The Indigenous Futurist

By Chachee Valentine

Deserts away from the concrete jungle of Silicon Valley, past mesas and juniper grassland, to open plains of oak and mesquite, Téo Montoya and his uncle shared a ride to visit family in their Texas homelands. After seeking input from a savvy, respected elder on the steps needed to create a sustainable voice for Indigenous communities, the idea of a podcast with a strong focus on Indigenous futurism felt like the way to go. From the beginning, it was clear that a balance between envisioning the future and maintaining awareness of already established ideologies in anti-racism and anti-colonialism was key. Spoken like a true media influencer, Montoya took his uncle’s glowing endorsement and busted a move by creating a very successful podcast: “The Indigenous Futures Podcast.”

Montoya is Lipan Apache, Ndé, from South and West Texas. He began his artistic journey in 2014 in electronic music. After graduating from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 2013 with a degree in cultural anthropology, he began to think of himself as an artist. His thesis at UCSC was on colonial and commodity diets and their effects on Indigenous people. After graduating, Montoya worked at Facebook in IT and stayed in the tech world for almost three years. He then left and started working for an Indigenous-led nonprofit called the Cultural Conservancy. He was brought in as a media apprentice, and during that time, he really started to develop ideas around technology and Indigeneity. Since the Cultural Conservancy is an Indigenous-led nonprofit, it’s always thinking about the intersections of how the media supports Indigenous communities. It became a place where he and his boss, Mateo Hinojos, would have conversations around technology and Indigeneity. 

Montoya knew these conversations were the path to something new and exciting, and eventually, his conversations with Hinojos became the impetus for his podcast. 

“I was like, Whoa, this is huge,” he says. “I started working on a large series of books, a whole world that is sci-fi and kind of an alternate history. All of it is leaning into the concept of Indigenous futurism. Like, how can we investigate the future and envision a future in which Indigenous principles are the backbone of what that world is about, you know? Not just this Westernized world. That’s how I ended up at IAIA. I really want to do some creative writing, and what better place to develop an Indigenous futurist?” 

It was on the drive to his homelands in Texas that Montoya spilled the beans. His uncle, Joey Montoya, is the CEO and founder of Urban Native Era, a clothing design company rooted in fostering Indigenous visibility. On the drive, Montoya told his uncle about his podcast idea and his uncle was supportive. Montoya got to work and told himself he was going to produce five episodes in a month and a half. That was that. “The Indigenous Futures Podcast” premiered the first week of November 2020, right in the middle of the pandemic.

“The Indigenous Futures Podcast” was created for Indigenous folks, but Montoya gives plenty of space for allies to listen and learn. However, he makes it very clear he’s not trying to hold people’s hands through a process of understanding colonialism and racism. “You got to understand that’s a problem and I’m not trying to solve that for you,” says Montoya. “But I am trying to show you how, given those conditions and exalting Indigenous knowledge and sciences, how we can take that into the future where everybody will benefit. I also want to continue with an emphasis on mixed-race Indigenous folks.”

For Montoya, the perfect audience for his podcast are mixed-race, urban Indigenous people. “The vast majority of my friends and people in my community are mixed, and so we have to hold both of those, that tension, to find peace and healing and the power to create something more in the world,” he says. “Holding that tension is really important to me.”

Montoya says that with many more people online and with so many of those people using social media to connect, the effect on the podcast has been positive despite the pandemic, and he says he cannot wait to be able to interview people in person and to spend time with individuals again. “Something I’m always thinking about is reciprocity,” he says. “If you’re reaching out to an artist, I’d be like, ‘Hey, you’re a cool artist. Can you do a recording for me?’ But how do I compensate them? How do I create a relationship with them? How do I make sure that I’m not just extracting from them, their creativity and genius?” He explains that the kind of relationship one needs to build with their audience and participators is much easier to create in person.

One of Montoya’s favorite episodes that he’s produced so far is titled “Modern Indigeneity: Walking in Two Worlds.” In that episode, he explores how to be in both the colonial and the Indigenous worlds simultaneously. The episode speaks to the “emotional, spiritual part of entering into this work.”

But Montoya isn’t just interested in making podcasts on his own. He says he’s more than open to teaching and that he’s been thinking about doing a class at IAIA. “I kind of want to reach out to the continuing-education folks,” he says. “We need more people sharing. We need more Indigenous podcasters.”

Chachee Valentine

Chachee Valentine is a poet, filmmaker and photographer. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Stolen Island Review, Lullwater Review, Fugue, P’an Ku, In-Site Magazine, Words & Images, Alchemy, Prairie Margins, Askew, Bitchin’ Kitsch, Eunoia Review, The Parliament Literary Journal and 11 Mag Berlin.

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