Wednesday, November 29, 2017


Edited by Hope Nicholson, Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection, Volume 2 has stories from several people who you may know from previous AICL reviews of their work.

In particular, I'm thinking of Richard Van Camp. Some of you may recall that he is Tlicho Dene from Fort Smith in the Northwest Territories of Canada. For this review, I'm focusing on his "Water Spirits." Set in Yellowknife, the story opens with a science teacher talking to his class. (Bonus: the illustrator, Haiwei Hou, modeled the teacher after Richard, which was a surprise to Richard when he saw the illustrations.) They're about to head out to a gold mine where the tour guide will take them deeper into the mine than most tours go. There are cultural and spiritual aspects to "Water Spirits" but I am focusing on the destructive aspect of mining.

As we see the bus full of kids on its way to the mine, there is some snark and banter. One kid wishes the mine was still open. He thinks it would be a great summer job, and he kind of doesn't like the history that their teacher shares, en route to the mine. That history? That the tour guide's family has lived in that area for hundreds of years before the mine opened in 1948.

On the tour, the students learn that the mine brought an end to so much. Wildlife left the area. The river was polluted and Indigenous people couldn't fish from it anymore. A student asks if the technology and jobs from the mine brought other opportunities that made life easier for them, but the guide won't take that bait. He replies with more information:
"This giant mine no longer operates because it is one of the most contaminated groundwater sites in Canada. For 50 years, almost 240,000 tonnes of arsenic trioxide waste was released into the ground and water where it remains."
The students are surprised. "Arsenic?" they ask, puzzled. "Didn't the gold get dug out with hammers?" they say.

That--for me--is a crucial moment in this story. Children's books, textbooks, television shows, and movies about gold mining perpetuate an image of some old guy with a pan, using it to find gold in streams of water. Others show men with pick axes, working in dark shafts. The reality, though, of how gold was taken from the earth is much darker than that. At that point in the story, the guide takes the students into a very dark tunnel full of pipes and tells them about the "roasting" method of extracting gold from rock.

Stories that present mining--accurately--are vitally important. But here's the status quo: Instead of the truth, kids get inaccurate romantic nonsense about heroic self-made Americans who toughed it out, staking claims and panning for gold. That nonsense is even worse when we consider what happened to Native people who were "in the way" of those get-rich expeditions. For more on this, you can take a look at Exterminate Them: Written Accounts of Murder, Rape, and Enslavement of Native Americans during the California Gold Rush by Clifford E. Trafzer and Joel R. Hyer.

In addition to Van Camp's "Water Spirits" there are many other excellent stories. Elizabeth LaPensée's story, "They Who Walk as Lightning" is also about protecting water. Erika Wurth (author of Crazy Horse's Girlfriend) wrote about Moonshot and featured this panel from LaPensée's story:

If you are following Native news about our opposition to pipelines, that image will remind you, perhaps, of the Water Protectors at Standing Rock.

Here's the Table of Contents for Moonshot: 

Scanning it you'll see familiar names--and names you should look out for if you're interested in writing by Native people. And if you haven't already gotten a copy of Volume I, do that, too, when you order Volume 2.


Ava Jarvis said...

Thank you for this review! I'm going to add these volumes to my reading pile (along with audiobooks, comic books / graphic novels are things I can still enjoy—long text without accompanying narration, not so much).

I don't even know what to think about how to fix education. When I was on Facebook, there were a lot of adults who seemed to stop learning about biology, math, politics, physics, literature, social sciences, psychology, etc at the high school level—where everything is still pretty and dangerous lies.

And when you confront them with facts obtained from sources outside of their old high school textbooks, many of them become extremely hostile. Some learn—most don't.

Unknown said...

Any chance you can help provide ordering information? These aren't available from my typical sources, which is a bummer! Thanks so much!

Ellen Fleischer said...

Kate Olson, you can get a digital copy from Comixology ( According to their ordering info at, consult your local bookstore for hardcopy editions. (I got mine because I contributed to the Kickstarter.) Another possibility might be comicons. I see the publisher at a table every year at Toronto Fan Expo. I'm not sure how many other cons they attend.

Unknown said...

Ellen, thank you for the link -- the books together were under 25.00.