This Place: 150 Years Retold

Explore the last 150 years through the eyes of Indigenous creators in the graphic novel anthology, This Place: 150 Years Retold. Beautifully illustrated, these stories are an emotional and enlightening journey through magic realism, serial killings, psychic battles, and time travel. See how Indigenous peoples have survived a post-apocalyptic world since Contact.

(Publisher Description)

This Place: 150 Years Retold
By Alicia Elliott Various Authors
Art By Natasha Donovan
ISBN: 9781553797586
Highwater Press, 2015
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)

Our Review

This Place: 150 Years Retold

A Girl Called Echo: Pemmican Wars

This review is on the first three of four volumes of a visually poignant and enthralling graphic novel series about the Métis people of western Canada. The fourth and final volume, The Road Allowance Era, is forthcoming in April 2021. Contrasting the critical Canadian historical events with contemporary Echo’s current story, the series reveals how past governmental policies have shaped the current day experiences of a people.

Echo Desjardins, a thirteen-year-old Métis girl discovers that she has the magical ability to time travel back and forth to witness important events in Canadian Métis history. For readers outside of Canada, the Métis  have a distinct collective identity, with customs and culture, that are unique from Indigenous or European roots. Their roles in Western Canadian history have been contentious and distinctive, and often persists to be misconstrued and ignored today.  Echo’s magic allows her, and the reader, to more fully understand critical events of 19th century Canadian history and their repercussions through the individual entries in the series:  The Pemmican Wars, the Red River Resistance, and the Northwest Resistance.

Echo, an extremely quiet and reserved teen, is in a new foster home, missing her mother, and attending a new school when she first slips through time, and back, while attending her social studies class. These vivid and active time slips offer insight and augment her knowledge about her own family background, heritage, and history.  Present day Echo is mostly silent as is a large portion of the graphic novel series, superbly written by Katherena Vermette, an award-winning Métis poet and writer and effectively and brilliantly illustrated by Scott B. Henderson and coloured by Donovan Yaciuk. Their combined understanding of the issues, landscape, and people of the area bring an added vitality and realism to the series. Much of the story arc is delivered by narration boxes augmented by brief dialogue amongst characters mostly in the historical sections of the story. Poignant images throughout the series are those of “Mom’s play list” that Echo constantly listens to when not attending classes. The importance of the music and the connection with her mother are echoed (pardon the pun) in all the cover illustrations where her earbuds are resolutely visible as part of her personality.

In the first volume, Echo, a troubled and lonely teen, finds herself, without warning, transported out of her Winnipeg, Manitoba social studies classroom into a buffalo hunt in 1814 in the Qu’Appelle Valley, Saskatchewan during The Pemmican Wars. [1] During the following few weeks, Echo finds herself transported back and forth in time to visit the old fur-trade routes and a Métis camp where she is befriended by a young girl. Oddly enough, the fact that Echo remains in her contemporary clothing does not seem to evoke notice or comment by anyone in the historical segments. The volume concludes with Echo sharing her new found knowledge with her mother as she visits with her in her group home.  I was enchanted by the school library sequences in this volume and the selection of books that Echo selects to read.

Echo’s story is continued in volume 2 when she travels between her contemporary life and a Métis community in 1869 during the Red River Resistance.[2]  Her contemporary life seems to be settling down as Echo adjusts to the school, the foster home, the visits with her mother, and the continual discovery of her Métis heritage and history. A delightful humourous aside occurs in a illustration of the bake sale sign up sheet where Echo signs her name below that of Katherena Vermette (page 14). Echo shares her time slip adventures with Benjamin, a young Métis man she meets when first transported into this historical era. The volume concludes with Echo in tears as she witnesses her new friends being forced to leave their land.

The third volume begins with Echo’s mother coming to stay with her in the foster home. Echo’s historical travels take her to 1885, to the Northwest Resistance.[3] Riel has returned from exile to resist encroaching forces to ensure his people’s rights. Amongst the chaos Echo meets Josephine, Benjamin’s daughter. She also discovers, in conversations with her mother, a treasury of family photographs and her family tree. Benjamin is her grandmother’s great grandfather who lived to be 102, living through both resistances. The series will conclude with Volume 4, The Road Allowance Era.

Through the insight of major past events, Echo develops her own strength and sense of belonging. She is no longer the lost and lonely individual that related more to the playlist on her iPhone than the people around her. I eagerly await to see how it all comes together by the end of volume 4. I have included footnotes for readers who may not be aware of the struggles of the Métis people and much of their history is largely unknown.

The vibrant colour palate, the realistic illustrations, and the creative panel layout add to the vivacity of the history and the tales being told. Effective depiction of body language and facial features plus the historical accuracy of the writing and art make this series a highly recommended purchase for middle school, high school, public library, and academic library collections. Each volume includes a brief time line of the historical era explored in that volume plus additional material such as a recipe for pemmican, brief introductions to admirable historical characters, and maps.

[1] The Pemmican War was a series of armed confrontations during the North American fur trade between the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) and the North West Company (NWC) in the years following the establishment of the Red River Colony in 1812. It ended in 1821 when the NWC merged with the HBC. Unlike the Hudson’s Bay Company, which imported most of its provisions from England, the NWC relied heavily upon locally procured pemmican, the majority of which was purchased from the local Métis. Pemmican was made of dried buffalo meat pounded into a powder and mixed with melted buffalo fat.

[2] The Red River Rebellion (or the Red River Resistance, Red River uprising, or First Riel Rebellion) was the sequence of events that led up to the 1869 establishment of a provisional government by the Métis leader Louis Riel at the Red River Colony, in what is now Manitoba.

[3] The North-West Rebellion of 1885 was a rebellion by the Métis led by Louis Riel against the Canadian government. Many Métis felt that Canada was not protecting their rights, their land, and their survival as a distinct people. During the rebellion, Riel was captured, put on trial, and convicted of treason. Despite many pleas across Canada for clemency, he was hanged. Riel became a heroic martyr to the Métis and Francophone Canada.

A Girl Called Echo: Pemmican Wars
By Katherena Vermette
Art by Scott B. Henderson and Donovan Yaciuk


Highwater Press, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: Teen
Series ISBNS and Order

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Middle Grade (7-11), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Character Traits: First Nations or Indigenous
Creator Highlights: Metis
Related to…: Book to Comic

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

A Blanket of Butterflies

The first panel in A Blanket of Butterflies is set outside of The Northern Life Museum and Cultural Centre, an actual building located in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, Canada. The museum houses a collection, considered one of the best of northern native and early white settlement material in Canada, containing over 17,000 artifacts of traditional work of the Inuit, Inuvialuit, Dene, and Metis, as well as mission, trade, pioneer, and portage items. And, one mysterious Samurai suit of armor which was revealed in 1994 and had very little provenance: “Bought by Mr. Louis Bisson in China during the war and brought back to Canada upon his return.” The handwritten entry had been amended by scratching out the word China and replacing it with Japan. The story of the mystery circulated orally and soon caught the attention of the CBC with the result that a few more facts came to light. It was identified by experts as is a composite set, an amalgamation of pieces from different sets from the mid-Edo period, or the 18th or 19th century, with the diamond-shaped flower crest on the center of the chest piece identified as that of the Yonekura family, a branch of the Takeda Clan.

The museum is still compiling information about the suit and wants to learn more. At the same time, well-known author Richard Van Camp, originally from Fort Smith, heard about the armor from a friend and former security guard at the museum. “The whole question of how did a suit of armor end up in Fort Smith, NWT,” Van Camp said in an article for the CBC. “That mystery, that’s what drew me in and I had this image of a little boy going every day to see the Samurai suit of armour.”

In his story, Van Camp introduces his young character, Sonny, who is fascinated by the armor in the museum display. Sonny is there when Shinobu, a Japanese man, comes to claim the armor for his family. Upon discovering that the former curator had gambled away the sword to a local gang leader, Shinobu and Sonny go to retrieve it. A brutal fight scene resulting in a wounded Shinobu being cared for by Sonny’s grandmother, a midwife, a death comforter, and, even more importantly, a treasured storyteller. It is the power of stories that brings resolution for all of the main characters in the book. Although the beginning of the story is shadowed by violence, the main theme of the book is peacemaking through stories. It is also a tale of the injustice of appropriating objects significant to another culture, the importance of honoring one’s traditions, and the impact of global events on remote communities.

Illustrator Scott B. Henderson was specifically chosen by Van Camp to illustrate this semi-wordless story and his illustrative style was in the forefront of Van Camp’s writing of the book. The black-and-white illustrations are powerful, offering a commanding sense of the people, geography, and issues at stake in this fast-moving tale. Faces are especially expressive and the variety of panel composition add to the understanding of the context and content of a story about storytelling that is told with very little dialogue.

A Blanket of Butterflies is a great addition to a high school library’s graphic novel collection, a good choice as a supplemental novel for high school English classes, and certainly a must for any Indigenous studies class. While intended for readers in grades 9-12, the story will resonate with a variety of readers of all ages. The gang violence, however, although tempered by the power of story, may be too vehement for younger readers.

A Blanket of Butterflies
by Richard Van Camp
Art by Scott B. Henderson
ISBN: 9781553795483
HIghwater Press, 2015
Publisher Age Rating: 15