Graphic nonfiction, This Place: 150 Years Retold, reveals key milestones in Indigenous history in Canada

Let’s get on a time machine and travel through the past 150 years in the Indigenous community to gain some eye-opening experiences from this anthology.

In the forward to This Place: 150 Years Retold — a collection of graphic-novel-style essays and short stories — editor Alicia Elliot writes, “Stories are unwritten for a time, it doesn’t mean they’ll be unwritten forever. It doesn’t mean they’re ever lost in society or Canadian history. We carry them in our minds, our hearts, our very bones. We honor them by passing them on, letting them live on in others, too.”

The graphic anthology won the McNally Robinson Book of the Year 2020 and the Mary Scorer Award for Best Book by a Manitoba Publisher in 2020. This anthology features 10 narratives, told by 11 talented Indigenous writers, illustrators, colourists and artists, exploring Canadian history from a different point over the last 150 years. The stories offer a wide range from historical fiction to fantasy to mini-biographies to sci-fi. Each story has a brief background explanation before it by the author, along with a timeline listing important events within the 150-year time frame. This allows readers to understand the whole story even with little knowledge of Canadian history. 

The whole book is a collection of captivating, exciting stories with marvelous artwork. One item features the story of Annie Bannatyne, a Métis businesswoman from Red River who, in 1868, showed her strength and reacted to a newspaper article disparaging Métis women. She stood up for them and spoke out against the lies that were being spread about her community. Another item tells the legendary story of Billy Assu, who was the chief of the village of Wiwēqaýi. He worked alongside the white men and secretly hosted ceremonies. His encouragement brought freedom to his community during a time when every Indigenous culture was criminalized by the government. 

A few stories stood out in particular such as “Like a Razor Slash” by Richard Van Camp which depicts Chief Frank T’Seleie speaking out against the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline. His impactful speech protected his community, stopping destruction and pollution on their land. It made him a significant figure in the fight for environmental conservation in Canada. 

Another feature the life of legendary World War I sniper and later Chief Francis “Peggy” Pegahmagabow who challenged the oppression and fought for equality and improvement for his community and people. He is one of only 38 Canadians to ever receive a military medal with two bars. Despite being awarded multiple times, he struggled with the oppression laid upon himself and his community when he returned home. It shows contrast that he fought for simple basic rights for his community in the country he went to war to protect. 

                                                  From “Peggy”

“Nimkii,” tells of a woman’s personal experience in the foster care system. The story was tragic, she lost her younger brother – the Indigenous kid that was sent to the same foster home. He was beaten by the owner and ended up dying due to the abuse. The story illustrates what is known as “the 60s scoop” which separated many children from their families. 

“Red clouds,” focused on mental health. It highlighted the contrasts between law enforcement in Indigenous communities and western cultures in dealing with Windigo, the evil spirit that taunted the Indigenous people of northwestern Ontario, charged as a serial killer.

                                              From “Red clouds”

In “kitaskînaw 2350”, Wâpanacâhkos was being sent back in time to understand the “colonized mind.” From the Dakota Access Pipeline protests to Standing Rock, she understood and felt the oppression towards them is less in 2350. This story offers healing, understanding and hope for the Indigenous people in the future. 

                                        From “kitaskînaw 2350”

Many of these stories are unique as they have been lost and buried under oppression from the government and colonial rule. Nevertheless, this book provided an opportunity to summarize them and bring them back to life through the words and illustrations in the book. Readers can see through the past and hear the voices from their angle. While each story is powerfully conveyed and ground-breaking, to let readers reflect profoundly on the Indigenous history of Canada.

In her foreword, Elliot writes, “Every Indigenous person’s story is, in a way, a tale of overcoming apocalypse. We have survived the apocalypse. When you think about it that way, every Indigenous person is a hero simply for existing. The people named in these stories are all heroes, inspired by love of their people and culture to do amazing, brave things — but so are the unnamed people who raised them, who taught them, who supported them, and who stood with them.”

“Our communities are full of heroes.”

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