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Posted by Gina Freitag
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More Than Meets the Eye: Indigenous Horror and Canada’s History

By Gina Freitag

While co-editing and contributing to a book on Canadian horror cinema some years ago, it was important (and necessary) to recognize that while the collection of essays assembled for the project captures substantial pieces of horror film history in this nation, it is by no means an exhaustive tome. It’s a stepping stone, but it’s also a work fixed in time, marked by limitations and absences.

However, one of the most significant chapters, if not the most significant chapter, Aalya Ahmad’s “Blood in the Bush Garden: Indigenization, Gender, and Unsettling Horror”, discusses Indigenous traditions and culture and our history with them, reminding Canadians that this history has consistently been harvested by many of our white and non-Indigenous people and manufactured into tropes to fulfil deeply problematic notions of otherness and monstrosity. The traumas of Canada’s colonial history, from residential schools to genocide, as well as their lasting impact, are gaining more visibility though, thanks to the appeal of horror, sci-fi, and fantasy narratives which, as fans of these genres know, are integral tools of communication and confrontation.

Following the anticipated premiere of Mi’gMaq filmmaker Jeff Barnaby’s Blood Quantum (2019) at the Toronto International Film Festival, along with the recent releases of some notable literary works by Indigenous authors like Cherie Demaline (The Marrow Thieves, Empire of Wild), Eden Robinson (The Trickster Trilogy), and Waubgeshig Rice (Moon of the Crusted Snow), a renewed wave of discourse has opened the way for others. Stories and films produced by these figures and more accomplish so much: not only do they ‘unpack colonial trauma’, capture authentic representation of communities, and subvert or work to dismantle persistent tropes, but they also challenge cultural infringement, channel frustrations and anger, and highlight exploitative systems, environmental apocalypse, and misuse of resources.

Horror is a tool of escapism too, of course, but it is also a mechanism to retell history with proper context, to self-educate, to emphasize commitment to culture and heritage. It’s a strategy of empowerment and a way to reaffirm Indigenous identities. There is power in the horror genre and its ability to reflect on survival, but we need to be listening.

Sources and recommended reads:


Join Nathan Adler on Thursday, April 29th for his Black Museum lecture “Storytelling and Horror through an Indigenous Lens“, followed by a Q&A. Then stick around as we watch Blood Quantum (2019, dir. Jeff Barnaby), available on a streaming service near you.

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