Acclaimed Anishinaabe author Waubgeshig Rice delved into themes of Indigenous futurism and hope in his latest novel, Moon of the Turning Leaves.
His third book, bestseller Moon of the Crusted Snow, explores how a collapse event affects a nation in northern Ontario.The sequel, Moon of the Turning Leaves envisions life for the group twelve years later, when character Evan Whitesky has led his community into the bush. Living as their ancestors did, they have survived – and thrived.
For Rice, the writing was an opportunity he’s grateful for, “to imagine what our future could be.”
Some of his favourite feedback is from readers “who are encouraged by the story and want to share it with people to not just come together, but think about our place on the land, and our future.”
Imagining what life could look like “for the Anishinaabe people after a collapse of western society and civilization,” he was “inspired by discussions around our sovereignty as Anishinaabe, in determining our future and being liberated, finally, from the state – being able to be ourselves on our own terms.”
As a father, he’s inspired to “make the best possible community and environment for my kids because they’re obviously inheriting this place from us. And I try to work really hard to instill Anishinaabe values I was raised with, in them.”
Indigenous futurism and hope
Rice holds a nuanced understanding of hope, emphasizing the resilience embedded in Indigenous hope. He says it’s important to distinguish between the different ideas of hope, informed by lived experiences. “I think generally people look at hope as a good place to be in the future, we’re going to overcome all these difficulties – everything’s going to be alright.”
“From an Indigenous context it’s about being hopeful because of the hardships, surviving the difficulties – and picking up the pieces and moving on.” Rice notes, not everybody is there yet, “there are still some people struggling to survive, and still succumbing to the ongoing impacts of colonialism.”
“The hope is tinged with the harsh reality of life in Canada as colonized peoples,” says Rice. “You have experienced an apocalypse already, but the hope lies in survival and resilience.”
Sovereignty and Connection to the Land
Moon of the Turning Leaves opens with a powerful scene – of birthing and naming ceremonies. Starting with a celebratory event, Rice emphasizes “renewal, revitalization, and rejoicing in a more empowered existence,” he explains. “They’ve freed themselves from the state and practice their customs in an unaffected way.”
The beginning is also a tribute to his grandmother Aileen Rice, who once told him, “It’s going to take having births in the community to really bring everything back to where we need to be” – crucial for cultural restoration.
Rice’s earliest memories are of being in woods, harvesting food from the bush. When a character grabs oars, the reader hears “the oarlocks creaking and rattling” as she rows homeward, “the outlines of the muscles in her arms stretched and constricted in a steady tempo as she paddled herself smoothly to land.” Knowing young Rice was with his dad bringing in the net of fish solidifies the imagery.
As an Anishnaabe writing about connection to the land, themes of sovereignty naturally rise up, particularly in the context of environmental challenges. Rice recognizes the role of sovereignty in the political and legal spheres, “being able to dictate our own laws, policies and agendas, negotiating with settler states, economic benefits – those discussions can result in land-based sovereignty,” but he places greater emphasis on “sovereignty in terms of relationship with the land and the ability to sustain ourselves.”
Rice is excited at the wide range of initiatives for food security and sovereignty, across turtle island. He envisions a future where communities are less dependent on external food supply systems, ultimately achieving liberation. “The action on-the-ground is much more important,” Rice says, “and necessary in order to support our communities and maintain those time honored traditions and practices,”
Being in good relationship with the land includes acknowledging the impact of human activities on the land. Characters in the novel recognize the need to migrate and allow the land to replenish itself, drawing parallels to the displacement and confinement experienced by Indigenous peoples.
“Limited by climate change, limited by the immobility the state has imposed by confining Indigenous people to so-called reserve lands,” Rice notes, “it becomes more dire when we factor in how the environment is changing around us, beyond our control.”
Empowering the younger generation with partnerships with knowledge keepers is key, says Rice, “working as citizens of the land, to support the land itself – because the land is a force of nature, obviously.” Rice writes the land as another character almost, a force that impacts characters and plotlines.
The Connection Between Spiritual and Creative Selves
Rice sees his storytelling and spirituality as intertwined aspects of his identity. He may not intend for his spiritual ideas or beliefs to emerge, but they will naturally, “because of how – fortunately – I was raised.” He grew up around “a lot of people working hard to revive culture back in the eighties. So I had a firsthand look at how culture plays a role in building community and how spirituality plays a role in helping people heal in the aftermath or the ongoing impacts of colonialism.”
While Rice doesn’t consider writing a spiritual process, he does take care to incorporate ceremony, or matters of spirit in a good way, not overstepping what should be shared. He maintains connection by “taking the time to be present in the world, be out on the land and really speak to it when I need to.”
Early teachings on regular expressions of gratitude rooted strongly in Rice. He is “entirely thankful to the readers of the first book,” he says, “for helping me stay on this journey, helping me grow as a person and as a storyteller, and just for giving me this opportunity to share stories and ourselves as Anishinaabe. That’s a huge responsibility. And it’s also a great honor.”
Odette Auger (Sagamok Anishnawbek) is an award winning Independent journalist and storyteller, living in the Salish Sea. Follow her work on www.authory.com/OdetteAuger.