Conceived and produced as part a national effort to retell the painful history of Canada’s indigenous people, This Place: 150 Years Retold, is an anthology of 10 graphic stories created by many of the country’s acclaimed indigenous writers and comics artists. The graphic book will be published this month by Highwater Press.
Managing editor Laura McKay said the book is one of 200 projects chosen to be funded by the Canada Council for the Arts to mark the 150th anniversary of Canadian confederation.
The Highwater Press imprint publishes 4-6 titles a year and has a backlist of about 45 titles, of which about half are graphic novels. An imprint of Portage & Main Press, Highwater exclusively publishes works—nonfiction, novels, graphic novels, and children’s books—about Canada’s indigenous population.
PW spoke with members of the creative teams for four of the stories. They include Tara Audibert, illustrator for the stories, “Migwite’tmeg: We Remember It” (written by Barndon Mitchell), and “Kitaskinaw 2350” (written by Chelsea Vowell), Richard Van Camp, who wrote the story “Like A Razor Slash” (drawn by Scott B. Henderson) and David Robertson, writer for “Peggy” (drawn by Natasha Donovan).
A forthcoming episode of More to Come, PW's weekly podcast on graphic novels, will feature extended interviews with these and other creators included in This Place. (Click here for Part 1 of the interviews and here for Part 2)
Tara, what can you tell us about “Migwite’tmeg: We Remember It," which is about a dispute over fishing rights, and about “Kitaskinaw 2350” which is essentially indigenous science fiction?
"We Remember It" is the story of a disagreement over fishing rights and the lengths the government went to prevent this one small community in the territory of Restigouche from fishing. There’s even a documentary film by Alana Obomsawin [Incident at Restigouche] about it that covers everything that happened and the comics are based on the story. The government brought in military helicopters--it was insane. This isn’t something that happened way in the past [it happened in the 1980s]; it’s so recent and so insane. A beautiful part of this story is that the indigenous community said no, get out of here, and just pushed the government back. It’s empowering to other indigenous communities to learn that we have the right to say no.
"Kitaskinaw 2350" is indigenous science fiction. I think the idea of an indigenous-led future, by having an ideal, is one way we get things to change. The writer, Chelsea Vowel, has an indigenous character that travels to the past, because the people of the future with all their crazy indigenous technology and a culture of peace, just don’t know about the horrible experiences of the indigenous past.
Can you help us with the pronunciation of the native titles?
I can’t pronounce the name of it either [laughing]. I’m Wolastoqiyik, or Maliseet, and Brandon is Mi’kmag [indigenous nations that extend across New Brunswick into Maine]. Across Canada there are indigenous people and some are similar but we all have different cultures and different languages. Wolastoqiyik and Mi’kmag are very closely connected but I can’t pronounce the name of the story!
Richard Van Camp (a member of the Tilcho Nation, a Dene First Nation people) wrote the story “Like A Razor Slash.” Can you tell us about the story and its key characters, Chief Frank T’Seleie and his government counterpart, justice Thomas Berger.
I use comic books to celebrate indigenous history, our traditional laws, and the legacy of our heroes from the Northwest Territories. I was honored to work with Frank T’Seleie and honor him in the story. The title comes from someone who said at the time, to put an oil pipeline through the Northwest Territories was like a razor slash across the Mona Lisa. When I was four years old [in 1975] Justice Berger went to every Dene community in the Northwest Territories [the Dene people inhabit the arctic regions of Canada] to collect testimony about oil companies that wanted to put a pipeline through the territories.
Frank T’Seleie’s speech at that inquiry [which is online] is just as powerful as Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream speech. You can see those oil executives sinking into their seats as you watch 28 year-old Chief T’Seleie speak powerfully and eloquently about his love for the land. I think comic books are a really gentle way to welcome a reader into your life and your culture. My biggest honor was being able to call Mr. Frank T’Seleie. He guided me, answered questions and was very patient. [Indigenous people] owe a lot to Frank T’Seleie and to his family.
David Robertson (a member of the Cree nation) tell us about “Peggy,” your story about the life of Francis “Peggy” Pegahmagabow.
I wanted to write about Pegahmagabow, one of the most decorated soldiers in Canadian history, because in his story we see the exploits and passion of one indigenous person and the incredible things he did for his people and his country. But also, we see a microcosm of how the government of Canada has treated indigenous people historically. During his time fighting for his country in WWI he was not viewed as a true human in his country. He put his life on the line anyway. He was one of the most effective snipers in world history [credited with killing nearly 400 Germans and capturing another 300] and when he came back after the war the government wouldn’t even let him buy livestock [for his farm]; the government denied him loans.
Despite that and suffering from PTSD, he became a great leader of his people and for indigenous people throughout the country. He was an enormous trailblazer for this country. There are many parallels between how black people were treated in the U.S. and how indigenous people have been treated in North America and Canada. One of the powers of storytelling is how it can create connections between people and create commonalities. I want people to read this book and think about it and seek out and learn more about him.