An Interview with ONE TRIBE Anthology Editor James Waley

‘One Tribe Anthology’ editor James Waley sat down to answer some questions about the upcoming release.  We posted questions about the aesthetic, political and practical implications of the undertaking.  His thoughtful reply is below!

ONE TRIBE --- MARK A. NELSON - HARDCOVER - FINAL with logo, border & text #1


What is the One Tribe Anthology? What is the origin of the name, “One Tribe”, and how was that chosen to represent the work? 
The ONE TRIBE anthology is a non-profit book published by Jack Lake Productions in association with James Waley of Pique Productions as a fundraiser in support of the SHANNEN’S DREAM campaign which carries on the outstanding and courageous work done by the late Shannen Koostachin of Attawapiskat to improve the learning environment of First Nations schools in Canada.

The initial thought for the name of the anthology came from the Bob Marley song, ONE LOVE, which is an expression of universal love amongst the entire human race and was further reinforced when I was doing some research on the internet and came across this speech by an Aboriginal elder in the states … and I heard him repeat the exact words of our title when expressing the sentiment that we’re all in this together and are all essentially, ONE TRIBE.
Felt like a good omen so I decided to go with it.

It seems like the inspiration for this project is the Shannen’s Dream campaign, which is great.  What do you think it says about the conditions of education on reserves that these kind of fundraisers are necessary not to build new gyms or libraries, but simply to make the schools fit for human habitation?
 It says that the current government of this country doesn’t appreciate the fact that schools on reserves deserve equal funding as our regular schools get and that the people in power and a lot of the population in Canada need a wake-up call to realize how incredibly unfair this situation is.

How many of the contributors are themselves indigenous?  Was it hard to find indigenous artists?
 
Eight of the comic creators doing work in the OTA are indigenous artists and/or writers and it wasn’t difficult to locate these exceptional individuals as there’s an ever increasing talent pool amongst the Canadian Aboriginal community working in either animation or the comic book storytelling medium as evidenced by the venture, The Healthy Aboriginal, and other enterprises happening all across the country.

On that note, there is a very long history of white comics creators drawing (what they think are) Indigenous people and culture. Something we try to bear in mind when we cover indigenous artists for Indigenous Comix Month is that we are speaking from a place of privilege, as settlers on native land, and we do our best to be careful not to appropriate voices or speak on behalf of our subject matter.  What has been your own experience in navigating these challenges?
 One thing you should know, right from the outset, is that all the material being published in the OTA does not deal with Aboriginal subject matter or issues.
I once participated in a comic book anthology fundraiser in support of cancer research for the Princess Margaret Hospital called DRAWING THE LINE which, initially, encouraged contributors to do stories based around our experiences with the health care system. With that in mind I wrote a 2 page story about a head-on collision I was involved in and my memories about that event and, in particular, about a considerate paramedic who held my hand and reassured me when I was dealing with excruciating pain and extreme anxiety about the accident I’d just experienced.
When the book was finally published I was surprised to find that at least half the content, or more, were stories that didn’t stick to that mandate, in the least, but were basically a variety of very entertaining standalone tales. At first I was a bit taken aback by this but discussing it later with the book’s editor I learned that he’s eased the “theme” of the publication as he found there were a number of comic creators that dearly wanted to participate and supported the cause of the book but either had stories, already produced, unpublished and available, that they could contribute or would rather create the type of material they were more accustomed to.
How could he refuse?
Many of these people were world renowned comic creators such as Jean “Moebius” Giraud who would bemajor additions to the book and whose involvement would help encourage sales to raise money for cancer research and wasn’t that the essential purpose of this production, really?
With that in mind when I first began planning the OTA I started to look at it more along the lines of a benefit rock concert like LIVE AID where a large assembly of talented musicians are enlisted to put on a show but there is never any mandate that they “tailor” their repertoire to echo the cause they’re supporting or to stray from the usual performance of their songs.
Though some will, of course.
Springsteen, Bono and a few others would rework lyrics or say a few words about the issues behind the show but most would simply bring in the crowds, entertain them and support the cause in their own humble way by simply generously participating and, in that way, help to shine a light on a situation that desperately needs the world’s attention and to be dealt with.
In a similar fashion the content of the OTA is a wide and varied selection of top quality comic book work chosen primarily to entertain but also, now and then, to enlighten, of course.
Sorry to go off on a tangent here, but I felt I needed to make this clear so that you understand that this publication is being produced to sell copies, to raise money for Shannen’s Dream and, in doing so, and with the inherent publicity we will hopefully generate — draw attention to the dire conditions in many schools on reserves.
As for the issue of “native appropriation” by non-native creators as the editor of the OTA I’ve tried my best to make sure that nothing published in this book will be offensive or insensitive to our Aboriginal community. I have, however, also been struck by how similar some of the depictions of early First Nations people have been in stories done by both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal creators (note the two characters I’ve included scans of which I defy you to guess which one was done by an Aboriginal creator and which was not).
ONE TRIBE --- AD ASTRA COMIX - comparison of 2 Aboriginal characters
Also, the cover I’ve attached to this email which depicts a current First Nations female student along with a number of scenes from her people’s past was done by an artist born in Canada, living in the states, who has dual-citizenship but no native background and it has been admired and praised, at length, by one of our most prominent Aboriginal contributors, the celebrated author Richard Van Camp, who is one of our staunchest supporters.
What can I say … one tribe, no?

Similarly, a lot of efforts by white people to involve themselves in development work both here and abroad are criticized as reflecting a “white saviour” mentality, where people from the culture responsible for causing these problems come in to try and fix them, but often without consultation with indigenous people.  What have you done to make sure the focus stays on indigenous people and their perspectives, rather than on your efforts as a fundraiser and organizer?
 By involving a good number of indigenous comic creators in the production of this publication I feel there’s little doubt that all of our contributors are pulling together for a common cause, against a wrong that needs to be righted, with no “white saviour” mentality in the mix … just a lot of like-minded people trying to do the right thing with what we know best … creating comics!

 


In your guest contribution on the website 49th Shelf, you say that the comic is not advancing any political agenda.  Given the very political causes of the conditions indigenous people face, do you think it is possible to be apolitical?  Is it responsible?
 While the situation we’re raising funds for and bringing attention to with the OTA could be considered “political” in nature I look on it as an issue of basic fairness and would rather not see this publication advancing any sort of heavy-handed political agenda. I leave that to the movements like IDLE NO MORE as I don’t think that’s what the OTA was created to do.
Is that a responsible position? … if we end up helping the Shannen’s Dream campaign and alerting even one Canadian to the educational inequality of First Nations students I believe we will have done the right and responsible thing with our efforts.

A little further in that same statement, you frame indigenous children as “innocents made to suffer as these issues are debated”.  This seems to imply that indigenous peoples and the federal government are both somewhat at fault for the conditions in reserve schools – was that your intended meaning?
 What do you think? … while obviously it’s primarily the government’s choice to either remedy these deplorable conditions, or not, it would be naïve to think that there aren’t some people in power, on both sides of this situation, who are capable of abusing their power and having their own agenda in these matters.
That’s sadly just human nature and most often its children who are caught in the middle.
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