Category Archives: Indigenous Issues

Political Comix Review: The Outside Circle

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.

outside circle


 

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-outside-circle-anansi-pressThe 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.

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Colonialism Bytes: A Review of “Idle No More: Blockade”

Here at Ad Astra, our focus is on comics. Hey, it’s in the name. But we are into political comics because we think they’re a great way to connect people with issues they might not otherwise have the time or the energy to learn about. We often have joking conversations around the office about what a social justice video game might look like. If we had the talent and resources to create one, we definitely would!

Without any formal training as a game designer, Chelsea Vowel has leveraged a simple set of game-­making tools to create a promising effort at social justice video games!

pipelines are the new buffaloIt is simplistic, lacking in skill progression, ridden with bugs and built using software that produces Super Nintendo era graphics. As a video game, the “Idle No More: Blockade” leaves much to be desired. But that’s not really the point, is it? “Idle No More” takes you on a journey to learn about indigenous culture, challenge racist European myths and fight to defend traditional land rights! Your aim as the player is to prevent the construction of the Enkoch Pipeline over your sun dance field by rallying land defenders to confront the company on site. In a medium where overt social justice objectives are rarer than uncooked sirloin, this is a welcome prelude to possibility.

be careful settlersFraming the battles as confrontations with racist settlers was an inspired stroke. The player is confronted by white people complaining about “free houses”, “drunk Indians” and “blocking economic development.” The last boss is an RCMP officer who asserts the death of indigenous nationhood and insists the treaties extinguished their titles. All the enemies are represented as monsters from traditional Cree stories, helping to connect cultural memory to contemporary struggle. But the able player responds with statistics, history lessons and a good measure of sass. If you don’t have to fight the hipster girl asking about wearing a headdress to a Coachella festival, you kind of wish you could.

racist ice demon

This is the value of “Idle No More” as a game. By making you an indigenous protagonist struggling to defend your land rights, the game encourages players to identify with the struggles of indigenous people. The first time I died in “combat” while educating an ignorant settler, I paused and reflected on how exhausting such confrontations must be. Seeking allies and finding ignorance, appropriation and patronizing cluelessness, I grew increasing frustrated. I was particularly annoyed by a “book of aboriginal law”, left with the elders by Enkoch representatives. You can take the book, but [SPOILER ALERT] using it on enemies only heals them! Which makes perfect sense when you think about it.

racist shit demonOne of the most striking features of “Idle No More” is its emotional range. “I laughed, I cried” is the old cliché. In twenty minutes, the game had me doing both. I was all crystal tears, I don’t mind saying, at the prospect of a pipeline going through the sun dance field. And damned if I didn’t crack up when the character looked at a book shelf and exclaimed “Tom Flanagan? Yuck.” There is a whole vocabulary of non­-verbal expressions associated with the oppressed: the raised eyebrow, the ‘side-­eye’, the rolling eyes or the apathetic shrug. In between moments that are genuinely funny and those that are painfully sad, there is at once a piercing earnestness and a wry humour.

amaaaazing headdress“Idle No More” is not much of a video game, but it’s a hell of a story. It seeks to demonstrate the diversity and complexity of indigenous communities, their contributions to humanity and their determination in the face of an ongoing campaign of genocide. In a game peppered with indigenous language, culture and politics, the player grows to identify with a people whose very humanity has been eroded by the narrative of our civilization. In other words, it might just help people shed some prejudice. So why not make video games that teach radical and oppressed history and culture more interesting than Big Macs and MTV? We look forward to seeing this budding art form grow.

colonial acknowledgementsYou can download the Idle No More video game and play it for yourself HERE.