Thursday, 7 November 2013

Super Savages and Sovereign Traces: Introduction to Indigenous Graphic Novels

Dr Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair a professor at the University of Manitoba is featured in a video by Trevor Greyeyes News. Niigaan talks about the course Super Savages and Sovereign Traces: Introduction to Indigenous Graphic Novels he developed at the University of Manitoba which explores the ideas of the graphic novel from the Indigenous perspective. Obviously there are the portrayals of Indigenous peoples in graphic novels by non-Indigenous peoples and the growing field of the Indigenous artist using the graphic novel to tell their own narrative and story. 

The use of Indigenous peoples in graphic novels (comics) was also a means to consume the Indian, to use the image of the Indian to reinforce stereotypes. I wonder though if we can still find pride in those images of the warrior in the comics which allow Indigenous peoples to feel strong and recognize that their culture is so powerful and enduring. When the dominant culture must use anothers image to supplement their own what are they missing? What forces them to do so? Now many Indigenous artists and writers like Dave Robertson (Sugar Falls) are using the graphic novel to tell difficult stories about Indigenous survival. They take the academic and make it real.

To Learn More (Video) 


  1. In respeonse to “Super Savages and Sovereign Traces: an Introduction to Indigenous Graphic Novels” (Nov. 7, 2013)

    “Literature is not a history book… its job is to challenge and get us to think about what if” – Dr, N. J. Sinclair.

    Since the 1970’s comic books have taken great leaps and bounds to become the serious and compelling art form that it is today (J. Coville,, 2001). Graphic novels such as Maus (A. Spiegelman, 1991), or the Watchmen (A. Moore, D. Gibbons, 1986), have shown that this artistic medium is capable of producing powerful works with emotion and gravitas equivalent to their literature counterparts. As the medium grows more prolific it is important that indigenous people stake their claim and exert their influence.

    In the past, especially in the superhero genre, the introduction of characters who are not white males has been particularly hit and miss. Characters such as “Apache Chief” (http://en.wikipedia.
    org/wiki/Apache_Chief) or “Super-chief” ( were created around strong stereotypes, both in costume and name, that even in serious and mature stories they are difficult to take seriously. Conversely, “Nelvana of the northern lights”, introduced in 1941, was based largely on the adaptation of traditional Inuit folklore and is today recognized as not only one of the first Canadian superheroes but also one of the first female superheroes published (introduced in 1941) and was. Her fans were able to crowd-source over $54,000 last year (2013) to have her series reproduced for publication later this year ( Recently DC comics have made a point of reinventing some of their legacy indigenous characters such as Super-Chief and Man-of-Bats (a Native American Batman) re-introducing them to a new generation of readers (, and giving them more modern and respectful characterizations.

    It is important that peoples of all decent and ethnicity are represented in a medium such as comic books because it is one of the most accessible mediums available. Comics are often multifaceted and complex, but can also be read just for fun or to look at the pretty pictures. They appeal to children and adults alike, and have been shown to be effective for learning than traditional texts ( Considering the low literacy rates for aboriginal students versus non-aboriginal students (, graphic novels may play an important role in engaging these students and teaching them important reading and writing skills, and this could only be helped by the further proliferation of Indigenous characters within the medium.

  2. Last year I spent a couple hours a day as the school librarian in a rural high school and as a school we put in a large chunk of our book budget into bringing in First Nations literature. One of the better purchases (in my opinion) was the inclusion of the graphic novels 7 Generations by David A. Robertson. Part of the challenges today of Aboriginal literature is moving past the stereotypes that have been found in literature, film, etc. in the past and creating new engaging and accurate mediums to teach about Aboriginal culture and history.
    As a reader of graphic novels, comic books, and literature I really pushed the students in the library to check out graphic novels. I find that even non-readers can really get into them and learn more about a topic. As teachers I think that graphic novels is a great way to incorporate Aboriginal culture and history. As David Robertson says in an interview with CBC “he graphic novel is an incredible educational tool. It allows me to reach a broad range of people; sophisticated readers, readers that are typically hard to reach, those who are reading at a lower skill level, and both males and females. It is engaging and effective. In the end, graphic novels/comic books are cool. Who wouldn't want Super Man, for example, to teach them math?”
    I also think that graphic novels are an interesting way to engage aboriginal youth who are weaker with their reading skills. This is a stereotypical statement but I have observed that a lot of Aboriginal youth are very artistic individuals who not only could get interested in reading graphic novels but creating them. This emerging group of Aboriginal Manitoba artists and writers is very inspirational to me and I hope to see more of this in the future. Graphic novels can be a great way to break stereotypes and to share Aboriginal culture and history.


    Winnipeg graphic novelist brings Aboriginal history to new audience - CBC Manitoba. (2013, August 1). CBCnews. Retrieved March 4, 2014, from