[diary] 29 – canada

Ullaakkut* everyone!

This day had to come, so here it is: for Canada, I decided to read a book that has not yet been (and probably won’t be) translated in French: This Place – 150 Years Retold. I discovered this collection of Indigenous graphic short stories in one of ONYX Pages’ videos and I immediately knew that it had to be my read for this country. I definitely could have picked a much easier to access Canadian book, but I must say that I’m very happy that I sticked with this one and am able to present it to you today! This was one of the most impactful reads I’ve had for my challenge so far, and the fact that it featured so many talented artists makes it a great representative for Canada. Please meet This Place – 150 Years Retold!

couverture this place 150 years retold

TW > racism / violence / murder / foster home / child abuse / war / death / blood

[Explore the past 150 years through the eyes of Indigenous creators in this groundbreaking graphic novel anthology. Beautifully illustrated, these ten stories are an emotional and enlightening journey through Indigenous wonderworks, serial killings, psychic battles, and time travel. See how Indigenous peoples have survived a post-apocalyptic world since Contact.]

Every Indigenous person’s story is, in a way, a tale of overcoming apocalypse. 

« Contact. » It is, in this book’s summary, the name for the moment colonization started in Canada… and apocalypse began for Indigenous people. Based on this concept, this collection of stories is not only about being Indigenous (which would be, in Canada, a member of one of the First Nations peoples, the Inuit people or the Métis people); it is about being Indigenous in an environment that has been designed by and for White (pretty entitled) people at least since the official creation of Canada in the 19th century. Of course, these ten stories are great graphic works, unique in their styles and astutely using illustration to get their messages across. But they are mainly a meaningful hommage to Indigenous cultures and communities, and especially to the people who suffered and are still suffering from injustice today. It is alarming to me that, though the struggle has been going on since before the 19th century and is going on still, I (a college-educated French person) wasn’t aware at all of the extent of this reality until now. Dramatic decisions were made without the people they’d apply to being consulted at any point. Lands were stolen. Children were kidnapped. And it needs to be known. This is why the stories that are told in this book are, to me, so important, impactful and revealing, and why I think more people should have a chance to read them.

The Quebec government thinks they can control what we’ve been doing since before they arrived. They never asked us about our rules. (p. 208)

What amazed me the most in this collection is that, while the narratives themselves are super diverse, all of the stories resonate through similar themes: revolt, prejudice and racism, but also about unity, legacy, bravery and family. For example, Nimkii, by Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, Ryan Howe, Jen Storm and Donovan Yaciuk, introduces us to a deeply upsetting historical fact: for years, Canadian authority took Indigenous children from their families and placed them in foster care, especially in the 1960s. The graphic novel tells this story from the point of view of a mother from the Wabaseemoong reserve (where Indigenous people had to fight until the 1990s to stop the government from kidnapping children), and her character, both very touching and super brave, really impressed me. Red Clouds, by Jen Storm and Natasha Donovan, tells the story of a wendigo woman and delivers what I considered to be one of the most thought-provoking stories of the collection, intertwining Indigenous and White people’s beliefs, kinda questioning both communities while still making it obvious how entitled White people’s interventions were. Rosie, by Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley and GMB Chomichuk, is both graphically gorgeous and featuring a unique point of view, giving us an intimate glimpse of how Inuit people envision the world. And these are only my three favorite stories; the others also feature great role models presentations (from the 1850s to today’s activism), tales of fights, defeats and victories, and pleas for a better future.

exemple double page 1 : style graphique collage dans les tons bleus avec fort contraste noir et blanc

Apart from the captivating graphic stories, what I thought was another great thing with this book is that it is clearly designed to take us through time step by step (it does follow a chronological order) and to help us understand the global situation around the historical events that are depicted. Each story is indeed introducted with a foreword by its author, and this is brilliant because as a person who was not informed at all about the history of Indigenous people in Canada, I definitely needed any context I could get. The fact that the forewords were accompanied by timelines and factual information was priceless to me: I wasn’t even at page 4 that I was already learning a lot!

Unfortunately, every new information about the discriminatory Canadian laws enforced on Indigenous people left me angrier, and I especially discovered (as it’s not what we learn in French schools about Canada) the Indian Act, which is the Canadian act of parliament that defines who is considered Indian and what rules apply to them, to be one of the most revolting and entitled thing I’ve ever heard about. It is based on colonialism and racism at its worst, and it’s extremely sad to see that the horrifying decisions made during a century and a half of oppression are still impacting Indigenous lives today.

1885 – Canada introduces the pass system, confining Indigenous people to their reserves unless they have written permission to leave from the Indian Agent. (p. 3)
1907 – Dr. Peter Henderson Bryce reports that up to 42% of Indigenous children are dying in residential schools. (…) 1920 – Indian Affairs makes residential school attendance mandatory for all Indigenous children aged 7 to 16. (p. 55)
1927 – An Indian Act amendment prohibits hiring lawyers or filing land claims without prior government authorization. (p. 83)
1928 – The Alberta government passes the Alberta Sexual Sterilization Act, targeting First Nations and Metis women for forced sterilization. (p. 83)
1935-1940 – Non-Inuit complain that Inuit bear multiple individual names that defy alphabetization. Forcible wearing of « identity discs » and/or cards is recommended, along with mass Biblical renaming. (p. 110).
Late 1950s-1960s – The Sixties Scoop: as residential schools close, thousands of Indigenous children are removed from their families and placed in non-Indigenous foster or adoption homes. (p. 138)

All in all, I was really impressed by this collection, and by the artists who produced it. These are artists deeply inspired by their peoples’ histories, carrying a legacy of being unheard and having to struggle every step of the way. Logically, their stories are brave stories, filled with love for the authors’ homes and for the people who came before them and the people who will come afterwards, filled with pride and resilience and hope, filled with the feeling of belonging to a history and to an ever-surviving community even though the world around it is hostile in many ways. It is unbelievable to me that we don’t know about Indigenous history more, and this makes this collection a definite must-read!

– Do you think they will carry through on those promises? That they will repair all the damage done?
– I want to have hope. When will 150 years of violence end?
– Whatever happens, we will keep working. And struggling. Always. (p. 244)

> coll. – This Place – 150 Years Retold, Highwater Press, 2019.
> written while suspiciously listening to “O Canada” .

* I chose to introduce this article with the word « good morning » in Inuktitut because I love the sound of this language, but it’s in no way the only language I could have chosen to represent Indigenous peoples of Canada!

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