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Today’s guest is fantasy and science fiction writer Moniquill Blackgoose! Her fantasy novel To Shape a Dragon’s Breath, the first book in a new series that will be released on May 9, is described as following “a young Indigenous woman [who] enters a colonizer-run dragon academy—and quickly finds herself at odds with the ‘approved’ way of doing things.” I’m excited she’s here today to discuss media representation, writing, and creativity!

Cover of To Shape a Dragons Breath by Moniquill Blackgoose

Let me tell you a story about media representation and how it informs creativity.

I was born into a nerdy family. I attended renfaires while still in diapers, and got The Hobbit and The Chronicles of Narnia as bedtime stories. I read Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness quartet, and Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series, and Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown. I adored The Last Unicorn and The Neverending Story and Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal and Willow.

There were no indigenous people in these fantasy worlds, though.

The first time I experienced an indigenous person in an SF/F/H setting was Disney’s Peter Pan — and anyone familiar will know there are….problems with that representation. I was about six years old.

Dances With Wolves came out when I was seven years old.

The second time I experienced an indigenous person in an SF/F/H setting was in Orson Scott Card’s Tales of Alvin Maker series — and anyone familiar will know there are….problems with that representation. I was ten or eleven years old.

Disney’s Pocahontas came out when I was twelve.

These were the media influences that acknowledged that indigenous North American people existed at all. Most simply didn’t.

When I was a kid, I wrote a sci-fi story about space exploration and first contact. It had a huge ensemble cast — a hugely diverse cast too, with tons of POC. I even had characters with disabilities and non-binary genders. This was mostly because my ideas about what sci-fi was and what characters could be in it were largely informed, at the time, by Star Trek and the Star Wars prequels and Independence Day and The Fifth Element and Men in Black and The Matrix. They were stories with POC in them, characters with disabilities, characters who were from disparate cultures and had disparate identities and ways of being.

My story didn’t have any indigenous people in it, though. Because indigenous people never existed in future narratives.

When I was a kid, I also wrote a fantasy story about a plucky young woman uncovering her secret past and learning to do magic. There was not a single person of color in it. There were groups facing oppression — but they were represented by light-skinned or animal-featured nonhumans. This was mostly because my ideas about what fantasy was and what characters could be in it were largely informed, at the time, by JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis, by Disney and Don Bleuth and Jim Henson. Stories with no POC in them, where everyone was able-bodied and white and usually thin and pretty (extra points for ‘pretty’ being described as ‘fair’) unless they were EVIL.

I was a young Seaconke Wampanoag woman. None of my characters ever, EVER, were. Because people like me didn’t exist in stories like that. My artistic vision and my creative process were hugely affected by the stories I’d been told my entire life. I did not imagine POC characters in fantasy stories, but I did imagine them in sci-fi stories. Because I’d been told by the stories I’d been fed from early childhood that POC could exist in the future, but not in fantasy; fantasy was generally set in mythical whitelandia not really resembling Europe, and if POC were even mentioned they were from exotic foreign lands to the south and the east (and they were seldom characters, certainly never core characters).

Indigenous North American people simply didn’t exist at all.

Every story I’m able to tell is informed by every story I’ve ever been told.

I didn’t start writing SF/F/H stories with indigenous protagonists until I was in college.

We’re currently in the middle of an indigenous author renaissance — Darcie Littlebadger’s Elatsoe and A Snake Falls to Earth. Cherie Dimaline’s The Marrow Thieves and Hunting by Stars. Katherena Vermette’s A Girl Called Echo series. Love After the End: An Anthology of Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer Speculative Fiction edited by Joshua Whitehead and Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time: An Indigenous LGBT Sci-fi Anthology edited by Hope Nicholson. I love seeing these works, and I love being part of this new literary movement, telling the story of a young woman (who is unapologetically indigenous) who bonds with a dragon and must go among her colonizers to prove herself worthy of such an honor.

I want better representation for young indigenous readers than what I got.

I want to help tell those stories.

Photo of Moniquill Blackgoose Moniquill Blackgoose began writing science fiction and fantasy when she was twelve and hasn’t stopped writing since. She is an enrolled member of the Seaconke Wampanoag Tribe, and a lineal descendant of Ousamequin Massasoit. She is an avid costumer, and an active member of the steampunk community. She has blogged, essayed, and discussed extensively across many platforms the depictions of Indigenous and Indigenous-coded characters in sci-fi and fantasy. Her works often explore themes of inequality in social and political power, consent, agency, and social revolution.