Elizabeth LaPensée January 10 2017

Animating Indigenous Scientific Literacies


Indigenous scientific literacies, a term coined by my mother Grace L. Dillon who is both Anishinaabe and Metis and uses it often in the context of Indigenous futurisms and science fiction, refers to the ways in which Indigenous languages, stories, art, and other forms of expression carry with them scientific teachings. I expand on her work by expressing these teachings with hope for healing.

Many aspects of my art, ranging from symbols to materials to story, intrinsically express science. This science may relate to medicinal knowledge, such as copper which cleanses water and cedar which is intensely antimicrobial. Also, this science may reflect Anishinaabe worldview, which is closest to quantum physics.

“Along the River of Spacetime” emphasizes the Anishinaabe symbol for yet-to-be-activated dimensional travel, which in quantum theory would be understood as entangled particles—two particles which are connected and mirror one another are joined by a third which aligns with one particle in one location and then uses the connection to teleport to the mirrored particle in another location.

Anishinaabeg have always had a vast, complex understanding of life.

With the context that Indigenous scientific knowledge is often taken and misused, I see experimental works as a way to express the teachings without being explicit and potentially creating risk. These stop-motion animations are made with a mix of hand cut and digitally cut materials such as copper alongside hand inked digitized drawings primarily moved pixel by pixel in Photoshop.

Just like birch bark scrolls unraveling, these non-linear visual tellings unfold with expressions of Indigenous scientific literacies particularly focused on land, water, sky, stars, plants, animals, and people from many places.

Along the River of Spacetime (2016)

The Path Without End

Inspired by Basil Johnston’s story of the same name, The Path Without End traces through a non-linear spacecanoe journey, planetary invasion, intermixing of people, and a faceoff against an insatiable spirit that threatens to swallow up the next generation. Embedded symbols reflect ways of knowing regarding the balance of this world Aki (Earth), ongoing planetary motion, and the importance of protecting the next generations to ensure that balance.

Connected (2016)


When I look to the stars from Baawaating, I am looking not only at the stars but also the plasma between the stars. The plasma tells us about weather, atmospheric changes, and even the movement of animals and birds. Returning is a spacetime travel adventure in remembering teachings from the sky and constellations, valuing the role of sound and thus vibrations in the making of form, repathing dimensional traplines, and continuing through the next generations.

Hands to the Sky

In Hands to the Sky, fallout from oil industry threatens to destroy Aki (Earth), yet there is still a way to ensure balance if we look to star teachings. As Anishinaabekwe, I understand certain songs we sing to carry sound frequencies which can heal water. I’ve also been fortunate to drink water cleaned by a sound device implemented at a reservation. This technology, which will eventually be more widely available, is needed in many communities, because just as water is life, water is vital for maintaining sovereignty.

As music by the Metis Fiddler Quartet purposefully continues, Hands to the Sky ends with the Anishinaabe symbol for dimensional travel, which in quantum theory is referred to as entangled particles. Anishinaabeg have always had a vast and complex understanding of life, and through language, art, and stories, I express these teachings with hope for healing.

Of the People Who Sing for Water (2014)

Elizabeth LaPensée is an Anishinaabe, Métis, and Irish artist, designer, and writer who expresses herself through games, comics, and animation. She received a Ph.D. in Interactive Arts & Technology from Simon Fraser University. Her work has been widely shown across Turtle Island, including imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival, LA Skins, SAW Gallery, and the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts.

Elizabeth LaPensée