Chelsea Vowel’s new short story collection explores the future and the past through a mixed-race sci-fi lens


A shapeshifter fighting against the expansion of colonialism, a woman trying to free the uploaded consciousness of her deceased friend, nanites helping a baby hear but it’s all translated into scream – it’s mixed race futurism.

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A shapeshifter fighting against expanding colonialism, a woman trying to free the uploaded consciousness of her dead friend, nanites helping a baby hear but it’s all being translated into scream.

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It’s mixed-race futurism, as author Chelsea Vowel puts it, in her new collection of short stories, Buffalo is the New Buffalo, which arrives April 26 from Arsenal Pulp Press.

The cover of Chelsea Vowel's new book, Buffalo is the New Buffalo, features a painting by Christi Belcourt titled Offerings to Save the World.
The cover of Chelsea Vowel’s new book, Buffalo is the New Buffalo, features a painting by Christi Belcourt titled Offerings to Save the World. Provided

Vowel draws on her own Métis experiences and those of her community in Lac Ste. Anne, and she is careful not to speak on behalf of the experience of all indigenous peoples.

“We’re still kind of at a point where you expect Indigenous people to be experts in anything Indigenous, but we can’t be,” Vowel says. “I cannot speak for all indigenous peoples. I don’t have the experience of all Metis. I come from a specific community and a specific context.

This context includes many references to Edmonton. In Michif Man, Franky arrives in town after serving overseas in World War II. Empowered after being gored by a radioactive bison, he is also forgotten by everyone he meets, allowing him to act as a superhero for his community.

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A Lodge Within Her Mind is set in a modern pandemic, and a woman unable to leave her home finds comfort after delivering a VR headset with her rations, transporting her into the mind of a beaver.

“When I was planning the stories, I spent a lot of time thinking about the setting and how to approach them,” says Vowel. “I wanted to play with different genres; horror, superhero cartoons. All these subgenres that I appreciate, I wanted to pay tribute to as many people as possible.

A brief explanation of themes and images follows each story, illuminating the context. As a professor of Indigenous studies at the University of Alberta, Vowel says she has become adept at quoting and wants to build a literary canon of Métis iconography and understanding. She did a lot of research to make sure the details of the stories were correct, grounding them in reality and making the fantasy more believable.

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The title of the book refers to the well-established metaphor “Education is the new buffalo”, used by indigenous groups to signify the importance of education. Vowel objects to the application of the term in other areas, such as “pipelines are the new buffalo”, where it is assumed that the Métis must accept “ruinous extraction processes to continue as a people “.

Instead, his book merges the past with the future, the known with the unknown. Vowel wants to preserve ancestral customs, protect them and ensure their survival for future generations. It extends the future of the Métis people, envisions what it could be while taking readers on fantastic journeys.

Buffalo is the New Buffalo comes as Indigenous authors and stories gain recognition across the country. Norma Dunning, an Inuk woman living in Edmonton, has been nominated for several awards and won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction last year for her book Tainna: The Unseen Ones. Michelle Good’s book Five Little Indians was recently chosen as the CBC Canada Reads winner for 2022. Both of these books focus on the experience of Indigenous peoples in Canada.

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“What’s happening is there’s finally a space created for Indigenous voices outside of the space that’s allowed to us,” Vowel says. “For a long time, the only space allowed to us was that of memories and poetry. Memory is important, but it’s not what all indigenous people want to do.

Now she sees Indigenous writers dive into science fiction, youth, horror and erotic fiction, spreading their wings and bringing new voices to old genres.

With the release of Buffalo is the New Buffalo, Vowel will turn her attention to her next book, a thriller. Although it’s normally a genre she avoids, Vowel says she’s been drawn to thrillers lately “because they make me feel better about my life.”

To learn more about the author, visit apihtawikosisan.com.

[email protected]

Buffalo is the new Buffalo

By Chelsea Vowel

Arsenal dough press

April 26, 2021

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