story and Creating Kinship in a New Era of Residential SchoolsCherie Dimaline's The Marrow Thieves
Positioning Statement: As a non-Indigenous reader who grew up in the Swiss Alps, my relationship to Indigenous literatures has been one of unlearning assumptions and expanding my imaginary. I had the opportunity to teach The Marrow Thieves in my BA class on Two-Spirit and Queer Indigenous Literatures at the University of Geneva, and I am grateful for the lively and generative conversations it prompted. I am also deeply indebted to various Indigenous academic and non-academic communities as a frequent visitor to lands and waters cared for by Indigenous people since time immemorial, as a beneficiary of treaty relationships that enable me to travel to what are currently known as the United States and Canada, and as a student who had the privilege to learn a tiny bit of Anishinaabemowin and nêhiyawêwin—gimiigwechiwi'ininim Dan Gaagigebinesiban Jones miinawaa gakina awiya, kinanâskomitin Darlene Willier.
When apocalypse appears as an overt theme in Indigenous writing, it's more than speculation—it's experiential, even in its most fantastical, because in a very real way it hasn't ended.—Daniel Heath Justice, Why Indigenous Literatures Matter, 168
Published in September 2017, The Marrow Thieves by Georgian Bay Métis writer Cherie Dimaline, is a dystopian young adult novel which has been both critically acclaimed and widely read in and beyond what is currently known as Canada. It was awarded the 2017 Governor General's Award for young people's literature in Canada, the 2017 Kirkus Prize for young readers' literature in the United States, and the 2018 CODE Burt Award for First Nations, Métis and Inuit Literature.1 It was also discussed on a national stage on Canada Reads in March 2018 and is being taught in classrooms around the country.2 By virtue of its broad [End Page 176] circulation, its public reception, and its unsettling portrayal of an era of "new residential schools" (Dimaline, Marrow 89), The Marrow Thieves arguably intervenes in ongoing national conversations around reconciliation and Indigenous sovereignty.3 By confronting readers with the futurity of settler colonialism, the novel challenges a certain notion of reconciliation: one that understands reconciliation as a process in which settler states benevolently and progressively move away from their foundation on Indigenous dispossession, which aligns with the current government rhetoric of reconciliation and apology for Canada's past. The Marrow Thieves uncovers the violence behind this linear, progressive understanding of time and makes an innovative addition to Indigenous Futurisms, a term Anishinaabe science fiction scholar Grace Dillon coined in 2003 in homage to Afrofuturism (LaPensée).4
As Eve Tuck (Unangax̂) and K. Wayne Yang assert, settler state reconciliation and apologies operate as "settler moves to innocence" aimed at "rescuing settler normalcy, [at] rescuing a settler future" (35).5 I consider Canada's official reconciliation discourse to operate within settler colonialism's efforts at "self-supersession," at "cover[ing] its tracks," at "extinguish[ing] itself" by "justif[ying] its operation on the basis of the expectation of its future demise" (Veracini 3). The Canadian state's reconciliation discourse promises a future in which the settler state will overcome its harmful past and cease to operate according to the settler-colonial logics of elimination and replacement.6 In contrast to settler colonialism's promise of its future demise, that is to say the promise that the settler state will cease to be structurally genocidal, The Marrow Thieves portrays an apocalyptic era of heightened policing and genocide of human and other-than-human beings. The protagonists' telling of "coming-to stories"—their narrated personal experience—and "Story"—the shared oral history—reveals settler colonialism's coconstitutive attempts at self-supersession and Indigenous elimination. The setting, the plot, and the embedded storytelling episodes disrupt settler moves to innocence by uncovering the tracks settler colonialism seeks to hide. In short, the novel depicts apocalypse not as something new but as something "that hasn't ended" (Justice, Why 168).
Most importantly, The Marrow Thieves celebrates the Indigenous and Afro-Indigenous protagonists' active resistance to being targeted, which disrupts the settler-colonial construction...