“together we went outside and that’s when we found
flooded” – Utilomar by Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner
In 2050 I will be 55 years of age. My mixed-race brown skin will be tanned and blotched with freckles from the earth’s increase in temperature, which will be causing frequent cancer scares. My mahana hair will be lined with grey strands cut short in a futile attempt to keep cool. I will still live as a colonial-settler on stolen Aboriginal lands, which are turning barren due to increased corporal uses of mining, fossil fuels and carbon emissions.
In Mt Druitt, which will still be one of the poorest suburbs in Sydney, all access to clean water will be cut off to preserve it – just as it has been in Flint, Michigan for over 30 years. I will be dry mouthed looking upon a flat screen TV watching an ABC News report on how almost every island in the Kingdom of Tonga is either submerged in water or burnt to infertility. Then the segment of a hot ocean on my wasted ancestral homelands will cut to thousands of dark brown Tongans cramped like cattle in China Aid supplied clothes within the major airports of their closest currently surviving neighbours: Australia and Aotearoa. I will turn off the TV and try not to cry. It is nothing I haven’t seen before.
This kind of imagining of my life in 30 years’ time is called speculative fiction. In recent years, the genre of speculative fiction has gained literary respect. Speculative fiction combines the future with science fiction, surrealism, fantasy and horror as tools to critique our present world.
As warming oceans rise faster than ever predicted, the many islands that make up Tonga will most likely be underwater and the most vulnerable of my cultural community will be left floating
Whenever I think about the future, whether it be in the next 10 or 50 years, there is no ancestral homeland for me to return to. As warming oceans rise faster than ever predicted, the many islands that make up Tonga will most likely be underwater and the most vulnerable of my cultural community will be left floating somewhere between Pūlotu, Aotearoa, America and Australia. Like many refugees today, it is not hard to imagine that the ensuing influx of island-less Islanders like Tongans, Samoans, Fijians, Hawaiians, Cook Islanders, Tokelauans, Rarotongans, Marshallese, Tahitians, Rotumans and Solomon Islanders, will end up locked in detention centres, adding to the high number of New Zealand citizens, mostly of Pacific Islander descent like Lorenzo Sua, who are currently awaiting deportation for cancelled visas. But while the island-less Islanders wait to be deported there is no longer any place to send us back.
Every country on earth is affected by climate change, but for every island within the South Pacific climate change is not a looming threat, it is here. President Hilda Heine of the Marshall Islands said on CNN in 2016 that her nation will “be under water in 20 to 50 years” if sea levels keep rising due to climate change. When asked by CNN reporter Fareed Zakaria if the Marshallese people can migrate to the US under their current treaty, President Heine responded, “In the absence of living in the Marshall Islands, in the current location we have, we cannot really have Marshallese culture and Marshallese way of being in a different land. The land is very much connected to our culture and to us as a people. For us [Marshallese] it is very important that we remain.”
The Marshall Islands are not the only South Pacific nation in danger. In 2016, the island of Nuatambu in the Solomon Islands had lost half of its inhabitable area. Tuvalu, in the western Pacific Ocean, will see an increase of sea levels between 4-14cm by 2030, which will heighten the severity of storm surges and coastal flooding in the area. While Kiribati and the Maldives are expected to have mass migration of climate refugees in the years to come. Five reefs in the Solomon Islands have already been lost forever whilst a further six have been completely eroded. This is the kind of future people in the South Pacific are facing.
First Nations peoples and people of colour have and will continue to suffer the most harmful and irreversible consequences
As a writer, literature is the only access point I have to create change. Because the systemic issues of ‘imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy’ created the context for climate change, I am only interested in First Nations people and people of colour imagining, changing and creating new alternatives for our future state of being.
The sub-genres of speculative fiction that I am most interested in is Indigenous Futurisms and Afrofuturism. Indigenous Futurisms, which is a phrased coined by Dr Grace L. Dillion in her book, Walking the Clouds: an Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction, is a literary genre that prioritises First Nations authors to express their indigenous beliefs within reimaginations of the past, present and future through their communities from a lens untainted and uninterrupted by colonialism. Such praised literary examples of Indigenous Futurisms are Claire G. Coleman’s novel Terra Nullius, the ‘Water’ chapter in Ellen van Neerven’s novel Heat and Light and The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline.
Similarly, Afrofuturism is a literary genre where the future is solely imagined from an African and/or African-American narrator through their respective communities. Perhaps the most famous example of an Afrofuturistic text in recent years is Marvel’s Black Panther, which was created by a black director with an almost entirely black cast. Black Panther broke box office records around the world and has made history as the first superhero film to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. Afrofuturism, like Indigenous Futurisms, demands a high-level intersectionality, which Womack, the author of Afrofuturism: the World of Black Sci-fi Fantasy and Fantasy Culture, describes as non-linear, fluid, mystic, feminist and ultimately liberating for all.
I know that within our current environment, which has given unprecedented rise to climate change, fake news and the threat of nuclear war, First Nations peoples and people of colour have and will continue to suffer the most harmful and irreversible consequences. And yet when I read Indigenous Futurisms, Afrofuturism and the Oceanian works of Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, Konai Helu Thaman, Karlo Mila, Courtney Sina Meredith, Epeli Hau‘ofa, Albert Wendt and Witi Ihimaera, I am reminded of how strong we are when we stand outside in the world together.
Diversity Arts Australia (DARTS) invited participant writers to reflect on the Stories from the Future project, which gathers culturally and/or linguistically diverse creatives from across Australia to imagine equitable alternative futures for the arts. This project is a partnership between DARTS, the University of Sydney and state partners and receives core support from the Australia Council for the Arts, City of Parramatta Council and Liverpool City Council.
Winnie Dunn is a Tongan-Australian writer from Mt Druitt. She is the Manager and Editor of Sweatshop: Western Sydney Literacy Movement.