This review will critically review This Place: 150 Years Retold by Kateri Akiwenzi-Damn, Sonny Assu, Brandon Mitchell, Rachel Qitsualik-Tinsley and illustrated by Tara Audibert, Kyle Charles, and Natasha Donovan. The review, followed by discussion questions, aims to invoke discussion on historical topics and themes raised in This Place: 150 Years Retold. The discussion questions are divided into questions to consider before reading the book, and after reading the book, as well as some background questions.
Indigenous Graphic Novels, like This Place: 150 Years Retold, offer the vital opportunity for voices that are not featured too commonly in mainstream media to be heard. The violent silence and/or misrepresentation of Indigenous peoples in comic books and graphic novels has stained colonial history. Gord Hill (2010) of Kwakwaka ‘wakw nation and author of The 500 Years of Resistance Comic Book states, “in order to understand the world we live in today, it is vital to know our history. Unfortunately, the history we are taught through the educational system and corporate entertainment industry is false…The story of our ancestors’ resistance in minimized, at best, or erased entirely” (p. 5). It is also important in building a self-identity to see oneself represented to the world around them. The minimization and misrepresentation in popular culture media “serves to mirror the emotional consensus of how mainstream America sees us” Lapensée, 2009, para 3). Taking control of the narrative can change world views for the bad as well as the good.
In order to counter the erasure and tired stereotypes of Indigenous Peoples, popular culture mediums need to be updated, and (re)appropriated (Henzi, 2017). Indigenous graphic novels, like This Place: 150 Years Retold, are retelling the story of the history of Indigenous Peoples through their own voice. Graphic Novels, as a medium, offers an extraordinary amount of accessibility. The minimal text paired with art makes graphic novels not only easier to read for youth, but also those who “may not want to, or cannot, read at length about the history of colonialism” (Henzi, 2017, p. 25). The art (style, facial expressions, landscape, etc.), spacing of pages and words, and languages used can all influence the story to tell a more powerful story.
This Place: 150 Years Retold is a graphic novel anthology which retells the 150 years of history, from Confederation of Canada to present, through the individual perspective of Indigenous, Métis, and Inuit characters. The collection of comics sees story contributors: Kateri Akiwenzi-Damm, Sonny Assu, Brandon Mitchell, Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley, David A. Robertson, Niigaanwewidam james Sinclair, Jen Storm, Richard Van Camp, Katherena Vermette, and Chelsea Vowel. The Illustrations and colours have been done by: Tara Audibert, Kyle Charles, GMB CHomichuk, Natasha Donovan, Scott A. ford, Scott B. Henderson, Ryan Howe, Andrew Lodwich, Jen Storm, and Donovan Yaciuk. The book is divided into 10 chapters, each with a forward from the author and why the story is important to them, as well as a historical timeline which contextualizes the history of each story. The timelines include Treaties, Acts, land claims, and other relevant milestones which influence the Indigenous, Métis, or Inuit characters, like “1933-1934: The forcible fingerprinting of all Inuit is a failure, sparking interagency conflict” (Akiwenzie-Damm, et al, p. 110). The stories tackle huge historical milestones from the ground up, and tells each story through the eyes of Indigenous peoples affected by colonialism, and shares their relationships, hopes, desires and fears in an intimate way.
Relationality, a key aspect of Indigenous epistemologies, is “the concept that we are all related to each other, to the natural environment, and to the spiritual world, and these relationship bring about interdependencies” (Antoine et al., 2018, para. 2). The chapter “Nimkii” shows relationality during the context of the Sixties Scoop through to the 1990s. The story follows Ninkii, a young Anishibaabe woman, who sits at the kitchen table with her daughter and shares her traumatic story of being taken away from her family, the relationships she built and lost along the way. The 2-page art cover page for “Nimkii” shows her standing in front of her daughter, and behind her lined up into the distance are past generations of Anishinaabe women, until they become faceless. The line of people ascends through the trees on the back on a turtle. It is a visual display of intergenerational relationships, intertwined with The Land. The story being told from the perspective of a mother-daughter relationship shows firsthand an example of a relationships that could never exist during the existence of Residential schools and child adoption programs. The last frame of the chapter is a picture of the Wabaseemoong reserve in 1990 and shows the entire community stopping federal agents from coming onto their land, stating in unison, “You aren’t taking any more of our children” (Akiwenzie-Damm, et al., p. 165). The children are the future of the community, they are all related.
Sonny Assu, the author of the chapter Tilted Ground, tells the story of his great-great grandfather, Chief Billy Assu, of the Kwakwaka’wakw nation. The story is set in the historical context between 1885, when the Indian Act was amended to ban the potlatch, to the end of the potlach ban in 1951. Throughout the chapter, Assu used Kwak’wala language with captions to tell the story. Chief Billy shows strong leadership despite the hard conditions imposed on him and his people he was able to get better wages at the cannery for his people, a fair price for fish, a right to use fishing equipment, and he shielded his community from harm. He did these things for the survival of his people in the face of injustice. Chief Billy’s vision was “not about assimilation…but adoption” (Akiwenzie-Damm, et al., p. 48). The end of the chapter shows Chief Billy reemerging from the water to focus his attention on a baby, a new future for the Kwakwaka ‘wakw nation. Adding to this, Assu, untraditionally ends his comic with the caption “Not the End” (Akiwenzie-Damm, et al., p. 52) which indicates that the story is not over, there is still more story to tell.
The last chapter in This Place: 150 Years Retold is “Kitaskinaw 2350” takes on the science fiction element of time travel, adding to the movement of Indigenous Futurism. The story is set in the year 2350 and follows Wapanachahkos, a young Cree woman, who travels back in time to 2012. She sees firsthand all of the racism and inequality but knows that the future becomes one which incorporates reciprocal obligations to The Land, Treaties that are honored, and language of Indigenous peoples revitalized. The first images in the story show large, futuristic skyscrapers in the background, and in the foreground are tipis and futuristic domes. There are floating chairs, holograms, and computer screens. The technology is juxtaposed with decolonization. The other members of Wapanachahkos’ nation are seen on horses, they are out in nature as a community, living by a river. The story shows a picture where Indigenous people are proficient with technology and have adapted to the change amazingly, whereas the colonial past in which Wapanachahkos jumps to shows that it is the colonial mentality is slow to change and adapt to Indigenous ways of knowing.
This Place: 150 Years Retold is engaging, visually stunning, and eye opening. It explores the three themes of relationality, resurgence, and Indigenous futurism by exploring key milestones in history between Indigenous, Métis, Inuit peoples and Canadian settlers over the last 150 years. It is a critically needed anthology that takes the reigns of Indigenous history through popular culture. The use of real documents, events, and people add to the authenticity of the book. The theme of a post-apocalyptic scenario for Indigenous peoples since Confederation rings throughout the book which allows readers to explore reconciliation in a new way. The slow burn of a 150 year long apocalypse in shown in This Place: 150 Years Retold but it also shows tools to navigate a better future for Indigenous peoples, and their relationship with Canada.
Akiwenzie-Damm, K., Yaciuk, D., Ford, S. A., Elliott, A., & Audibert, T. (2019). This place: 150 years retold. Winnipeg, Manitoba: HighWater Press.
Antoine, A. Mason, R., Mason, R. Palahicky, S. and Rodriguez de France, C. (2018). Section 2: Meaningful integration of indigenous epistemologies and pedagogies. In Pulling together: A guide for curriculum developers. BC Open Textbooks. Retrieved from https://open.bcit.ca/oer/islandora/object/oer%3A54
LaPensée, E. (2009 April 6). Sheyahshe on video games. Newspaper Rock. Retrieved July 31st, 2020. http://newspaperrock.bluecorncomics.com/2009/04/sheyahshe-on-video-games.html
Henzi, S. (2017). “A necessary antidote”: Graphic novels, comics, and indigenous writing. The Canadian Review of Comparative Literature 43(1), 23-38.
Hill, Gord (2010). The 500 Years of Resistance Comic Book. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press.
Connor Addley (him/his) is a Canadian MLIS student at the University of Alberta and holds a Bachelor of History from the University of Saskatchewan. He started employment at the Saskatoon Public Library as a Library Service Associate in 2016. During this time he has gotten out into the community as much as possible, participating in events such as the Pride Parade, Word on the Street literacy festival, Senior’s Writing Gala, Stories in the Bar, as well as read-aloud’s all around the city. He strives to continue librarianship work in the community.