In new graphic novel, Thomas King explores Indigenous nationhood through scenes at the border
'I feel safer on this side of the line than I do on the other side of the line,' says acclaimed writer
Since its release nearly three decades ago, writer Thomas King's acclaimed short story Borders has gone through several permutations.
"It was a half-hour film at one point. Somebody was going to turn it into a play," he told Day 6 guest host Falen Johnson.
Now, it's been "reborn" as a graphic novel — an adaptation that has King excited.
"I always thought it would have made something, you know, visual."
Borders tells the story of an Indigenous mother and son who, at the Canada-U.S. border, are asked for their citizenship. When they declare they are Blackfoot, rather than Canadian or American, border guards reject their claim and they remain stuck at the "line."
The story was based on King's own experiences at border crossings, where Indigenous nationhood is not recognized.
"I don't see any reason why we can't use identities that were here long before Canada or the U.S. ever existed, and I'm all in favour of that," said King.
In illustrating the latest adaptation, Métis artist Natasha Donovan says she wanted to show the various ways identities that are important to people collide with the categories imposed on them.
That was something Donovan, who hails from Sasksatchewan and now lives in the United States, struggled with first-hand in the creation of the book.
"We were running into this kind of crazy problem with my residency that was putting our ability to live on the same side of that line into jeopardy," she said.
Dream project for Donovan
King wrote the story after his time with an all-Indigenous basketball team at the University of Lethbridge.
Because he was tall and "looked" athletic, the team had recruited him, he recalled. "It was a mistake for me to say yes. It was a mistake for them to ask me," he told Johnson, laughing.
As part of that team, King regularly crossed the border while playing against teams in the United States. Border guards would occasionally hassle him and his teammates about their citizenship.
That got King thinking: What would happen if, when Indigenous people crossed the border, they identified their citizenship as Blackfoot, and what is the worst that could happen?
He began writing Borders as something "that was plausible, but then also had political and cultural implications."
Donovan first read Borders in her Grade 11 English class. It's a story that has stuck with her throughout her life.
She says she was shocked when asked to tackle the project — turning a 10-page story into a 200-page graphic novel — but calls it a "dream project."
"We got to play around with adding all of these landscape scenes and these lengthy interactions between the characters. Yeah, it was great," she said.
'I feel safer on this side of the line'
Despite being published 28 years ago, King says the story remains relevant today.
When some teammates crossed the border, they did identify as Blackfoot and sometimes officials waved them through with little trouble. That's no longer true, he says.
And today, the writer says he avoids travel south of the border despite having relatives in the country.
"I feel safer on this side of the line than I do on the other side of the line — for all sorts of reasons."
Written by Jason Vermes. Produced by Laurie Allan.
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