Jones, a member of the Blackfeet tribe who grew up in Texas, often uses the framework of horror to examine inequality that Native Americans face. He was drawn to slasher fiction because of its emphasis on justice and order. “In the slasher story, wrong is punished,” he said. “The intent is to rebalance the world, and the world we live in is not like that.”
For Indigenous authors, writing themselves into sci-fi and fantasy narratives isn’t just about gaining visibility within popular genres. It is part of a broader effort to overcome centuries of cultural misrepresentation.
“What most people know about Native people was created by outsiders, so it’s no surprise that it’s faulty,” said Debbie Reese, who is tribally enrolled at Nambé Pueblo and founded the site American Indians in Children’s Literature, which analyzes representations of Native people and beliefs in children’s books.
While Indigenous writers are still underrepresented in the literary world, especially in genre fiction, their work is having an outsize impact. Roanhorse won two of the genre’s most prestigious awards, the Hugo and the Nebula, for her 2017 short story, “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™,” and the Locus Award for best first novel for “Trail of Lightning.” Both works have been optioned for screen adaptations.
Dimaline’s novel, “The Marrow Thieves,” which unfolds in a dystopian future where Indigenous people are hunted for their bone marrow, won the Kirkus prize for young adult literature and is being adapted into a television series. She and Roanhorse have signed multi-book deals with major publishing houses in recent years.
Roanhorse said she started out writing “Tolkien knockoffs about white farm boys going on journeys” because she figured that’s what epic fantasy was supposed to be. After deciding to feature a Native woman as the hero, in 2018 she released “Trail of Lightning,” the first novel in a four book fantasy series. Set on a reservation after a flood destroys most of North America and reawakens traditional gods and monsters, the series centers on a Navajo woman named Maggie, who has superhuman monster-slaying powers, and features sacred figures from Navajo mythology like Coyote and Neizghání, one of the Hero Twins.