Solar Storms, a novel that describes the Canadian government’s hydroelectric project’s dams that flood First Nations’ lands. In Solar Storms, Hogan’s novel about five generations of Native American women in the harsh landscape of the Boundary Waters between Canada and Minnesota, art echoes life. In her story, conquest, enforced change, and assimilation become a means for transformation even as they all function as engines of self-devastation and destruction of the tribes. Just as Hogan prevailed because of her closeness to the land and other tribal values, so her Native protagonist is transformed. From white-imaged genocidal victim she evolves into the more traditional Native woman who establishes a secure identity by immersing herself in the ritual life of the community. At the heart of Solar Storms is the vision quest of Angel Iron, a young woman who—returning home in 1972 at the height of the Red Power movement—comes to feel that spiritually and politically she is “something back in place” (29).
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Solar Storms dominates human activity. “Its wildness, its stubborn passion to remain outside [the government surveyors’] sense of order” (123), asserts Angel, ensures that nature will be a primary balance in her universe; and any human attempt to change that relationship brings repercussions. The Europeans had “trapped themselves inside their own destruction” of the land, Angel says, and their “legacy” was “the removal of spirituality” (180) from those things the Indians thought were alive. Although the land has been colonized, she implies that it will inevitably prevail.
Indigenous cultures have long survived, as Hogan makes clear in Solar Storms, because of their relationship to land. As Angel comes to realize, her “heart and the beat of the land, the land [she] should have come from, were becoming the same thing” (236). Like her, Angel says, it was “native land” (224), a transcultural space that has always been vulnerable and in endless flux. But “it had survived” (224), she continues, because within the mutability of both land and its inhabitants lie vitality and the ability to change. Regardless of what awaits their future, in Solar Storms Hogan presents an ideological struggle in which the Indians attempt to live within a fluid, ever-changing “place of shifting boundaries” (118). In contrast, the Euro-American world, with its “limited” (315), authoritative way of life, attempts to “reverse the [natural] world” and thus deny possibilities of rebirth (289). Although Angel knows that “in time, all things would break and would become whole again,” the Euro Americans lived in a world that honored only endings, not creation, and so would force her people into containable territory where the only Indians were vanishing or of the past (325). But in her richly imagined Indian world, which Angel knows has “no map to show [her] where to step, no guide to tell [her] how to see” (346), Hogan suggests that cultures are capable of “still returning” (325).
Although Solar Storms blurs the participants and enlarges the setting to tell a dramatic story, Hogan draws on the reality the indigenous inhabitants of James Bay faced and on their resistance to the project. The project was launched in 1971 to provide electricity for New York City without prior notification to the people it would affect. Hogan carefully details the effect of the Quebec project on the region’s population, focusing on the negative impact on the indigenous people. I believe in chronicling the Anglo-European drive to control nature and an Indian community’s struggle against that drive, Hogan is offering in Solar Storms a positive possibility for the future and a sensibility influenced by her Oklahoma childhood.
In Solar Storms Hogan’s consideration for the interconnectedness of humanity is again expressed when the young policemen are forced to confront the activists as they block a road to the construction site. Angel recognizes that the policemen have no courage and are afraid, much as the Indian community is; but “they were afraid of what no money, no home, no job might mean” (288). Angel contemplates how men could go against nature:
I would wonder for years—I still wonder—what elements, what events would allow men to go against their inner voices, to go against even the cellular will of the body to live and to protect life, land, even their own children and their future. They were men who would reverse the world, change the direction of rivers, and stop the cycle of life until everything was as backwards as lies. (288—289)
As Hogan’s Solar Storms tells the story of Angel, a mixed-blood CreeInuit who, after growing up in a series of foster homes far removed from her traditional roots, returns to her tribal home in search of healing. She finds not only her matrilineage—her great-grandmother Agnes, her great-great-grandmother Dora-Rouge, and her step-grandmother Bush. She finds much more in a mixed indigenous community with strong ties to the land and its cooperative struggle for social and environmental justice. Hogan uses the town of Adam’s Rib and the land of the Fat Eaters to reflect a recent development within the environmental movement: environmental or ecological justice.
When Agnes and DoraRouge return to their Canadian homeland to reconnect with their ancestors, they find development threatening to destroy the land and the way of life. They work to protect their ancestral homelands by nonviolent methods—such as petitions, community meetings, legal injunctions, and blockage of roads to prevent the movement of bulldozers—and ultimately gain temporary control over the development.
In Solar Storms Hogan focuses on the indigenous community and tells the story not only of a young woman’s journey to the land of her ancestors and her healing process but of a tribal community’s fight for survival and ecological justice. Hogan not only explores the relationship between humans and the rest of the natural world, she poignantly examines how justice has often been ignored in governmental decisions affecting one particular nonwhite community in Canada. Angel’s battered and scarred body stands for the people and the land ravaged by Anglo-European practices. Her disfiguration and abuse are a result of the historical trauma suffered by her mother, Hannah. Angel’s body is a result of generations of abuse and only heals slowly. The land has also been plundered for many generations and will only heal slowly, if at all.
By appropriation and transformation of territory, the author creates a space in which the “world [is] made up of pathways of its own invention” (70). In the end, then, Angel is not the tragic mixed blood or the victim of self-destruction, nor is her tribe culturally impotent. “I’ve shaped my own life, after all” (346), she says; and moreover, successfully resisting, “stand[ing] in [the] way” of “making new geographies, ” means “nature … would open” for her people “a future we couldn’t know yet” (314).
Solar Storms reflects concerns most often expressed by the multicultural activists of the environmental justice movement, such as the “broader struggle against social forms which produce environmental injustice, biospheric destruction and the maldistribution of environmental risk” (Low and Gleeson 3). So although Hogan believes the possibility of crossover knowledge is there, for her a division still exists. Her narrator acknowledges developers’ disregard for the land but also explores the connections among the environment, the animals, and the people on both sides of the confrontation. Angel reflects on one of the village meetings:
And when the officials and attorneys spoke, their language didn’t hold a thought for the life of the water, or a regard for the land that sustained people from the beginning of time. They didn’t remember the sacred treaties between humans and animals…. [T]hinking about the lengths to which they would go, my mind drifted off to water, to wetness itself, and how I’d wanted so often to hold my breath and remain inside the water that springs from earth and rains down from the sky. Perhaps it would tell me, speak to me, show me a way around these troubles. Water, I knew, had its own needs, its own speaking and desires. No one had asked the water what it wanted. Except Dora-Rouge, that is, who’d spoken with it directly. (279)
In Solar Storms Hogan acknowledges the uniqueness of tribal views. Her writings, she affirms, stretch to reflect the “different histories of ways of thinking and being in the world” (Dwellings 12). In this way Hogan creates a space between opposing worlds: the Native American and the mainstream, the secular and the religious, a kind of reconciliation between opposing elements that she says she wants to learn. “There is a still place, a gap between worlds, ” a space she refers to here and looks to, one she claims arises from the “tribal knowings” (20) of many years. Residing in a space not recognized by dominant culture, Hogan’s is a borderland grounded in but not restricted to geographic space. Just as Anzaldúa’s revisionary discourse encourages her to look inward while claiming a new, multifaceted spirituality, so Hogan’s writings are “a doorway, ” she says, “into the mythical world” (19)—one that negotiates between “dimensions both sacred and present” (12). In Solar Storms, then, she appropriates her own territory, offering a space for transcending and reconstructing history.
Not only is Hogan a prolific writer, but in works like Solar Storms she distinguishes herself as a political activist and an environmental theorist. Believing that as an Indian woman she has a special responsibility for caretaking of the future of her own and other species, Hogan writes out of a lifelong concern for the living world and its inhabitants.
Hogan Linda Solar Storms. New York: Scribner, 1995.