Alternative Canada 150 project redraws history to spotlight untold stories
Born from opposition to Canada 150, Remember Resist Redraw posters are being used in schools across Canada
For every month in 2017, as Canadians celebrated the country's sesquicentennial, artists and writers with the Graphic History Collective marked the occasion with comic posters that highlight little-known stories from Canada's past.
"Instead of birthday cake and fireworks, we thought that our project during Canada 150 could serve almost as alternative Heritage Minutes, in poster form," said collective member and Calgary professor Sean Carleton.
As part of the project, titled Remember Resist Redraw, the group released a dozen posters to illustrate a variety of stories often left out of traditional history textbooks.
"We often learn the great political leaders or the large-scale military events, and many stories are marginalized and left out of that narrative," said Julia Smith, another member of the Graphic History Collective.
"We really wanted to look for a way to tell those kind of marginalized stories — stories of oppression, stories of inequality, racism, colonialism."
Adopted in schools
The illustrations tackle, among other things, prime minister John A. Macdonald's connection to residential schools, slavery in Canada and the Idle No More movement. Each poster is accompanied by an essay and available for free download online.
The posters have been used by teachers and professors across the country. In the Toronto District Catholic School Board, for instance, one of the posters — about Filipino caregivers in Canada — has been adopted as part of a new Filipino-focused curriculum launching this month.
Melissa Largo, a teacher at Mary Ward Catholic School in Scarborough, Ont., helped develop the curriculum in reaction to the growing number of students of Filipino heritage in the school board. The idea is to encourage students to see themselves in history, she said.
"It gives them a sense that 'my life is important, that my life is worth learning about, that my story contributes to Canadian society and Canadian history.'"
The poster Largo is featuring was created by artist Althea Balmes and writer Jo SiMalaya Alcampo and focuses on the role of Filipino migrants as caregivers in Canada — and their mistreatment.
The stories that are left out, that are forgotten, can actually enrich our whole society.- Jo SiMalaya Alcampo, writer
"This is something that was really missing... A lot of Canadian history that I learned growing up was very Eurocentric and missed out on so much story," said Alcampo.
"The stories that are left out, that are forgotten, can actually enrich our whole society."
Lara Fajardo, a ninth grader of Filipino descent, said she appreciates a history class that strives to be inclusive.
"It's nice to hear something that I can relate to more," Fajardo said.
'History can't be buried'
The poster When Canada Opened Fire on my Kokum Marianne with a Gatling Gun, by Jerry and Jesse Thistle, a pair of brothers of Métis-Cree heritage, depicts the story of a little-known teenage Métis resistance fighter in 1885.
That year, Louis Riel was said to have saved the life of his 16-year-old cousin Marianne Ledoux by throwing her out of a window as government soldiers fired on Métis resistance fighters in Batoche, Sask.
Only as adults did the Thistle brothers learn that Ledoux was their great-grandmother.
"It's given me a lot of pride in my family history, pride in my mom's people, pride in myself, because I come from those really salt-of-the-earth people," said Jesse Thistle.
The brothers worked together on the poster — Jesse wrote the essay while Jerry did the artwork.
"When [people] see our poster, I just want them to see a truth. A lot of history is just covered up," Jerry Thistle said. "That kind of history can't be buried if Canada is going to continue to be Canada."
The process of creating the poster became a healing journey for the brothers, he added. Both have battled homelessness and addiction, and say their lives bear the scars of colonial oppression.
"For the first time in a long time," said Jerry Thistle, "it actually feels like I'm getting something back that was missing for a very long time."