As families and friends gather to celebrate Thanksgiving it’s important to remember that for many this is not a time for jubilation, but rather one of mourning. Since the 1970s the United American Indians of New England have gathered at Cole’s Hill in Plymouth, Massachusetts to observe a National Day of Mourning. This year marks the 48th gathering.
The National Day of mourning is not about shaming those who do celebrate Thanksgiving but rather providing a stage to highlight the realities around the arrival of Pilgrims and lasting consequences of colonial rule. In an interview with co-leader of the United American Indians of New England Mahtowin Munro says,“The real underlying issue is this idea that the Pilgrims were so wonderful and amazing, that they came over and Native people were happy to see them, and they all sat down together and live happily ever after.”
In elementary school, we are often taught to buy into the mythology surrounding Pilgrims and Thanksgiving. Confronting this mythology means not only learning the truth about Thanksgiving but also welcoming new perspectives. With that in mind, below you’ll find some Native and Indigenous creators and comics worth checking out today (and everyday)!
Elizabeth LaPensée is a Ph.D holding-award-winning Anishinaabe, Métis, and Irish designer, writer, artist, and researcher. Her body of work spans the field of comics and games with a focus on Indigenous history and narratives. She is also the Assistant Professor of Media & Information and Writing, Rhetoric & American Cultures at Michigan State University.
LaPensée is the game designer and artist behind Thunderbird Strike (2017), a 2D side-scroller that examines the effect of the oil industry on the environment and land of Indigenous people. The game asks the player to embody the Thunderbird–a symbol of power and strength–in order to protect the environment against the ravages of the oil industry and its machinery. Thunderbird Strike recently won Best Digital Media Work award at the ImagineNATIVE and is available on Windows PC now.
The long-awaited companion volume to the award-winning MOONSHOT The Indigenous Comics Collection by Alternate History Comics. Volume one, edited by Hope Nicholson (Brok Windsor, Lost Heroes), collected the works of 28 writers and artists to help readers learn about the heritage and identity of indigenous storytelling. Most importantly, the stories included were done so with the permission of elders and community members. MOONSHOT The Indigenous Comics Collection Volume 2 contains a diverse assortment of short stories from indigenous authors across North America. The original digital release was May 31, 2017.
Written and illustrated by Dale Deforest (Diné), Hero Twins is a modern reimagining of two of the most important characters within the Navajo mythology. As the myth goes, the Hero Twins are two brothers Naayééʼ Neizghání and Tóbájíshchíní born to Changing Woman and trained by the Holy People. The twins protect the Navajo people by slaying the monsters who threaten life.
Here’s a synopsis of Hero Twins #1 from Native Realities, a small publisher dedicated to telling stories by and about Native and Indigenous people:
This story begins in 1860 as a calvary unit is sent to investigate a threat. While a winter storm rages around the unit, a mysterious officer makes a world-changing discovery. Meanwhile, banished from the spirit realm, Changing Woman must find a way to protect her newborn children so they may fulfill their destiny and bring light to the world.
So, I mentioned this small publishing press above but they are worth a mention in their own right. Native Realities Press is committed to producing and amplifying comics about, by and for Native and Indigenous people, something that is desperately needed.
According to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Social Science:
“The percentage of characters in popular films and primetime TV shows who are Native American ranges from zero to 0.4 percent, according to content analyses. Less than 1 percent of children’s cartoon characters are Native Americans, who make up 0.09 percent of video game characters.”
Too often in comics, Native Americans are often portrayed as caricatures, or their characters rely on tropes and racist stereotypes. In an effort to help confront problematic representation within popular culture, Lee Francis helped found Native Realities Press. Francis, who also helps operate Indigenous Comic Con, is a former educator who saw how little representation there was for Native American kids. In an interview with NPR this past April, Francis said it was about creating characters kids could be proud of and learn from.
The growing team of writers and artists published by Native Realities includes comics creator Jon Proudstar. Proudstar originally created an all Native American superhero team in 1996 known as Tribal Force. The series was recently rebooted by Native Realities in it, Proudstar tackles issues like child abuse, sexual assault and violence, as well as many other social issues which disproportionally impact Native American populations.
Here’s a look at what the first issue of Tribal Force has in store for readers:
In the Diné belief there are Five Worlds of existence. These worlds are bared from mortals. Nita Nitaal Nakia is the first to break the boundaries placed by the gods. What she sees as dreams or nightmares are glimpses into possible futures, parallel realities, mirrors of uncountable existences. With an inexhaustible array of possible endings, the unique factor presented before her is the last spoke in the wheel of reality. The last chance for everything to go right. With the wrong outcome as the end of human civilization as we know it.
This is by no means an exhaustive list but hopefully it will help bring a different perspective to your table this Thursday. Please let me know of other creators I should check out in the comments or on Twitter.
The 48th National Day of Mourning is Nov. 23, 2017 at noon on Cole’s Hill, Plymouth, Massachusetts.
Andrea Ayres writes about comics, video games, and representation in pop-culture.