by Kirsti Granholm
“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 (HighWater Press, 2019) is an eye-opening collection of Indigenous accounts based in Canada. This book encapsulates 10 narratives, told by a roster of exceptionally talented authors, illustrators, colourists and artists. Many of these stories have been lost, buried under colonial rule and oppression — but they come back to life through the words and illustrations in this book.
Some of these stories are based on historical events and people, passed down through generations. The non-fiction titles include “Tilted Ground,” the story of Billy Assu; “Annie of Red River,” the tale of a Métis feminist hero; “Like a Razor Slash,” a reminder of the importance of standing up for our beliefs; and “Peggy,” the story of one of the sharpest soldiers to walk on Canadian soil.
White or European history has always taken precedence over other cultures and backgrounds in the Canadian history books. In a progressive Canadian society, we need to understand the stories of the realities of the past. We all must do our part by sharing our knowledge about the struggles and triumphs faced by Indigenous communities in the last 150 years. It is the least we can do.
Thank you to the authors and illustrators for sharing their stories and their craft. What a refresher it is to see authentic Indigenous stories made for a YA audience in Canada. Here is a peak into the stories featured in This Place: 150 Years Retold:
“Annie of the Red River” by Katherena Vermette and Scott B. Henderson
“Annie of the Red River” is the captivating story of Annie Bannatyne, a Métis woman from Red River (which is now Winnipeg, MB). Annie represents strength; despite the discrimination she faces, she stands up for other women and vocalizes her opinion on the lies being spread about her community.
“Tilted Ground” by Sonny Assu, Kyle Charles and Scott A. Ford
“Tilted Ground” is the non-fiction story of a time when every aspect of Indigenous culture was illegal; from the celebrations, to the language, to the traditional dances they performed. During these dark times, a man named William “Billy” Assu became chief of the village of Wiwēqaýi. He provided relief for the people of his village as the government became increasingly oppressive. Billy was strategic, he worked alongside the white men and cooperated, while secretly hosting ceremonies. He was praised and loved by many because of his courage and determination to bring freedom to his community.
“Red Clouds” by Jen Storm and Natasha Donovan
“Red Clouds” is an account of the windigo, an evil spirit that taunted the people of the north. This story is told through the perspective of Jack Fiddler, a recognized medicine man and a woman named Wahsakapeequay, a victim of the windigo, in northwestern Ontario.
“Peggy” by David A. Robertson and Natasha Donovan
This is the story of Francis “Peggy” Pegahmagabow, a courageous sniper from WWI. Peggy was recognized for his time at battle and is one of only 38 Canadians to ever receive a military medal with two bars. Despite his bravery at war, his life afterwards was filled with struggle and anguish. He challenged the oppression laid upon himself and his community and eventually became chief in 1921. Peggy dedicated himself to his community and continued to fight for equality and the betterment of his people.
“Rosie” by Rachel Qitsualik-Tinsley, Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley and GMB Chomichuk
“Rosie” is an introduction to the feud between the Inuit community of the north and the government’s oppressive sanctions in the early 20th century. At the time, the government was attempting to control the Inuit population through forced finger printing and “identity disks”. Along with the oppressive themes, this story also highlights shamanism, which Qitsualik-Tinsley describes as “Not the Inuit religion, but a system. An understanding.” This story is an informative look into the discrimination faced by the Inuit’s for the north.
“Nimkii” by Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, Ryan Howe, Jen Storm and Donovan Yaciuk
“Nimkii” represents the discrimination towards Indigenous children within the adoption/foster system. The story is told through the perspective of a woman named Nimkii, who had her own experience with the child “care” system. She explains to her son the heartbreak she faced while living in a foster home, and the pain she felt when she lost a very dear friend. This story is an emotional reminder of the presence of Indigenous children in foster care still to this day.
“Like a Razor Slash” by Richard Van Camp, Scott B. Henderson and Scott A. Ford
Chief Frank T’Seleie is a prominent figure in the fight for environmental conservation in Canada. In the 1970s, the government proposed a plan to build a pipeline from the Beaufort Sea through to Alberta. Chief T’Seleie openly opposed the plan to Justice Thomas Berger, insisting they were on Dene land and the decision should be made by the people who have resided there. Chief T’Seleie was successful with his attempt; the speech he wrote to address the government was impactful and still to this day it serves as an indication of the importance of the environment and respecting the land.
“Migwite’tmeg: We Remember It” by Brandon Mitchell, Tara Audibert and Donovan Yaciuk
“Migwite’tmeg: We Remember It” is the story of the salmon raids that took place in Mi’gmaq in the 1980s. As the government begins to send resources to fish on Mi’gmaq territory, the community steps up to put a stop to their antics. This story represents one of many accounts where the government attempted to pose sanctions on an Indigenous community.
“Warrior Nation” by Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair and Andrew Lodwick
Raven and her son, Washashk, drive across the country to help the community of Kanehsatà:ke, QC in a stand off against the RCMP. Raven was in a residential school as a child and as a grown woman, she is passionate about advocating for Indigenous affairs. Raven and Washashk’s trip displays the learning experience of one young man who is on a journey of discovering his past and the past of other Indigenous communities across Canada.
“kitaskînaw 2350” by Chelsea Vowel, Tara Audibert and Donovan Yaciuk
It is 2350, and Wâpanacâhkos is being sent back in time to understand the “colonized mind”. On her journey, she experiences many events that affected Indigenous communities in the 21st century. From the Dakota Access Pipeline protests to Standing Rock, Wâpanacâhkos experiences Indigenous livelihood at a time that was much more oppressive than it is in the future. This story offers healing, understanding and hope for the years to come.
The narratives shared in this book, fiction or non-fiction, represent the pain, struggle and injustice faced by thousands of Indigenous people in the last 150 years in Canada. Understanding Indigenous history is understanding Canadian history. Therefore, I would highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone. The stories are captivating, the artwork is marvelous, and the knowledge you take away from experiencing these stories is priceless. Thank you again to the authors and artists for enlightening your audience with your stories and visuals.