Decolonial Speculative Fiction:

Indigenous Resistance in The Marrow Thieves, Trail of Lightning and Storm of Locusts

  • Sandra Cox Southeast Missouri State University
Keywords: ethnofuturism Native American Literature Postcolonial Literature


In Trail of Lightening (2018), the first installment in her Sixth World series, Diné novelist Rebecca Roanhorse imagines a landscape populated almost entirely by Diné people, encircled by a giant turquoise wall, which was raised by animistic gods and clan heroes who sought to save Navajo lands from “Big Water,” and global flood created by a super earthquake, nuclear war and climate change in the near future. In the second novel, Swarm of Locusts (2019), Maggie must prevent the cult of the White Locust from breaching the wall to cleanse Dinetah of the impure. Both plots center land rights, personal and communal sovereignty, and make use of culturally specific allusions to build an intertextual narrative overturning the savage/civilized dichotomy implicit in much colonialist narrative historiography. Similarly, Métis writer Cherie Dimaline sets The Marrow Thieves (2017) in a near-future where the climate has warmed to an extent that makes most of Canada’s land uninhabitable and population unstable. The Northwest Territory is populated by a group of indigenous characters hiding from Euroamerican settlers who, having already seized all arable Anishinaabe and Inuit property, now hunt indigenous people for their bone marrow, which scientists hope to use to cure a pandemic of dreamlessness that is decimating the non-Native population.

Dimaline and Roanhorse fictionalize historical trauma and ongoing institutional oppression through futuristic speculation. The writers tacitly ask readers to consider how the harm the novels document and forecast might be mitigated in the present moment.  Both novelists tacitly critique settler colonialism by centering sovereignty, decoupling kinship from the nuclear family, and exploring the connections between personal agency and romantic desire in their world-building and characterization. By investigating the uses of the erotic as a means of resisting hegemony, both Roanhorse’s and Demaline’s renderings of their characters demonstrate the veracity of critic Qwo-Li Driskill’s claims about the importance of embodied erotic experience as part of a decolonial process: “A colonized sexuality is one in which [Native people] have internalized the sexual values of a dominant culture.”  Roanhorse and Demaline’s thematic speculation about the future intersections of Diné and Anishinaabe history and European supremacist ideology aligns with the interpretive imperatives of Native American literary nationalism, Indigenous futurism and the Sovereign Erotic.