Tintin in America pulled by Winnipeg Public Library pending review

Controversy over the depiction of indigenous peoples in Tintin in America, a 1930s comic by the Belgian cartoonist Hergé, has spread to Winnipeg's library system, which has decided to remove the book from circulation for review.

Racism complaint leads library system to remove title

Tintin in America, first published in the 1930s, has been pulled from Winnipeg Public Library shelves pending review.

Controversy over the depiction of indigenous peoples in Tintin in America, a 1930s comic by the Belgian cartoonist  Hergé, has spread to Winnipeg's library system, which has decided to remove the book from circulation for review.

On the weekend a Chapters store in the city had removed copies of the title from its shelves following a complaint, but then restored them after determining the work did not violate its policies.

News coverage prompted the city to consider the issue.

"Following yesterday’s media coverage of this topic, we proactively asked that copies of Tintin in America be sent into our selectors for review," said Michelle Finley, communications officer for the City of Winnipeg.

An email obtained by CBC News that was sent to all 20 library branches on Tuesday stated: "The decision to withdraw this title was originally made in 2006 after several patron complaints about the content being offensive. The complaints were reviewed by the Youth Services Librarians at the time and the decision was made to remove it from the public collections based on overtly stereotypical and racist depictions of indigenous people."
The cover image of Tintin in America is drawing complaints over its falsely stereotyped depiction of aboriginal people.

But then the city noticed the text had made its way back onto its shelves, despite being pulled in 2006 and put in a children's historic literature research collection. The same was done with ​Hergé's 1931 volume Tintin in the Congo at the time.

Those collections were removed about two years ago, but Tintin in America reappeared as part of a re-order process in the last year, a city spokesperson told CBC News.

"[It] was re-added to the collection in error," the spokesperson said. "In 2013, this research collection was disbanded in part due to a changing mandate of the library (not archival in nature) [and] lack of use." 

The idea that other libraries, like those in universities, might be more suitable environment's for these research collections also played a role in their 2013 removal, the spokesperson said.

And this week, the city once again removed the book temporarily, perhaps permanently, pending a review.

Harmful stereotypes

Last weekend, a First Nations teacher asked Chapters at Polo Festival to remove the book, saying it perpetuated harmful narratives and racist images. After more complaints came in through their 1-800 number and more specifically the Chapters Polo Festival Facebook page, the book was removed on Sunday pending further investigation.

However, Tintin in America was placed back for sale on Monday. Chapters spokeswoman Janet Eger said in an email to CBC that the book didn’t violate the chain's policies determining what would be allowed on its shelves.

Books 'need to be set aside'

University of Manitoba professor Niigaan Sinclair, who teaches a course on indigenous images in graphic novels, said no one is asking for the book to be banned, adding, "We rethink the educational value of books all the time."

Children have to be equipped to understand what they are seeing or these kinds of images are normalized, said Sinclair.

"The problem is when you show Indians carrying weapons coming out of the 15th, 16th centuries always invested in violence, deficiency, and loss, then [children] think that is what First Nations culture is. When they see a First Nations person riding the bus, going to a job, they can’t conceive the reconcilability of those two things." 

He said the book needs to be contextualized for children.

"Sitting in a library, sitting in a school — and no school I know of is teaching kids critical ideas of indigenous peoples in a very strong, competent kind of way at the grade 3, 4, 5 level, which is where this book resides — I think until the time we have well-equipped teachers and well-equipped curriculum, these books need to be set aside for now," said Sinclair. 


Kim Wheeler is an Anishinabe/Mohawk. She is a writer and an award-winning producer living in Winnipeg. Her work on the CBC radio series ReVision Quest garnered a New York Festival silver medal and two ImagineNative awards. Wheeler currently works as an associate producer for the CBC Aboriginal Digital Unit and Unreserved on CBC Radio One.