The Falling of the Sun (TM & © 2013 Steve LeBlanc)
Publishing company Jack Lake Productions Inc. has announced a unique and exciting new project. The One Tribe benefit comic book anthology is a non-profit book to be published in 2014 in association with James Waley of Pique Productions. The collection is being produced in support of improving First Nations’ reserve schools in Canada, with all proceeds going to the Shannen’s Dream campaign, which was formed to carry on the courageous work of the late Shannen Koostachin. Some of the top comic creator talents in the country have contributed work to support this worthwhile cause.
Shannen Koostachin, a young activist from the Attawapiskat First Nation on the James Bay coast in Ontario, had a simple and practical dream: safe, comfortable schools and culturally-based education for First Nations children and youth. In her brief life, Shannen worked tirelessly to convince the Federal government to give First Nations children a proper education. According to The First Nations Child & Family Caring Society of Canada website, “First Nations schools receive less funding per student than provincial and territorial schools, and zero dollars for things like libraries, computers, languages, or extracurricular activities. Many schools are plagued by serious health concerns such as extreme black mould contamination, high carbon dioxide levels, rodent and reptile infestations, sewage fumes, and unheated portables.”
James Waley, editor and graphic coordinator for the One Tribe project, says he was shocked and mortified that the Attawapiskat First Nations reserve had to declare a state of emergency due to substandard housing conditions. Reflecting on the outpouring of aid to victims of Japan’s tsunami and the disaster in Haiti, he noticed, “Canadians are quite eager to rush to the aid of people half a world away from us, [but] a huge segment of our population, suffering in our own backyard, is so often ignored and overlooked.” He says, “It was becoming increasingly clear that Attawapiskat was simply the tip of the iceberg of an ongoing crisis that most citizens and our government have allowed to continue for much too long.”
Shannen attended J.R. Nakogee elementary school, which was condemned and closed because of a decades-old fuel leak. Classes had been held held in makeshift portables since 2000, and by 2007, the federal government had backed out of three commitments to build a new school for the Attawapiskat community. Shannen and others took action and began a Students Helping Students campaign using Youtube and Facebook to share their experiences. In 2008, Shannen bravely spoke out on the steps of Parliament Hill, and she was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize in 2009 at the age of 14.
On July 27th, 2008, Shannen sent a letter to government officials, written in both Cree and English. In it, she revealed she wanted to become a lawyer, and she wrote frankly about the state of her own school: “For the last eight years, I have never been in a real school since I’ve started my education. For what inspired me was when I realized in grade in grade eight that I’ve been going to school in these portables for eight long struggling years. We put on our coats outside and battle through the seasons just to go to computers, gym, and library. I was always taught by the parents to stand up and speak out for myself. My message is to never give up. You get up, pick up your books, and keep walking in your moccasins.”
She talked about leadership and her father, Andrew Koostachin, who taught her “to look up to the Seven Grandfathers. Love, Respect, Truth, Honesty, Humility, Bravery and Wisdom.” He taught his daughter to put God first, then family, then education. “School is very important!” Shannen wrote. “This why I’m here, because children before grade 5 had already lost hope.” That statement is heartbreaking. Shannen was brave and strong to fight for what she felt was right. She stated honestly, “One, I do not like broken promises. Two, I do not like seeing my siblings going to school in washrooms. And three, I would like them to know too that I AM NOT GIVING UP.”
She wanted Minister Strahl to face the facts. “He knows that we are sick and tired walking back and forth outside in the cold winter, the cold wind, the cold rain, the hot sun. He knows that. It’s just that he doesn’t understand. If he did understood he could’ve just give us a school just like that!” Some might say the situation is far too complicated for such a simple solution, but if a government official’s child had to take classes in a run-down portable, that “new school building” promise would have been fulfilled in a hurry. Shannen also offered words of hope to fellow students, telling them not to be afraid, telling them to ignore the people who try to put them down, encouraging them speak out, think about the future, and follow their dreams. “I would tell them NEVER give up hope,” Shannen wrote. “Get up; pick up your books, and GO TO SCHOOL. But not in portables.”
Tragically, Shannen died in a car accident on May 30th, 2010, but her vision of better education is carried on through Shannen’s Dream, a student and youth-focused campaign designed to raise awareness about inequitable funding for First Nations children. Supporters are encouraged to write letters to their Member of Parliament, to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, and to the Prime Minister of Canada. The Caring Society is an independent national organization with a vision is to ensure that First Nations children have opportunities to grow up safely at home, be healthy, and be proud of who they are. For additional information about Shannen’s Dream, visit [fncaringsociety.ca/shannens-dream].
The One Tribe anthology contains about 200 pages of outstanding work by Canadian comic creators from Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal backgrounds. James calls it “an all-ages full-colour comic book anthology not just for kids, but suitable for readers of any age. One Tribe will contain storylines exploring a potpourri of humour, drama, slice-of-life, horror, adventure, science fiction, and fantasy with a wide variety of art styles from the mainstream superhero and cartoon approach to alternative and underground.” James says, “I’ve always felt that comic book storytelling was a great resource for both learning and teaching materials. Students of any age respond to comics enthusiastically as they bring a lot more life and excitement to what might otherwise be boring classroom lessons. Students engage more quickly with material in this format, and with short attention spans being rampant in this age of the internet that’s a win-win situation, for sure! Studies have shown, also, that most material presented as sequential art tends to enhance students’ linguistic and communicative competence.”
Contributor Richard Van Camp [www.richardvancamp.com] has written numerous novels, children’s stories, and comic book scripts; one of his books, The Lesser Blessed, was recently produced as a feature film. Chad Solomon [www.rabbitandbearpaws.com] produces the beloved series Rabbit and Bear Paws, which he has self-published in a series of graphic novels and storybooks along with an entertaining puppet show he presents at schools, libraries, and events throughout Ontario. Jay Odjick (www.jayodjick.deviantart.com) has done animation and comics, but is best known for his superhero creation Kagagi the Raven, first published as a graphic novel through Arcana Comics and now being developed into an animated series.
The collection also features the top-notch talents of Troy Little (writer/artist on Angora Napkin), Brandon Mitchell (writer on Sacred Circles), Nick Bradshaw (artist on Wolverine & The X-Men), Kevin Sylvester (writer/artist on Neil Flambé), Mark A. Nelson (classic artist on Dark Horse Comics’ Alien series), Tom Grummett and Karl Kesel (artist/writer team on Section Zero), Nik Poliwko and Martin Powell (artist/writer team on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The War Chief), Jim Craig (artist on The Northern Light), Mike Cerkas & Larry Hancock (artist/writer team on Silent Invasion), and Rob Walton (writer/artist on Ragmop), with more to be announced in the months ahead.
Copies of the book will be sent to schools on reserves across Canada at no cost, and will also be available at libraries, comic shops, and bookstores everywhere through JLP’s worldwide distribution network. A crowd-funding Indiegogo campaign will begin on Friday, August 30th to raise funds to cover production costs and a modest page rate for the comic creators, but James says almost all of them have chosen to waive that payment and direct it to Shannen’s Dream instead. A free launch event is planned at Toronto’s top comic book shop, The Silver Snail, on Saturday September 7th. Featured artists and writers will be doing sketches and discussing their work in the anthology. Stay tuned at [www.OneTribeAnthology.ca] or find OneTribeAnthology on Facebook. For information about book sales and distribution, contact Jaak Jarve at (416-222-9445) or toll free (800-269-9206).