This Place: 150 Years Retold

“As I was reading, I thought about the idea of an apocalypse, or the end of the world as we know it. Indigenous writers have pointed out that, as Indigenous people, we all live in a post-apocalyptic world. The world as we knew it ended the moment colonialism started to creep across these lands.” —Alicia Elliot

This Place: 150 Years Retold is a remarkable graphic compilation featuring eleven Indigenous writers and eight illustrators presenting Canadian history over the last 150 years from a myriad of perspectives, including Métis, Inuit, Dene, Cree, Anishinaabe, and Mi’kmaq, with a forward by author Alicia Elliott (Haudenosaunee). Several non-fiction stories are centered on historical incidents and people that, which, while not well-known outside of the families or tribes, have been passed down through generations and deserve to be more widely recognized. Others are fictitious accounts of great relevance to Indigenous society. Each of the stories are headed by timelines to place them in historical context, have an introduction by the creators, and follows a straightforward time continuum ending with the hard-hitting, bleak, and futuristic tale exploring the contemporary dangers of climate change, racism, and injustice. In “kitaskînaw 2350,” by Chelsea Vowel and Tara Audibert, their protagonist Wâpanacâhkos, a fifteen-year old Cree woman, is sent back three centuries to learn what happened to the people in our contemporary era.

The anthology opens with “Annie of Red River” by Katherena Vermette and Scott B. Henderson. Annie Bannatyne, a Métis woman from Red River (which is now Winnipeg, MB) in 1868, undertakes a dramatic and painful lesson for a journalist who insulted Métis women in the newspapers. Bold colors accentuate the strong facial and non-verbal gestures that illuminate the story of this proud and effective crusader. “Tilted Ground” by Sonny Assu, Kyle Charles and Scott A. Ford illuminates a time when the celebrations, language, and other elements of the Indigenous culture was deemed illegal by the federal government. When William “Billy” Assu became chief of the village of Wiw?qaýi he worked alongside and cooperated with the oppressors but, at the same time, secretly hosted the banned ceremonies for the community. His story and regalia are held at the Museum of Man in Ottawa. Illustrated in bright prime colors, the story vividly celebrates the wisdom, passion and fortitude of Billy. Jen Storm’s “Red Clouds,” is an account of the windigo, told through a woman’s perspective, a victim of the windigo, based on historical and oral records of the shaman Jack Fiddler and Wahsakapeequay herself. “There are stories that tell of red clouds appearing over an approaching windigo, as a warning or omen” (54). Natasha Donovan’s earthy visuals flow through the telling of the story of the evil windigo and the encroaching changes made upon the First Nations of Northern Ontario by the federal laws enforced by the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police). Donovan efficaciously illustrates the next entry as well. “Peggy,” written by David A. Robertson, is the story of a sniper in WWI. Francis “Peggy” Pegahmagabow was one of only thirty-eight Canadians to receive a military medal with two bars. His heroism at the front was not originally appreciated once he returned to Canada but with perseverance, he became a well-respected chief in 1921 and continued the ongoing battle against racism and discrimination. Natasha Donovan is also responsible for the striking and highly relevant cover of the anthology.

“Rosie,” by Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley, introduces the reader to the feud between the Inuit and the Canadian government’s tyrannical measures in the early twentieth century. It is also an introduction to a broader understanding of Inuit shamanism. The cool tones of the blues and greens are effectively punctuated by splashes of vivid reds. “Nimkii,” by Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, Ryan Howe, and Jen Storm, explores the ongoing devastation evoked by the Sixties Scoop of the late 1950s and 1960s. “As residential schools close, thousands of Indigenous children are removed from their families and placed in non-Indigenous foster or adoption homes. Many children are placed outside of Canada” (138). This tale, told through dark and bold illustrations peppered with softer child-like drawings, celebrates the strong bonds between Nimkii, a mother, and her son. Richard Van Camp and Scott B. Henderson’s “Like a Razor Slash” moves the timeline into the 1970s and the environmental battles between Dene Chief Frank T’Seleie and the Canadian government eventually defeating the government plan to build a pipeline from the Beaufort Sea to Alberta. The evocative illustrations and color scheme reflect our contemporary situation in Alberta. Richard Van Camp quotes David J. Parker’s “Submission to the Joint Review Panel investigating the proposed McKenzie Valley Pipeline” in the preface to the story to put his title in context. “Some dismissed the impact of a pipeline, saying it would be like a thread stretched across a football field. Those close to the land said the impact would be more like a razor slash across the Mona Lisa” (168). Brandon Mitchell’s and Tara Audibert’s “Migwite’tmeg: We Remember It” relates another example of governmental interference and sanctions on First Nations in the story of the 1980s salmon raids in Mi’gmaq territory. Bold neon-like colors and stark backgrounds highlight the community and the conflict effectively and with precision. In “Warrior Nation” by Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair and Andrew Lodwick, Raven, a residential school survivor, and her son Washashk travel across the country to join the stand off against the RCMP in the Quebec community of Kanehsatà:ke. The Oka conflict is possibly one of the most familiar of the clashes for sovereignty and Indigenous rights within Canada and beyond our borders and this story furthers the understanding of the components and people involved in the conflicts.

This is truly a compelling collection of stories revealing the power of storytelling both visually and textually in offering a window to understanding Indigenous history in the last 150 years as told by Indigenous people. For those who wish to investigate further, there are several pages of end notes to the well-researched stories as well as several pages of recommended readings in the “Select Bibliography”. Highly recommended for those interested in Canadian history, Indigenous rights and enduring racial tensions on both sides of the border. Highly recommended for North American high schools, public, and academic libraries.

This Place: 150 Years Retold
By Alicia Elliott
Art by Natasha Donovan
ISBN: 9781553797586
Highwater Press, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: 15+

Browse for more like this title
Character Traits: Métis, Inuit, Dene, Cree, Anishinaabe, Mi’kmaq
Creator Highlights: Own Voices, Haudenosaunee Creator, Métis Creator

Native American Classics


The 18 entries in this anthology were originally written by Native American authors in the early 19th and 20th centuries, and they are adapted here by contemporary authors and illustrators with various tribal affiliations. The poems, stories, and folklore retellings vary in length from a single page to 16+ pages. There is also great variation in colour scheme, tone, artistic style, and the effectiveness of the adaptations. However, this anthology does serve to establish the legacy of early Native American authors, as many will be previously unknown to readers. The collection also crosses “invisible” borders by including authors from Canada and the United States.

Each piece of writing is placed in context in the “About” section at the end of the book; background information about the original authors, their tribal affiliations, and their work is presented along with similar profiles of contemporary retellers. Though I was glad to have this information available to me, I would have appreciated a different format that included the background material alongside the stories and poems so there would not be a constant need to flip pages.

The book is dedicated to one of its featured artists, Robby McMurtry (Comanche), who was killed shortly after finishing his illustrations for the story “On Wolf Mountain.” Joseph Bruchac’s (Abenaki) adaptation of Charles Alexander Eastman’s (Sioux) classic tale is told from the point of view of a wolf, framed by the inclusion of a human storyteller in homage to Eastman’s role in founding the Boy Scouts of America. McMurtry’s illustrations are one of the highlights of the anthology; they seem to bound off the white, snow-filled backgrounds to bring the story to life and spotlight the relationships between wildlife, the people of the land, and the settlers who try to tame it. The reappearing tiny vignette of the storyteller’s face—deliberately resembling Eastman’s—is interwoven throughout the pages, layering over the panels and reminding the reader that the story is being told orally as well as visually.

The texts of classic poems have not been adapted for contemporary readers, and for the most part, they are effectively presented in the comic book format. One of my favourite poems is “The Cattle Thief,” by the renowned Canadian poet E. Pauline Johnson/Tekahionwake (Mohawk). Here, it is vividly and realistically imagined in warm shades of browns and blacks by Weshoyot Alvitre (Tongva) and highlights the courage of a young Cree woman as she protects the body of her fallen father. Alvitre’s use of facial expressions and body language is particularly evocative and mesmerizing.

Cartoon-like illustrations are also included in this collection. I particularly appreciated the light tones, bright colours, and joyful caricatures of Pat N. Lewis’ illustrations for the trickster tale “The Story of Itsikamahidish and the Wild Potato” by Buffalo Bird Woman (Hidatsa) as told to anthropologist Gilbert L. Wilson, adapted by editor Tom Pomplun—it was a gas.

The final offering is a contemporary tale by Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki), adapted by Richard Van Camp (Dogrib Dene) and illustrated by John Findley. “Two Wolves” tells the story of an Abenaki teen who fought in the Civil War and has returned home, only to find he is expected to kill a wolf that is stealing sheep in the area. The story’s protagonists, both man and wolf, have been traumatized by their experiences. Their friendship, established through mutual respect, allows both of them to move forward emotionally and physically. Meticulously and realistically depicted in blues, greens, and golds, Findley’s artwork successfully draws the reader into the campsite, one-sided verbal dialogue, and non-verbal acceptance. There is promise here, and so much hope, thereas a grand means of concluding this collection.

Not all of the pieces are as satisfying to me as the ones I have highlighted here, but much of that has to do with my personal preferences regarding illustrative styles and editorial selections. Overall, I would recommend this anthology for all public and school library collections.

Native American Classics
by Tom Pomplun, Joseph Bruchac, John E. Smelcer, et al.
Art by various
ISBN: 9780982563069
Eureka Productions, 2013
Publisher Age Rating: 12+