'Protect your elders as they've protected you': Artists' COVID-19 posters target Indigenous communities

Indigenous comic book publisher Native Realities has created a series of propaganda-style posters amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Posters with public health messages created by and for Indigenous people during pandemic

This is one of two posters created by Diné (Navajo) illustrator Dale Deforest. (Concept by Native Realities/Artwork by Dale Deforest)

Protecting elders. Being a true warrior.

These are some of the messages behind a series of propaganda-style posters created by Indigenous comic book publisher Native Realities.

Lee Francis IV, CEO and founder of Native Realities and creator behind the annual Indigenous Comic Con in Albuquerque, N.M., said he wanted the series to address some of the things he kept seeing on social media about Indigenous people downplaying the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Let's not be stupid about this because we think we're resilient and tough. A lot of our ancestors did not make it through those various iterations of genocidal destruction," said Francis.

"We need to take care of our elders. This is how we are different than the spring breakers and folks who are doing the corona challenge where they're licking toilets — we're better than that. We need to remind everyone that we're better than that, in our own communities, too. This is what we do this for, our elders and our ancestors."

The posters, which are free to download digitally, feature the work of Cherokee comic artist Roy Boney Jr., Super Indian creator Arigon Starr, as well as Diné (Navajo) artists Dale Deforest and Vanessa Bowen.

"Not a lot of campaigns target Indigenous communities," said Bowen.

"It's an easier way to communicate and get the point across. It was nice to have Lee Francis reach out to me to use my skills to bring more awareness."

Bowen, who is based in Albuquerque, created a poster of a Diné woman with the slogans "Resilience means common sense" and "Be a true warrior, take care of your community."

Diné (Navajo) artist Vanessa Bowen was one of four Indigenous comic artists and graphic designers to contribute to the poster series. (Concept by Native Realities/Artwork by Vanessa Bowen)

She said it was important to make that connection.

"We have a certain vocabulary within our cultures that really strike a chord, so it's not just the basic generic statements that are being released," she said.

"Hopefully with these posters, people will think 'This will affect me, my communities, and I need to take this seriously.'"

More posters to come

Francis said he started Native Realities to see Indigenous representations in pop culture. He feels it's also important to see that during this ongoing pandemic.

Arigon Starr, the creator behind the Super Indian comic series, is one of the Indigenous artists who contributed to the poster series. (Concept by Native Realities/Artwork by Arigon Starr)

"There's a lot of government information coming out, but nothing like this. The thing about this style of art is that it's catchy, quick, and captures succinctly what you're supposed to do," said Francis.

"'Protect your elders like they protected you.' That's a message that should hold beyond this crisis. Now it's even more important that we're aware of this, but these are long-lasting things."

Francis said he's co-ordinating work with more Indigenous artists on additional posters for the series.


Ka’nhehsí:io Deer is a Kanien’kehá:ka journalist from Kahnawà:ke, south of Montreal. She is currently a reporter with CBC Indigenous covering communities across Quebec.