Graphic novel depicting history of relocated Vancouver Island First Nation nears completion

A preview of the graphic novel is shown.

A graphic novel that shares the history of the Homalco First Nation (HFN), as remembered by Elders, is on track to release later this year.

The Homalco First Nation has a large territory spanning from parts of central Vancouver Island to B.C.’s central mainland coast, with its main office located in Campbell River.

The new graphic novel, which is still working on a final name, will depict “accurate historic moments in Coast Salish history,” and will be illustrated by three Indigenous graphic artists: Alina Pete, Valen Onstine and Gord Hill.

The graphic novel is based on knowledge shared by Homalco Elders in the early 1990s, which was recently digitized into a podcast miniseries hosted by radio station The Raven 100.7 FM, which is also owned by the HFN.

The project is being managed by CHEK’s Tchadas Leo, whose podcast Our Native Land has been the subject of several awards, including a spot on Amazon Music’s recent “Best Canadian Podcast of the Year” list.

Preserving history

Leo says the idea to make the graphic novel came after his team helped digitize the Elders’ recordings for The Raven.

The podcast miniseries for the radio station was funded by Education Without Borders, and once the radio project was complete, the organization offered more funding to continue the goal of preserving HFN language, culture and history.

The team for the graphic novel then issued a call-out for three Indigenous artists in Western Canada, and Pete, Onstine and Hill were selected to take on the project.

The graphic novel will be split into three parts, with each artist leading their own story and section of the book.

“Some of the topics that I can’t wait to see are the canoeing with a young child, bringing them to the beach and teaching them how to dig clams,” said Leo.

“There’s another hunting one and they’re talking about hunting in the mountains, so I’m excited for how the stories are going to be told.”

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One of the pages of the graphic novel is shown in this preview. (Submitted)

He adds that while each of the three stories will be unique, one common character will be seen throughout the graphic novel.

“One thing that’s going to be consistent is the raven, and the raven is going to be the narrator,” said Leo.

“Traditionally, the raven is a bit of a trickster so I think it’ll be a little cheeky and fun.”

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A page of the graphic novel is shown in this preview. (Submitted)

While the writing and illustrations of the graphic novel are largely being taken on by the artists, Leo will oversee the project on a wider scale and will also help integrate the use of Homalco words.

“It’s not going to be all Homalco, but any of those important phrases or words that we want, we’re going to put the Homalco language into it,” he said.

Overall, the goal of the project is to preserve Homalco knowledge, culture and language, and Leo says the graphic novel is just one way that new generations can engage with history.

He says that the previously released podcasts are another way to learn about the history, and that it’s important to have different ways to access and enjoy the past to help with its preservation on an ongoing basis.

Leo stresses that the project is “definitely not for profit” and that the goal is to have a hardcover graphic novel ready to present to the Homalco First Nation this summer.

Once it’s in the Nation’s hands, it can decide what it wants to do next, whether that be selling it or translating it to other languages, which Leo says has already been pitched to organizers by several outside sources.

The project is being funded by Education Without Borders, the UBC Comics Studies Cluster and the UBC Community Engagement office.

SEE ALSO: Island-based, Indigenous-focused podcast is one of the best in Canada: Amazon Music

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