If you like beautifully written and impactful graphic novels, if you care at all about social issues, and you have the tiniest spec of curiosity about the impacts of Canadian colonialism and its lasting impact through generational wounds, YOU NEED TO READ THIS BOOK. Yes, I just went all caps. And yes, I genuinely think that ‘The Outside Circle’ deserves it. It is complicated, powerful, and undeniably insightful in ways that linger long after you have turned the final page.
Title: This Outside Circle Author: Patti LaBoucane-Benson Illustrator: Kelly Mellings Publisher: Anansi Publication Date: May 2, 2015 Genre: Graphic Novel, YA Fiction, Fiction
But let me start with a disclaimer. This graphic novel is not for the faint of heart, and likely not altogether suitable for young children. The social issues touched upon include gang violence, drug use, poverty, incarceration, abuse, and the systematic destruction of families and cultures. It needs to be read, it needs to be discussed, but it is best suited to older teens and adults. And while the subject matter isn’t the lightest, the presentation is such that it is easily approachable by students, scholars, and independent readers alike.
The style and colours in this book made a tremendous impact on me, and I had to read it through several times in order to appreciate the depth of the details and nuance. I enjoyed the ongoing transformation of masks throughout, the tattoo motif, the circle series, and the repetitive use of smoke and fragmentation. I also found the variety of panels and page layouts to be engaging, and I really appreciated the break from tradition western aspects and transitions. The layering of Aboriginal and pop-culture iconography was beautifully done, and the balance created through the imagery made it easily understandable despite my limited understanding certain cultural motifs. The result is a fast paced, engaging, and visually appealing experience.
I was instantly, and irrevocably, wrapped up in Pete’s journey from the very first page. The very meta nature of the opening page of story, showcasing a storyteller, expounded further by the narrator stating ‘let me tell you a story’ had me going daaaamn. I know it doesn’t sound super amazing in a review, but the layers in the book are so very meta, and I like meta – especially when it comes across without feeling at all pretentious! Now add in the integration of key documents on residential schools, the Bagot Commission, the 1867 Indian Act, and some painful and startling statistics; I couldn’t look away. I cried during the family mapping exercise (if you haven’t figured out by now that I am a crier, where the heck have you been?), and cried even more at Bernice’s funeral and when Ray came to visit Pete in prison.
I am in love with how everything came full circle in the end, and I know that this isn’t always the case in the real world. But it was really was a touching and uplifting way in which to end this story. But more than anything, I am in love with how LaBoucane-Benson actively invites readers to become part of the narrative and to become part of the healing process.
Would I recommend this book? HELL YAAAASSSS! Especially to Canadian junior and senior high school teachers and librarians. ‘The Outside Circle’ is impressive, empowering, massively educational, and yet ultimately a story of hope. It is incredibly efficient in breaking down stereotypes, helps readers to understand and identify injustices present in Canadian society, and humanizes issues that too often reduced to statistics. This is an absolute must read!
This is a guest post by Jessica Macaulay, a censorship-fighting school librarian that continually advocates for diversity and equality in collection representation. She is an unashamed comics geek and advocates for their inclusion for readers of all ages and levels, and is dedicated to changing the student and parent perception of what school libraries are and should be. Hop on over to Minimac Reviews for more reviews of books and comics like this one.
It’s not particularly surprising that Jay Odjick received his first rejection letter from a mainstream comic book publisher (Marvel) at the age of 10.
Jay Odjick: “As a kid, I really dug Spider-Man – I’d read anything, but after a few years started to gravitate a bit toward the darker characters. They kind of fit more closely with my experiences and environment. We would go and buy unsold issues for like a dime or something – the store would rip the covers off and sell ‘em cheap and we weren’t rich, so that worked out for us. Comics are a good chunk of how I learned to read.”
Needless to say, Odjick and Marvel had some divergent world views. Odjick was an Algonquin kid living off-reservation in a decimated neighborhood.
Jay: “I was born in Rochester, NY – which is where my mother is from. My father, like many other guys from Kitigan Zibi, left the reserve very young to find work, and he ended up seeing a good chunk of the upper East Coast.
I think he left home at like…13 or 14. There were quite a few people from my res working in the Rochester area – so he met my mother there, they got married and I was born in the US… like a block away from a comics store.
We moved from Rochester not long after a man was shot and killed right out in front of where we lived – chalk outline and all. [And I thought,] ‘Hey, what’s this Punisher guy like?? Ok, I get this!’”
Fast-forward 25 years. Even if Jay was then the successful comic and cartoon creator he is today, Marvel would likely continue to sneer at his work. Why? Perhaps because it refuses to fit any mainstream indigenous stereotypes that industry leaders like Marvel and DC have made millions depicting for decades.
Jay: “I didn’t come across too many comics that featured many native characters as a kid – I think my first real exposure to any were in some Westerns – and then at some point, Apache Chief from Super Friends (not comics, but still). We had moved [back] to the res after leaving Rochester and I remember thinking, ‘Okay, this guy is very much unlike anyone I know – or anyone living on my reserve’. I never really felt like I saw anyone in comics who looked or acted like any native people and, as a kid, I found it weird even if I didn’t understand why.
I also didn’t understand why there were so few native characters on TV or in comics. Only later did I kind of begin to theorize as to why that was, and want to create a superhero character who did look and act like the Native people I knew.”
In his twenties, Jay created and began producing The Raven while continuing to live in Kitigan Zibi. This was his first foray into publishing comics.
Jay: “I had some some illustration work before and worked on a comic for a website – in the early days of the web – but The Raven was my first comic book. Basically, I thought there was a need for a cool, hip, modern native hero – one who native kids could relate to or who could resonate with them. Something a little dark, action oriented; something with a touch of Spider-Man maybe – but with some splashes of anti-heroes like Wolverine and Batman in there as well. It was something I’d been meaning to try to do for a few years – and decided to try self-publishing. I got out 3 issues of the series before realizing it was all too much work for one guy.”
The life of an unseasoned self-publisher is one of constant trials—from the printer to the comic shop. While Jay struggled to create, produce, and promote the work on his own, his expenses were piling up. For his next project, he aimed for a graphic novel format, which took the pressure off the machine-gun publishing schedule of single issue comics creators (typically work reserved for an assembly-line team of comics writers, editors, artists, inkers, colourists, and promotional teams).
Jay: “I was going to comic conventions as a publisher around this time and met up with Arcana‘s Sean O’Reilly – who had a booth next to me at a Toronto Comic Con, and we struck up a conversation about my book and he said he’d be interested in publishing a graphic novel.
I tweaked the concept – made it less dark and violent and de-aged the main character, Matthew Carver, by about 15 years so that he would maybe appeal more to younger readers and created the graphic novel KAGAGI: The Raven.”
My thinking with Kagagi was always – he’s a superhero who is Native – and that plays a role in who he is, of course, but you should be able to come into this world without a lot of knowledge of Native culture or what indigenous experiences are like.”
As Odjick worked on the graphic novel for Arcana, he developed his creation. Kagagi is a native character based on Anishinaabe teachings and language. The project received critical acclaim, and Kagagi was approached by the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) for a kid’s TV show adaptation.
As any creator knows, the task of character design is a meticulous one, requiring careful contemplation. Here, Jay made some interesting decisions with regard to Kagagi as a realistic representation of indigeneity.
Jay: “In terms of visuals, I decided to steer clear of the stereotypes or tropes we tend to see associated with native super-people. I didn’t – and still don’t – believe a super person in buckskin will resonate with younger readers or maybe even readers my age.
I created a design and aesthetic that I thought would appeal to readers of all backgrounds and cultures. But in terms of Matthew’s alter ego, I really tried to visually create something that looked like Native kids today. I think that’s why so many kids appreciate the character and dug the TV series – if he’s going to be a superhero for Native audiences, those audiences have to see themselves reflected in him.”
A key element in using dynamic media like comics, cartoons, and video games to communicate complex cultural or political information is a work’s ability to be engaging on a number of levels, from aesthetic, to entertainment to education. Odjick feels the design of the Kagagi graphic novel and TV series achieved this.
Jay: “If we want to create native superhero characters who resonate with native kids, we have to speak the same visual language in the media forms they’re accustomed to.
Now, the Kagagi ‘suit’ itself manifests when Matthew transforms – based on his subconscious, and what he thinks a hero should look like. It’s something I never got to explore enough in either the comic or the show, but that’s why he looks the way he does as Kagagi. He’s a kid who grew up reading comic books and watching cartoons and playing video games!
We would have explored in other comics and episodes that previous Kagagi bearers looked different (based on their own perceptions of a hero). Still, considering Matthew is a kid who doesn’t know a lot about his culture or background, it’s interesting that, as Kagagi, his hair grows when he transforms into Kagagi. It perhaps is meant to symbolize, deep down, how he feels he should be connected with his traditional culture…”
Jay acknowledges that both inside and outside of his comic creations, it’s a fine line for indigenous youth to navigate society’s expectations of them—expectations that can be either helpful or harmful. Settler portrayals of indigenous comic book characters have traditionally catered to the male white child’s imagination of what is indigenous: think Daniel Boone, Davey Crocket, and The Last of the Mohicans. A part of the imagination in colonial North America is that settlers are absolved of guilt for their complacency in genocide, because they wish to adopt an indigenous custom here or a style of dress there. All the while, indigenous artists and creators are ignored.
Jay: “[The line goes…] ‘It’s ok, we are showing respect!’…Right.
“As a kid, it was hard because many people wanted me to work in more traditional native arts – my father especially. He discouraged me from pursuing comics, but I was what I was.”
Ultimately, it burns down to that critical question, currently searing the mainstream comics industry: regardless of character diversity, who has creative control over the design of the characters, and the stories?
Jay: “I can’t speak to much beyond my own community – but people in Kitigan Zibi have really embraced Kagagi and especially the series, because even if we aren’t delving much into culture and myths, we have created a show that exists in English with a mix (20%) of Anishinaabeg and with a language version completely in Algonquin as well.
My hope is that if kids like the show, it maybe helps them to learn the language.
Learning from previous struggles as a self-publisher, Jay worked to make Kagagi a real community effort. Algonquin voiceovers were done in Kitigan Zibi, with Anishinabeg translations read by local teachers Joan Tenasco and Annette Smith. While most of the voices were from his community, Jay was happy he was able to bring in cast members from neighboring Barriere Lake. As he was already on tight deadlines and budgets, he paid for the Algonquin translation out of pocket, recording the voiceover work himself.
But in terms of finding a larger community of indigenous comic creators, Odjick feels that there remains a great deal of room for improvement and growth.
Jay: “I think the fact that I write and draw my own stuff maybe has a bit of an isolation factor!
When I was starting out in comics I was unaware of literally any other Native creators. I was very much trying to learn about the comics industry, about publishing, publishers, who did what, etc. Now, I’m seeing more and more Indigenous comic creators, which is awesome! I’m stoked about that – but have only been in contact with a few. I drew a story adapted by Niigaanwewidam Sinclair that’s in Graphic Classics’ Native American Classics, published a few years ago. I’m taking part in the Moonshot anthology with First Hunt, which I illustrated and co-authored with my brother, Joel. It’s a story about the role hunting played in Anishinaabe life back in the day, and illustrates some of the pressures that must have come with it.
Odjick considers the Kagagi TV series a major victory with a dynamic and lasting impact. It allowed him and his community to create a powerful learning tool for language, and it convinced his community to be open to new forms of media as a way to pass on traditional teachings (Odjick is very proud that there is now a graphic novel section at the K.Z. School Library containing some 200 titles).
Jay: “If I can keep doing my thing, keep telling stories, hopefully that continues to allow me to do some good with issues I’m passionate about, like language preservation and literacy for our youth.”
Kagagi: The Raven airs on APTN every Sunday at 10 am, and is available online at aptn.ca/kagagi!
Richard Van Camp, a Tłı̨chǫ writer from Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, based ‘Three Feathers’ off an incident in his town. There were three young men who robbed a number of residents of the town, including him. When they were caught, they were sent south to serve two years in prison. In ‘Three Feathers’, a Sentencing Circle sends the boys to spend nine months living on the land with some of the community’s elders. The difference in their experience is profound.
Title: Three Feathers| Author: Richard Van Camp Illustrator: Krystal Mateus Published: Highwater Press (March 2015) Pages: 48 pages
The comic opens with the boys returning from their time on the land. This beginning sets the tone for a non-linear narrative structure that challenges the reader to piece the story together while also making sense of what is, to most settlers, an alien approach to justice. This echoes our experience of learning about criminal incidents where we are often too quick to make assumptions based on a few snippets of information. The comic charts the events leading to the sentence, the experience of the boys on the land, and its ultimate effect on them. In doing so, it helps us piece together the story of how the boys came to be at odds with their community.
‘Three Feathers’ paints a familiar portrait of the challenges faced by indigenous communities: children without parents, families struggling with addiction, and youth alienated from their traditional culture. But Van Camp, unsurprisingly, never stoops to caricature. His characters are emotionally complex, possessed of agency and sympathetically rendered. He provides a good answer to the question ‘Why does it matter that indigenous people write indigenous characters’? His portrayal of a deaf character, one of the boys sent to the land, is also nuanced. He isn’t reduced to his disability or played for laughs but is allowed to suffer from the same anger, frustration and imperfection as his peers.
The comic is not without its faults. It is not as long as it might be, and as a result we are not given much time to learn about the young men or their community. Similarly, though there are some aesthetic styles that benefit from the use of black and white, this is a comic that would have benefited from colour. Still, the sparse use of text accents the art and puts the environment in the foreground, particularly when the young men are out on the land. Given the moral and spiritual importance of their environment this is a good aesthetic choice.
I don’t want to give away the ending. I will say, however, that I was surprised by it, though it reflected the moral arc of the story as a whole. The tale is one of restorative justice, of the capacity of a community to heal its wounds together instead of discarding people who behave unacceptably. It is understood from the outset that the boys have caused harm partially as a result of the harm they themselves have experienced. Their rehabilitation is not rooted in high-minded moralizing about human nature but in the very personal compassion and willingness to forgive shown by their community.
How radically this differs from our colonial conception of justice! For many Canadians, justice is inseparable from retribution. There is even still a surprising enthusiasm in Canada for capital punishment. The idea that ‘criminals’ could be sent out onto the land to fish and camp with the elderly probably sounds like a vacation to your average settler. Even successful experiments with rehabilitation, like the Kingston prison farm, end up up in the scopes of politicians looking for a soft target.
Activists on the left sometimes like to imagine that they are above this kind of justice. They champion prison abolition and talk gravely about police corruption. But, in practice, I think most radical communities end up practicing a kind of ostracism, seeking to exclude people who transgress against the values of the community past a certain point. I’m not saying we can’t protect our communities from toxic people, privileged jerks who never shut up, or occurrences of sexual violence. But what I do think is that restorative justice looks a lot more ‘protecting our community’ than the ostracism that contributes heavily to activist turnover. That is not a comfortable truth for people whose social circle is a line drawn in the chalk of moral certainty. But uncomfortable truths are a powerful thing in the right hands. All I could think in reading this comic was ‘if only it worked that way for us’, …whoever ‘us’ is.
This comic is shareable, but please cite Ad Astra Comix as the source, and provide a link to the Qikiqtani Truth Commission with any re-postings. Interested in buying a glossy, high-resolution poster of ‘Dogs’? E-mail us for details
About this comic:
Handling indigenous subject matter is always a challenge for settlers, and to be clear, we are white settlers. We have done our best to avoid speaking on behalf of the Inuit who are more than capable of making themselves heard when qallunaat take the time to listen. But it is a narrow beam to balance on.
Even before Franz Boas wandered into the Arctic and began scribbling, white people have been misrepresenting the Inuit. They were not trapped in the Stone Age until the 1950s; they had already been adapting European technologies to their purposes for more than a hundred years at that point. Southerners love to depict the Inuit as ‘noble savages’ who were ‘ruined’ by civilization. Needless to say, that is not only incredibly racist, it’s frankly wrong.
There’s a great NFB mockumentary called ‘Qallunaat: Why White People are Funny” we recommend if you are interested in seeing the colonial gaze reversed. There’s also a film where the descendants of Nanook of the North (obviously not his real name) laugh at the many inaccuracies of that early documentary.
We have done our best to faithfully render the period and the people. This is a comic and we are working for free so in some places, we have gotten the details wrong. This comic is not a substitute to listening to the stories of the Inuit themselves, or visiting Nunavut to learn from them in person (assuming they’ll have you, which you shouldn’t take for granted). We both had mixed feelings about telling such a sensitive story – both because we are white, and because it is difficult to depict it in all its painful complexity.
Ultimately, the reasons we did it are close to the reasons for our concern. This story badly needs amplifying. It is part of the larger story of the genocide of indigenous peoples carried out by the Canadian state, but it is not so well known as the violence of the residential schools system. We hope this comic can be a starting point to help settlers find more substantial lines of inquiry and in doing so, reach a broader audience than the Qikiqtani Truth Commission has yet done.
Which brings a final disclaimer: Ad Astra Comix is not affiliated with the QTC and this work has been undertaken without their permission. Peter Irniq was contacted to give his consent for the quote we have used, but has not seen the comic as of its release. This is a labour of love and hope, and we only wish it calls attention to this period in Inuit history so that settlers can understand that people live up there, god damn it, not just inukshuks to appropriate when we need a symbol for some imaginary shared nationhood.
‘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!
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.
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.”
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”. Continue reading Indigenous Comix: Taking a Critical Look at Vertigo’s Adult Series “Scalped”→
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.