There may not be a more beautiful pushback against a prevailing cultural narrative than This Place (150 Years Retold), a collection of graphic stories that dig deep into the indigenous peoples of Canada, and all the myriad of ways their lands have been stolen from them, and their heritage, reduced.
I am neither Canadian nor indigenous to the soil I live on, so I openly profess much ignorance and little knowledge of the background of these stories. Alas, I can hear the echoes in the ways my own country has treated Native Indian tribes here, and in the ways other natives of other lands were treated when white Europeans stepped ashore and decided the land was theirs. The pattern of removal from communities, abuse in state-sponsored schools and foster homes, the theft of language, forced assimilation and more is a terribly familiar one.
It’s hard for me here to capture the powerful scope and artistic merit of this collection. So let me say that the variety of graphic novelists here — there are 10 different stories — have different styles — some more modern than others, even as they tell of ancient tales — that neatly connect together the narrative of a people constantly being pushed to the brink by the Canadian government.
The stories almost always center on the people, and the mystical nature of people and the land come through in ways that tap into the creative power of comics and graphic arts. The medium does justice to the stories, as the stories inspire the push at the edges of the medium.
The editors also enacted a brilliant move to complement the stories. They included a running timeline that begins in the 1860s and stretches to the current day by the last story (which is a look ahead into the future of the tribes). I learned more about Canada than I ever knew. What emerges in this collection is a love of tribal nations, the skills of powerful tribal leaders, and a love of the land and of the past, even as both are systematically encroached upon with relentless might of the government.
This Place (150 Years Retold) is appropriate for high school students and older, and it would be a powerful supplement to any historical inquiry into Canada as a nation, or to a study of native people pushing back against assimilation. In the ideal world, this graphic novel collection would not even be the supplement, at all, but would be the main text. But I know that day is probably still far off from this day. Until then, linger on the stories.
Peace (in the lands and people),