115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Warriorhood, Whales, and Community Activism in Linda Hogan’s People of the Whale and Witi Ihimaera’s Whale Rider

Michelle Nicole Boyer-Kelly, University of Arizona

This paper explores how traditional concepts of warriorhood are shifting, allowing warrior-figures to appear as activists in their contemporary Indigenous communities both in works of fiction and reality. Warriors can now be women and children, their weapons are often words, and their struggles highlight real world demands for societal change. 


This paper will identify examples in contemporary Maori and American Indian fiction that show adapting gender roles in colonized Indigenous settings, focusing specifically on the displacement of traditional male gendered roles that allow for women and children to step in an fulfill abandoned roles, including the role of warrior. Colonization impacts the role of a traditional warrior and the role has shifted from one centering upon violence and warfare to a role as a community activist.  Analyzing the plot elements of each role will further establish a shift to social and political activism, where new warrior roles exist to protect communities and inspire change. Furthermore, the study will examine ways in which works of fiction find inspiration in real-world events, and also discusses the way in which works of fiction themselves can illicit social and political change after their publication. This study aims to address changes in gendered roles, explore new/adapting roles that exist for Indigenous men, women, and children, as well as examine literature’s impact on real-world communities.

First, I will discuss People of the Whale, which is based on contemporary events surrounding the Makah tribe’s decision to hunt grey whales after they were removed from the endangered species list. Hogan’s novel suggests that the fictional tribe in her novel reverts from tradition and does not adapt the role of warrior, thus leading to the death of Marco and the inability for Thomas to return home permanently. Marco’s death further suggests that the role of a traditional warrior is no longer effective in contemporary society, and perhaps that the role cannot be adapted or changed. However, I will suggest that the role of warrior is portrayed by Kahu in Witi Ihimaera’s Whale Rider, and that the reason Kahu is an effective warrior is because she adapts the role of warrior. Not only is Kahu a child, but she is also a female child that fights traditional gendered roles in order to lead her people into the future. I will briefly touch upon the film adaptation of the novel, which alters some of the content and more prominently (through changing the protagonist’s name) correlates the female warrior role as one needed in contemporary society to posit any change within a community.