What is the One Tribe Anthology? What is the origin of the name, “One Tribe”, and how was that chosen to represent the work?
We are joined by a guest piece this week for Indigenous Comix Month – Sean Carlton is a PhD Candidate at the Frost Centre for Canadian Studies & Indigenous Studies at Trent University. Please follow the links for more on this in-depth piece!
Rebranding Canada with Comics: Canada 1812: Forged in Fire and the Continuing Co-optation of Tecumseh
In the current age of austerity, the Harper Government allocated over $28 million to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. For many historians this proved to be an unpopular decision. It even drew the ire of the much-maligned Jack Granatstein, who pointed out, “This is also a government that’s slashing the national archives dramatically and killing the national library by cuts. On the one hand they’re good for history and on the other hand they’re bad for history—you sometimes wonder if they really know what they are doing.”
While historians are right to critique the controversial costs of the bicentennial celebrations in light of cuts to crucial public services, it is important to understand the government’s commemorative project as part of a more pernicious strategy of nation-building that historians Ian McKay and Jamie Swift identify as the “rebranding” of Canada as a “warrior nation.” In short, McKay and Swift contend that today there is a concerted right-wing effort to use the power of the state to “change how we think about our country and its history.” More specifically, they argue that “new warriors” are trying to rebrand Canada as a country “created by wars, defended by soldiers, and kept free by patriotic support of military virtues.” Canada’s history wars, then, are far from over.
In the case of the War of 1812’s bicentennial, the Harper Government pulled out all the stops to use the celebration as a rebranding opportunity. The commemorative project included a new national monument, a television commercial, and even a cell phone application, all showcasing the War of 1812 as a “defining moment” in what the Prime Minister called the “Fight for Canada.” Yet, this paper focuses on one aspect of the commemoration that received no critical attention: the representations of Indigenous peoples, and specifically of Tecumseh, in a free comic book called Canada 1812: Forged in Fire. The comic book was funded by the federal government and produced by High Fidelity HDTV in partnership with Parks Canada, Zeroes 2 Heroes Media, Bell Canada, and the Smithsonian Channel as part of a multi-media project. Canada 1812 will appeal to a broad public audience that will no doubt enjoy digging through the free comic book. However, like the other War of 1812 commemorative initiatives, Canada 1812, and especially its portrayal of Tecumseh, is a problematic “rebranding” of history to serve a nation-building agenda that must be critiqued and challenged.
The 142 page comic book traces the stories of six individuals—Isaac Brock, Charles de Salaberry, Laura Secord, John Norton, Enos Collins, and Tecumseh—who are all portrayed as distinctly Canadian heroes because of the pivotal roles they played in forging “Canada” out of the flames of the War of 1812. Canada 1812 memorializes these individuals in six separate stories, extoling each figure’s various virtues such as courage, bravery, and patriotism. The comic book opens with a hero-worshiping story of British military general Isaac Brock and the first panel of the first page depicts him as simplistically stating, “War is coming. Good.” Similarly, the story of Laura Secord is full of stereotypical tropes about gender, race, and the nation, the likes of which have been expertly examined by Colin M. Coates and Cecilia Morgan. As the work of Coates and Morgan suggests, it is important for historians to spark critical conversations about the ways in which past figures are used by different groups to reinforce troubling narratives that legitimize colonialism and Canadian nation-building. In hopes of sparking such a conversation about Canada 1812, I will more closely examine the representations of Indigenous peoples in the comic book, specifically the depiction of Shawnee chief Tecumseh.
In this article, I argue that Canada 1812 is a prime example of how people manufacture and manipulate the image of Tecumseh for the purposes of Canadian nation-building, a process that historian Robin Jarvis Brownlie has recently labelled the “co-optation” of Tecumseh. Despite his inclusion in the comic book to show a sort of multi-cultural coming together to defend Canada, I contend that the representations of Tecumseh in Canada 1812 ultimately conform to racist stereotypes of Indigenous peoples that rationalize colonialism and Canadian nation-building as benevolent, even natural and inevitable. The way we are taught to see the past shapes our understandings of, and actions in, the present and future. Thus, the representations of Tecumseh in Canada 1812 are problematic not only because of their racist underpinnings, but also because they play important roles in forming perceptions of Indigenous peoples that continue to justify Canada’s colonial policies of coercion, displacement, and assimilation.
Read on at ActiveHistory.ca:
As part of our ongoing Indigenous Comix Month feature, we’re looking at how Indigenous comics creators are doing their work and supporting each other. We’re honoured to be joined by Lee IV of the Indigenous Narratives Collective for a discussion on culture, diversity, stereotypes, and supporting one another in the industry.
How did the INC come to be, and what is the goal of the collective?
Lee: “Originally pitched as an idea by Arigon Starr, Jacques La Grange (San Carlos Apache) and Theo “Teddy” Tso (Las Vegas Paiute) at the 2011 San Diego Comic Con, a group of Native American comic book writers, artists, designers and creators convened at the annual Phoenix Comic Con in June 2012. The goal was to bring together Native American and Indigenous comic book artists and writers to create comic books that were representational of Native peoples in an authentic and meaningful way.
“The collective released its first teaser comic book in September 2012 and we will be releasing several titles this year (2014). We wanted to have an organization that would promote the work of Native comic book artists/writers and give them a chance to develop their professional skills to 1) change the stereotypical imagery associated with Native peoples, especially in comic book representations, and 2) allow Native folks the chance to hone their skills so they would be able to find employment within the comic book industry.”
How do INC folks help to support each other in an industry that continues to resist diversity in many ways?
“We try and build community and support the work. Right now, our artists and writers aren’t getting paid for their work (not yet, anyways), but they are dedicated to the cause, if you will. They are dedicated to promoting Natives as more than just historicized caricatures. We trade ideas and we get each other gigs when we can. Part of our efforts include working with Native students to access comic books and graphic novels, so we find ways to get into the schools and do that work.”
Were there any quintessential comic book characters that you were inspired by, growing up? Indigenous or non-Indigenous…
“I was always an Iron Man fan. Loved the technology. I am still enamored by technology, though as I have gotten older, I find myself drawn less to characters and more to the story or the way the characters are used in service of a compelling narrative.”
Indigenous people deal with stereotypes so much–in large part because they are so sparsely represented in conventional media.. What do you think comics (and Indigenous comics creators) can do to help with this?
“First, by being the creators. We have unique perspective of Indigenous culture, our own backgrounds of growing up Native in the dominant society. This comes out in our stories, our art.”
“Second, comics are part of the mainstream collective consciousness and if we can begin to change that, we can at least provide alternatives to the stereotypical narratives of Native people. For example, we can put our characters in space, give them superpowers (not derived from some mystical/Native/earth powered origin), have them fight zombies, or giants, or whatnot. We can tell fun stories that are not a rehash of something in a history book, but imagine a what if (what if Geronimo had access to teleportation technology which is why he could not be caught for so many years?). We can use the medium to tell more accurate and authentic stories in a way that captivates a reader and helps to break the stereotypes by putting Native people squarely in the mainstream of popular culture.”
For more from the INC, check out their website: INCOMICS.COM!
Go into any mainstream comic shop or bookseller chain, and the graphic novel series you are most likely to find starring a cast of native characters is “Scalped”. The 10 volume series (collecting all 60 issues of the comic book) is published by Vertigo Comics, a mature readers imprint of DC (one of the ‘Big Two’ comic publishers). Its high profile can also be attributed to writer Jason Aaron, who currently scribes popular superhero titles for Marvel Comics such as “Wolverine”, “The X-Men”, “Thor”, “Captain America”, and “The Avengers”.
Note: While this is a review of the book “Arctic Dreams and Nightmares,” a collection of art and accompanying short stories by the late Inuk artist, Alootook Ipellie, we are also taking a look at Ipellie’s larger body of work, and the significance of his contribution to Inuit art and political comics in general.
The title “Arctic Dreams and Nightmares” is a woeful summation of this haunting journey through the imagination of a man who seems to have been, as the title suggests, a dreamer. But within modern memory, it is an easy thing to understand how any Inuk’s dreams might turn to nightmares.
Writing as a qallunaat from the privileged perspective of the south, it is outside my role to interpret these dreams for the world. But as a sometime-student of Canadian colonialism and its violence against the indigenous people of the Arctic, I can help to shed some midnight sun on the darkness of this genocidal history.
Rachel Attituq Qitsualik wrote in Nunatsiaq that “The Inuit cosmos is ruled by no one. There are no divine mother and father figures. There are no wind gods and solar creators. There are no eternal punishments in the hereafter, as there are no punishments for children or adults in the here and now.” This Inuk hunter on the cross, pierced by the arrows and harpoons of his people, is a curious expression of the impact of Christianity on indigenous spirituality. For several hundred years, missionaries were among the only European people in the north. The legacy of the Christian churches in the Arctic is inextricable from the legacy of the residential schools system, which saw many Inuit taken from their communities. The choice of wolves, harpoons and arrows to pierce the Inuk Jesus is difficult to interpret; is it intended to convey that the Inuit have done harm to themselves by adopting Christianity?
The Inuit have not so much adopted Christianity as adapted it, as they have done with so many things from the south. In the 1950s, when the government imposed a program to settle the Inuit into stationary townships, social workers would complain of bathtubs being used to butcher seals or dining room tables turned into workbenches. But as their success in the extreme conditions of the Arctic shows, Inuit culture is nothing if not adaptive. So there is perhaps an echo of this in the image of a 3-piece Inuit blues group like the one above. It is likely not a coincidence that blues, a music with its roots in articulating experiences of oppression and resistance, is the music played by the band.
There is something viscerally disturbing about a woman being drawn along like a sled by a team of babies, still tethered to her womb by umbilical cords. Casual familiarity with the Inuit is enough to understand the historic importance of dog sleds to their lives, and some may know that snowmobiles have overwhelmingly replaced dog sleds as the main mode of tundra transit. But what goes woefully unacknowledged is the vicious extermination of hundreds of sled dogs by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who traveled the Arctic in the 1950s and 1960s, murdering whole teams of sled dogs. This systematic slaughter left a collective trauma shared by many Inuit, a violent break with traditional lifeways enforced by agents of colonial administration. It is difficult to discern the meaning of the children in place of the dogs – is it meant to convey that the Inuit continue regardless?
The broader ethics of animal rights aside, there is a particularly sinister clash between traditional indigenous practices and glamorous celebrities who care more for seals than human life. The famed French film starlet Brigitte Bardot has had a long career as an animal rights activist, and at one point took the Inuit to task for their continuation of the seal hunt. Here she is re-imagined as an Inuk’s wife, stalked by the very creature she once sought to protect. Unchecked by the seal hunt, the creatures now turn on their former predators, seeking to club them in turn. If starvation would not be the literal outcome of ending the seal hunt, the scene is suggestive of the damage to Inuit culture if this long practice would be discontinued.
What is more, the damage may not only be cultural. In addition to it being a major component of Inuit culture, what is called ‘country food’ is in fact healthy to the Inuit diet, which has adapted to this nutritional intake from centuries of continuous habitation in the region. Adverse health trends in the north have been linked to the adoption of southern diets, encouraged by well-intentioned southern doctors.
Regardless of the historical context in which these works are placed, there is a critical meta-narrative at play. Primitivism, an artistic movement that appropriates indigenous aesthetics for European audiences, has become an acceptable form of art – a kind of cultural erasure. Traditional indigenous art is permissible in the iconography of official Canadian cultures, because it is “historic”. Indigenous peoples are permitted in the canon because they are presumed to have assimilated, (AKA disappeared). Inukshuks, totem poles, soapstone carvings and bead-work are all relatively traditional indigenous crafts, co-opted by the Canadian state to suggest a continuity between historic indigenous peoples and modern Canadian settlers–use of indigenous culture by the colonial apparatus suggests a cooperation, or at least a submission by the former to the latter. Symbols of pre-contact Inuit spirituality are acceptable as well – traditional tales and legendary creatures that preserve the image of the Inuk as an unchanging “primitive” without the complex legacy of Christianity. This is effectively a denial of the violent rupture that occurred.
Ipellie’s style seems to stand outside of this. His art is by turns haunting, erotic and grotesque, but always political. By deviating from southern expectations that Inuit art produces a pre-contact fantasy of seal hunting, igloos and polar bears, his art challenges white expectations of indigenous art. By smearing sex, violence and modernity across southern stereotypes of Inuit culture, Ipellie defaces the museum-exhibit sterility of the “noble savage” trope with the viscera of human vulgarity.
The Inuit are not simply figures in the past, a culture to borrow as part of some settler narrative. They are figures in our present, affected by us, and, as is best represented by Ipellie and his work, affecting us in turn.
Come check out Ad Astra Comix and a ton of other amazing social justice oriented artists and tradespeople! Read on for more info: