Books

This graphic novel tells 150 years of Canadian history from an Indigenous perspective

Contributor David A. Robertson discusses This Place: 150 Years Retold, which is a finalist for the Doug Wright Award for best Canadian comic book.
"Some stories were told but not through an Indigenous lens, so this an opportunity for us to share and tell our stories," This Place: 150 Years Retold contributor Brandon Mitchell said. (Logan Perley/CBC)

This Place is a graphic novel anthology that examines the 150-plus years of Canadian history since Confederation from the perspective of Indigenous Canadians. The book features work by Indigenous authors from across the country, including David. A Robertson.

Robertson is a member of Norway House Cree Nation and the author of novels, graphic novels and children's books. His picture book When We Were Alone won the Governor General's Literary Award for Young People's Literature — illustrated books and was shortlisted for the 2017 TD Children's Literature Award

His story, Peggy, is about the life of Francis Pegahmagabow, a highly-decorated First World War soldier from Wasauksing First Nation — from his military achievements to his struggles with PTSD and racism after returning home. 

This Place is a finalist for the 2020 Doug Wright Award for best book. The annual Doug Wright Awards for Canadian Cartooning honour the best in Canadian comics and graphic novels. 

When This Place came out in 2019, Robertson spoke to CBC Radio's In Town and Out host Giacomo Panico about the book.

Important stories

"This project came about when I was sitting down with the publisher. We were talking about Canada 150 and how we can have our own voices heard. That was the seed that started this project. It's a collection of 10 stories by talented Indigenous writers. Katherena Vermette has a story about Annie Bannatyne. Jen Storm has a story about the windigo called Red Clouds. One of my favourites in this anthology is by Kateri Akiwenze-Damm, who has a story called Nimkii and it addresses the Sixties Scoop and the child welfare system. It's a heartbreaking story, but also a really important and powerful one."

A page from the comics anthology This Place: 150 Years Retold. (Portage & Main Press)

Hero's journey

"We each got a timeframe to pick from as writers. I was interested in writing about the era around the First World War. The story, Peggy, is about Francis Pegahmagabow First Nation and it details his time in the war and the things he accomplished. He was one of the most effective snipers in history and one of the most decorated Canadian soldiers in history. 

"After the war, he also had barriers and struggles — going through PTSD and also the mistreatment as a veteran by the Canadian government because he was Indigenous. The story tries to encapsulate all of those things about his life."

The power of comics

"Using comics to tell history stories is very powerful because there is a great value in being able to show history rather than just talk about it. If I can show Peggy on the battlefield and him doing what he did best as a soldier and also what he did as a chief in the community, that has a great power of engagement. That's what we want to do with stories — we want to engage and through that, motivate to change. 

"Comics have this ability to reach a wide readership. You can have a comic that a five-year-old can read and a 95-year-old can read and everybody in-between. If you want to reach people with stories and change things through those stories, you can reach anybody with comics."

A page from This Place: 150 Year Retold anthology. (Portage & Main Press)

Looking to the future

"We talk about this within the context of reconciliation. I learned a lot from my father, who's an elder from Norway House Cree Nation. He talks about the process of reconciliation, where we sit down with each other and connect on a human level. We see through stereotyping all these preconceptions that we've been fed and we learn from each other, we listen to each other, we share stories with each other and we heal together. 

"I think this is a landmark book — this is a culmination of where we've been headed in the past 10 years for Indigenous literature. I hope that this book plays a role in that process. And I think that it will."

David A. Robertson's comments have been edited for length and clarity.


 

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