Indigenous Peoples in Sci-fi: the History and Cultures That the Avatar Franchise Profited from

Lucia Stauffer, Staff


In the 2009 Avatar film Jake Sully, an ex-Marine was recruited into a program that leads him to venture to a moon that is identified as Pandora, taking his recently deceased scientist twin brother’s place. The planet is inhabited by aliens known as the Na’vi, the indigenous population, but the land is being sought and stolen by a human mining company. This leads to the main conflict in the film.

The culture and way of living that is represented in this highest-grossing film were recognized by many indigenous peoples in the North and South American continents. The pointed storyline of the imperialist fight for new and wealthier resources can also be seen in First Nations peoples’ history. In reality, the fear of annihilation was too evident for many indigenous peoples, leading to their loss of land and culture. 

In a 2010 interview with journalist Tom Phillips, director James Cameron said, I couldn’t help but think that if they [the Lakota Sioux] had had a time-window and they could see the future… and they could see their kids committing suicide at the highest suicide rates in the nation… because they were hopeless and they were a dead-end society – which is what is happening now – they would have fought a lot harder.” referring to the Lakota Sioux tribe. 

It should be noted that the Americas’ indigenous population history was a force that drove Cameron to write the original 2009 Avatar film. But, even though he had a disrespectful opinion of indigenous groups, he still took inspiration from those groups. Mainly from Native American tribes and the Taino people. The three tribes of the Taino people inhabit the Carribean region while there are hundreds of indigenous tribes in the United States and Canada.

The people that see the history and culture of their people in the film, including me, find interest in the smallest hints of representation and similarities. This detail ultimately made me interested in the first and second films, even though some people may find it to be a ‘problematic’ storyline and franchise.