#97 The Path Without End: An Anishinaabe Steampunk Film — Guest Blog by Elizabeth Lameman

Note from Ay-leen:  On the blog, I reviewed Professor Lameman’s one-shot comic The West Was Lost. It’s a pleasure to have her speak here about her newest Native steampunk work, The Path Without End.  This short film will be screened at the upcoming art festivals: imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival, October 19-23, 2011, in Toronto, Ontario and the Skábmagovat Film Festival, January 26-29, 2012, in Finland.

The Path Without End is a retelling of Anishinaabe stories of Moon People who traveled here from the stars by canoe.  The title is a direct reference to Basil Johnston’s retelling.  In this telling, I recreate the Human and Moon lovers as they travel, propagate, and face the unending chase of colonization.

I have been largely inspired by my mother, Grace L. Dillon, whose scholarship is in what she refers to as Indigenousfuturism.  She advocates for Indigenous writers of science fiction.  In fact, Indigenous peoples have been telling science fiction stories from the beginning.  In a sense, in The Path, the planets are both the cosmos themselves but also spiritual planes and representations of the landmasses on earth.  There is no single reading of the story.

To me, time is linear in The Path, but it is in a circle of spirals that interweave, like a sweetgrass braid. I see past, present, and future as one and that our intermixing of today is a reflection of the traditional Moon People stories told before.

The visuals were born out of listening to Cree cellist Cris Derksen’s song Prosperity over and over and over again. There is a unique cross of technology and rawness in her music that makes it perfect for the steampunk aesthetic. She had kindly shared the track with me when she sent music for a prior project of my filmmaker husband Myron Lameman. I have listened to that song at least a hundred times. Like listening to a story from a storyteller, memorizing, recalling, and retelling, the story was gifted to me and manifested from the music.

As much as The Path is about the traditional stories, it is also about acknowledging Truth and history by tracing stories that peoples traveled back and forth between what we now call the Americas and Europe. We often limit ourselves and discredit our ancestors by thinking they didn’t possibly have the technology to travel when in fact they did have canoes and other forms of ships. To me, this is how we represent ourselves in steampunk, which is otherwise a very colonialist genre that stems from the Victorian mindset. We do and did have technology, but since we use(d) biodegradable materials, and thus “evidence” has faded with nature, we are told by the dominate culture that we were savage with no technology. This is why The Path is made from natural raw materials—copper, rawhide, leather, bone, beads, rocks, shells, birch bark. I strongly believe that travel did happen, that Native people had written language, that we have technology that has been reduced to being inferior simply because it is sustainable and impermanent.

Lastly, I believe that all through our history as heathens (speaking as a mix of Irish, Anishinaabe, and big M Métis) that we have had to contend with the cannibal force of Wetiko, which consumes all—our stars, our spirits. In The Path, this force is forever following the lovers and at times it takes the human, at times it takes the child, and at times we overcome. There is a sickness from colonization and art is our medicine.

Elizabeth Lameman is an Irish, Anishinaabe, and Métis border-crossing writer who explores Indigenous determination in media such as games, film, animation, and web comics. Most recently, she is focusing on her dissertation, which looks at traditional Indigenous oral storytelling to inform the design of digital games. You can read more about her work on her website: http://www.elizabethlameman.com.


Filed under Essays, History