"There is a better way to get along."
That's the message Haida artist Michael Yahgulanaas hopes to spread with his latest Haida-manga mash-up The War of the Blink, which is based on historical accounts of a narrowly avoided war on the West Coast before European contact.
It's the third book in a series of Haida manga by the artist who said the story is relevant now given the broader conversation around race and increasing global tensions.
Part of his goal is to debunk the myth that Indigenous people were constantly at war before colonization, he said.
"When you actually look at the history of the place you find that there was a lot of complex relationships and problem solving. This is one where war was averted."
As a permanent symbol of historical cooperation, he points to what we now know as The Lions, two symmetrical peaks that tower over Vancouver's North Shore mountains.
Yahgulanaas said the peaks stand as a sacred symbol for Indigenous people who call the landmark the Two Sisters.
"It's a peace treaty between Squamish and Capilano people and Tselielwatuth people and Haida. It's the marker, a monument to peace," said Yahgulanaas.
Now, 131 years after Indigenous people saved settlers from the 1886 Vancouver fire, he sees the move by Vancouver City Council to recognize the contribution of Indigenous communities as a signal of improving relationships.
"They fed them. They clothed them. They treated them like neighbours. It took 131 years for this city to say thank you, so, to me, that's a sign," he said.
"I'm pretty hopeful. This country, the nation state is 150 years old, and it seems like for the first time in those 150 years, maybe we're at a point where we can actually make it better. We can just start growing up."
Meanwhile, Yahgulanaas' earlier book, The Flight of the Hummingbird is being adapted into an opera that is slated to tour 60 British Columbia schools and be performed in front of 10,000 students in New York City.
It will also be performed at the Vancouver Opera and Pacific Opera.
It was written as a parable for the fragility of the environment and our responsibility to care for it.