Biz Nijdam’s Comics Studies Cluster Makes News

The UBC Comics Studies Cluster (CSC) has embarked on an exciting new partnership with the Homalco First Nation to bring Indigenous storytelling to life through the “Remember” Comics Project.

Photo by Keerti Gupta

In November 2023, CENES’ Biz Nijdam members of the CSC, along with the non-profit Education without Borders (EwB), ventured on a site visit to Bute Inlet with representatives and an Elder of the Homalco First Nation as part of this community-engaged initiative.

Photo by Biz Nijdam

Led by Homalco media personality Tchadas Leo and co-founded by EwB, the “Remember” Comics Project is a unique collaboration that merges arts-based Participatory Action Research, Indigenous storytelling traditions, and land-based epistemologies. The project commissioned three Indigenous cartoonists— Alina PeteGord Hill, and Valen Onstine —to translate recordings of Homalco Elders into three short comics. The aim is to reconnect young readers with the rich storytelling traditions of the Homalco people while providing opportunities for career advancement and mentorship for young Indigenous artists.

Bute Inlet, located in the traditional and ancestral territory of the Homalco First Nations, served as the backdrop for the profound site visit. The artists, along with CSC Director Elizabeth “Biz” Nijdam, project assistants Keerti Gupta and Alisha Griffiths, and EwB cofounders Ruth and Cecil Hershler, engaged in a 6-hour boat tour, joined by Tchadas Leo, Homalco Chief Darren Blaney and several Elders and members of the Homalco First Nation. The tour provided an opportunity to learn more about the history, culture, and themes of the Homalco people through dialogue and storytelling, focusing on the hunting, clam farming, and coming-of-age stories of the Homalco people.

Photo by Biz Nijdam

Homalco Wildlife and Culture Tours facilitated the boat tour, ensuring the comfort and safety of all participants. The journey allowed for firsthand experience of Bute Inlet’s breathtaking scenery, clam farms, and encounters with local wildlife, including killer whales and humpback whales. The participants also explored Orford Bay, learning about traditional salmon farming and the year-round businesses of the Homalco First Nations.

The impact of the journey resonated profoundly with cartoonist Alina Pete, who began sketching the mountainous terrain during the return trip. In an interview for an in-progress documentary about the project, Pete emphasized how witnessing the Inlet helped contextualize the experiences of the women in the coming-of-age stories she was working on.

“I don’t think anyone else would have the opportunity to go on a tour like [this] because just having the Elders there and talking about the areas we were going through was such a powerful experience,” shared Alina Pete.

The UBC Comics Studies Cluster expresses gratitude to their generous cosponsors, the UBC Community Engagement Office’s Partnership Recognition and Exploration (PRE) Fund and the UBC Centre for Migration Studies. The collaboration with the Homalco First Nation marks a significant step in fostering engagement with Indigenous storytelling and preserving the cultural heritage of the Homalco people.

Photo by Biz Nijdam

This project has also begun to receive significant media attaching, which recognizes the importance of these kinds of arts-based collaborations. Stories about the project have aired on CHEK, Global, Victoria News, 100.7 The Raven, CBC All Points West, and CBC News.

The “Remember” Comics Project, an ongoing collaboration between EwB, CSC, Tchadas Leo, and the Homalco First Nation, continues its mission to give voice to First Nations Elders through the medium of comic art. The journey to Bute Inlet has undoubtedly left an indelible mark on the participants, shaping the creative process of the comics and contributing to the broader conversation around Indigenous knowledge and cultural practices.

The UBC Comics Studies Cluster eagerly anticipates the publication of the graphic narratives created by the three talented Indigenous cartoonists working on the project and is already looking for funding opportunities to find new ways to honour and preserve the Homalco storytelling traditions.