'The stoic warrior or mystical Indian': Is representation of Indigenous peoples in comics changing?

Vincent Moniz always had a love-hate relationship with comic books. He loved the stories, but the NuuÉtaare tribal member never saw himself represented on the page.
Vincent Moniz is a poet and a member of the NuuÉtaare tribe, who never saw himself represented in the comic books he liked to read. (Missy Whiteman)

Vincent Moniz always had a love-hate relationship with comic books. He loved the stories, but the poet and NuuÉtaare tribal member never saw himself represented on the page.

He and his friend Michael Wilson, who is Ojibwe, decided to track the Indigenous characters they found in the comic books of Marvel, DC and Image.

The duo found a little more than 200 Indigenous characters in those comic universes.

"I found the same stereotypes they use in television and movies for us," said Moniz.
An old cover of a Red Wolf comic from 1972. (Marvel Entertainment)

"For [the women characters] it was very basic, it was the fair maiden, she was always in trouble back in the corner and she was hypersexualized … so much so that even the superheroes in Canada basically wore leather bikinis, which doesn't make sense."

Moniz says the male Indigenous comic book characters fall under two categories: stoic warrior or mystical Indian.

"It's always magic, [Indigenous characters] never had super powers," said Moniz.

Indigenous characters are not new to comics, Moniz said they first started to appear in the 1940s in Western comics, and the characters were similar to Tonto from the Lone Ranger.

"The archetype for Tonto, [was] basically a guy who was really good at tracking, and that was it. He was just the guy in the background who could find stuff for the main character," said Moniz.
Red Wolf was one of the characters included in Marvel's All-New, All-Different relaunch. But unlike the other characters, who had completely different backstories, his remained the same. (Dale Keown/Marvel Entertainment)

Things are changing with some of the larger comic publishers, specifically at Marvel Comics.

"[Marvel] just had that 'All-New, All-Different Marvel' relaunch with some of their characters, so an Afro-Latino Spider-Man Myles Morales, Amadeus Cho as the new Hulk, Kamala Khan, Muslim Miss Marvel — incredible changes for Marvel," said Moniz.

"However for Indigenous people, we got Red Wolf, a character from the 1940s that basically they just time jumped … they took him out of his Western serial and put him in [the present], and within the first five pages someone had called him a savage."

"I want my 'All-New, All-Different Marvel', and I'm still waiting." 

Moniz says the only way to change these problematic stereotypes is to have Indigenous people leading the way.

"What I'm hoping is that [publishers] start cherry picking from the Indigenous artist community — our creative writers, illustrators, visual artists … and when that starts to happen in bigger waves, then they'll stop relying on our stereotypes," said Moniz.

"There's no way you can deny us — there's such incredible talent throughout Indigenous people it would be hard to deny us a seat at the table."

Vincent Moniz is an award-winning poet, whose poetry collection Redoubted is available now.