Chelsea Vowel’s new collection of short stories explores the future, and past, through a science fiction Métis lens

A shapeshifter fighting against expanding colonialism, a woman trying to release the uploaded consciousness of her deceased friend, nanites that help a baby to hear but everything is translated into Cree—it’s Métis futurism.

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A shapeshifter fighting against expanding colonialism, a woman trying to release the uploaded consciousness of her deceased friend, nanites that help a baby to hear but everything is translated into Cree.

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It’s Métis futurism, as author Chelsea Vowel puts it, in her new short-story collection, Buffalo is the New Buffalo, arriving April 26 from Arsenal Pulp Press.

The cover of Chelsea Vowel's new book, Buffalo is the New Buffalo, features a painting by Christi Belcourt called Offerings to Save the World.
The cover of Chelsea Vowel’s new book, Buffalo is the New Buffalo, features a painting by Christi Belcourt called Offerings to Save the World. Supplied

Vowel draws from her own Métis experiences and those of her community in Lac Ste. Anne, and she’s careful not to speak for the experience of all Indigenous peoples.

“We are still sort of at a point where Indigenous people are expected to be an expert in all things Indigenous, but we can’t be,” says Vowel. “I can’t speak for all Indigenous peoples. I don’t have the experience of all Métis people. I come from a specific community and a specific context.”

That context includes a lot of references to Edmonton. In Michif Man, Franky comes to the city after serving overseas during the Second World War. Given powers after being gored by a radioactive bison, he’s also forgotten by anyone he meets, allowing him to act as a superhero for his community.

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A Lodge Within Her Mind is set in a modern pandemic, and a woman unable to leave her home finds solace after she’s delivered a VR headset along with her rations, transporting her into the mind of a beaver.

“When I was planning the stories out, I spent a lot of time thinking about the setting and how to approach them,” says Vowel. “I wanted to play around with different genres; horror, superhero cartoons. All of these sub-genres that I enjoy, I wanted to pay homage to as many as I could.”

A short explanation of the themes and imagery follows each story, shedding light on the context. As a professor of Native studies at the University of Alberta, Vowel says she’s become adept at citing, and wants to build a literary canon of Métis iconography and understanding. She did a lot of research to ensure the details in stories were correct, grounding them in reality and making the fantastical more believable.

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The title of the book is a reference to the well-established metaphor, “Education is the new buffalo,” used among Indigenous groups to signify the importance of education. Vowel pushes back against the term’s application in other areas, such as “pipelines are the new buffalo,” where it’s assumed Métis must accept “ruinous extractive processes to continue as a people.”

Instead, her book melds the past with the future, the known with the unknown. Vowel wants to preserve ancestral ways, protecting them and ensuring their survival for future generations. She extends the future of Métis people, considering what it might be like while taking readers on fantastical journeys.

Buffalo is the New Buffalo comes as Indigenous authors and stories are gaining recognition throughout the country. Norma Dunning, an Inuk woman living in Edmonton, has been nominated for a number of awards and won the Governor General’s Literary Award for fiction last year for her book Tainna: The Unseen Ones. Michelle Good’s book, Five Little Indians, was recently chosen as the CBC Canada Reads’ winner for 2022. Both of those books focus on the experience of Indigenous people in Canada.

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“What’s happening is there is finally space being created for Indigenous voices outside of the space we are allowed,” says Vowel. “For a long time, the only space we were allowed was memoir and poetry. Memoir is important, but it’s not what all Indigenous peoples want to do.”

Now, she sees Indigenous writers delving into science fiction, young adult, horror and erotic fiction, spreading their wings and bringing new voices to old genres.

With the release of Buffalo is the New Buffalo, Vowel will turn her attention to her next book, a thriller. While it’s normally a genre she avoids, Vowel says she’s been drawn to thrillers as of late “because they make me feel better about my life.”

For more about the author, visit apihtawikosisan.com.

yegarts@postmedia.com

Buffalo is the New Buffalo

By Chelsea Vowel

Arsenal Pulp Press

April 26, 2021

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