Though born in California, the Santa Barbara–based author Amaya Mishka was raised in Alaska, where her family descends from the Athabascan people that live in the center of the state near McGrath. Working by day as a hypnotherapist, Mishka recently published her debut novel Ascension Warriors, which is the first in a series that combines Indigenous culture and mythology with science fiction. She answered a few of my questions about her book recently.
How has Athabascan culture informed your writing and life?
In my culture, art is almost as important as breathing. Growing up, I learned beading, sewing, and Native dance. Storytelling is a part of my culture. I feel called to convey messages rooted in traditional values of treating each living creature with respect, including our home, Mother Earth. In my mind, if we want to reach the minds of youth, it seems only natural to entertain them through sci-fi and fantasy fiction.
How did Ascension Warriors come about?
Ascension Warriors was essentially born of the idea to raise consciousness. When I began work on the novel in early 2017, I wasn’t sure what I was writing initially and began the book as a boy-meets-girl story. However, quickly after I wrote the scene where Samantha meets Evan in the grocery store, the entire story took a sharp left turn into sci-fi, and I thought to myself, “What if the characters were all part of a bigger, covert plan to save humanity? How would that look and what would they be fighting for?”
From there, the story began to unravel itself, particularly after I had a hypnotherapy session with my own hypnotherapist, Peter Wright. A lot of the inspiration for the story can be directly tied back to that session, which I admit I didn’t quite understand at the time. I had previously been fairly indifferent about alien existence and UFOs, having put to bed my sci-fi interests after reading many Stephen King and Dean Koontz novels years ago.
Why is portraying the Indigenous experience and developing Indigenous characters important?
In our Indigenous communities, there seems to be a common theme and ancient wisdom that persists to this day. Although I cannot speak for every Indigenous person, I can say that the vast majority of us feel strongly that a return to traditional values is needed. As humanity begins to awaken to new cultures, I feel it is time to share with the world what we know.
For example: The Inuit people of the Arctic were the first to notice that our planet has shifted simply because they have always taken careful note of the position of the stars and constellations. It is my understanding they have repeatedly contacted NASA to report that they believe a large part of our climate change is due to the shift in our planet’s position. They are concerned about this and what it may mean if the planet continues to shift.
Are there other examples of Indigenous cultures being portrayed in science-fiction?
Yes, Marvel is now coming out with Indigenous superheros, which is both exciting and concerning. As with any fiction, there are always loose interpretations of the truth, but we wonder among the Indigenous community how well of a job they will do portraying our people’s true culture and values, and, if eventually there will be costumes made, some feel very strongly that their regalia is not a costume.
There is a fine line between uplifting our Indigenous brothers and sisters and cultural appropriation. So many unanswered questions arise about this within Indigenous communities. Rather than criticize them (Marvel and others), I want to help be a voice for Indigenous cultures to contribute to these stories and have opportunities to be cast in roles for film.
What do you hope readers will learn from reading your books?
In addition to being entertained, which is always the ultimate goal in creative writing, I sincerely hope that readers feel inspired to ask themselves the following questions:
What does it mean to be alive in a human body upon this Earth?
How do my actions and the actions of others affect not just my immediate future but the future of new generations?
How can the misuse of power in our government be corrected?
How can the balance of resources be more evenly distributed so all humans have access to what they need?
Is there a cleaner, more eco-friendly way to exist?
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