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Graphic novel from Homalco First Nation aims to spark youth interest in traditional teachings

A sample from a graphic novel in the works that's based on stories from Homalco First Nation.  (Submitted by Tchadas Leo - image credit)
A sample from a graphic novel in the works that's based on stories from Homalco First Nation. (Submitted by Tchadas Leo - image credit)

In the middle of winter a young man is sent by his father to bathe in the river as part of a practice he is meant to complete every morning for one year as he comes of age.

This is just one of the stories depicted in a new graphic novel made by the Homalco First Nation, whose traditional territory stretches across Bute Inlet on the British Columbia coast about 200 kilometres north of Vancouver.

Alina Pete, who is from Little Pine First Nation in Saskatchewan but lives in Surrey, B.C., is writing and illustrating this story for the graphic novel that is meant to pass down traditional knowledge from Homalco elders.

"I think it's absolutely one of the best ways to reach out to people," said Pete.

"It's been an amazing opportunity."

The stories are based on recordings of Homalco First Nations elders made in the '90s that were used in a podcast series. Pete and two other Indigenous artists, Valen Onstine and Gord Hill, were asked to take those stories and transfer them to the page.

The artists went to Bute Inlet last year along with some community elders to see the landscapes they would be illustrating in the novel and ask questions.

"Coming into someone else's community and then being tasked with representing them in a really good, authentic, honest way was like a big responsibility," said Pete.

Alina Pete in the middle showing a picture she drew while on a trip to Bute Inlet, B.C.
Alina Pete in the middle showing a picture she drew while on a trip to Bute Inlet, B.C.

Alina Pete in the middle showing a picture she drew while on a trip to Bute Inlet, B.C. (Submitted by Tchadas Leo)

Tchadas Leo, project manager for the graphic novel, also worked on the podcast the stories were used in. The graphic novel is being funded by Education Without Borders, a charity that supports educational opportunities for children in Canada and South Africa, which also funded the podcast.

"The vision for it is definitely for the youth, that's the main goal," said Leo, a member of the Homalco First Nation and Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians in Washington State.

The graphic novel does not yet have a title and is expected to be finished by the summer. Leo said they have budgeted to have several hundred copies printed and it will be left up to the Homalco First Nation to decide how it will be distributed.

Homalco Chief Darren Blaney said the book will be used in places like the community daycare.

"We're working hard to try to get the young people to connect back to the stories and the language and start to take an interest," said Blaney.

Sample of work from a graphic novel based on stories from the Homalco First Nation.
Sample of work from a graphic novel based on stories from the Homalco First Nation.

A sample of work from a graphic novel based on stories from the Homalco First Nation. (Submitted by Tchadas Leo)

Blaney was also on the boat trip up the Bute Inlet with the artists. He said there are many more locations where traditional stories take place that aren't able to be shared in this book.

"It's bringing that connection to the stories, connection to the territory and and the teaching, so it's reversing what residential school did," said Blaney.

"That's the exciting part of it."