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Follow along as we work towards systems change and help create better outcomes for kids in our community.

COVID 19 Community Profile – Niigaan Sinclair & High Water Press

August 18, 2020

‘This Place: 150 Years Retold’ is a graphic novel that tells the complex and, at times, tenuous story of Canada’s history through the eyes of Indigenous peoples. Published by Highwater Press—an imprint of Portage and Main Press that focuses on sharing stories from Indigenous authors— the book has received critical acclaim and won several awards.


Recently, the novel was named recipient of the Mary Scorer Award for Best Book by a Manitoba Publisher; and the McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award for 2019, which came with a cash prize. The authors decided the best use for the money would be to put it back into the community.


“We’re a publisher and a group of artists that are committed to supporting young people and reading,” states Dr. Niigaanwewidam Sinclair, one of the authors featured in the book. “We wanted to support Indigenous youth, so we took the entirety of the prize money and donated copies of the book to people in the community.”


The Winnipeg Boldness Project was one of the community groups that received copies of the book, which were then passed along to members of the Project’s Parent Guide Group to share with their families and children. Sinclair explains that books were also donated to folks currently serving time in prison through the Manitoba Library Association, as well as other communities that some of the authors work with.

Winnipeg Boldness Parent Guide Group member, Miranda, with her son Ayden, who was thrilled to receive a free copy of ‘This Place: 150 Years Retold.’


“I know that Boldness works with young people,” responds Sinclair, when asked why he chose Winnipeg Boldness as a group to receive the books. “I couldn’t really think of a better organization that works with frontline youth who deserve… vibrant reading materials… and there’s frankly nothing more vibrant than a graphic novel.”


The novel features 10 different authors telling both fictional and non-fiction stories of Indigenous peoples throughout history and beyond. From Confederation in 1867 to 2017, each author was assigned a 15-year period of Canada’s history to cover and then worked with an illustrator to collaboratively develop a compelling graphic story. This resulted in a collective of 20+ contributors to the book, most of whom are of Indigenous background.


Sinclair explains that each author took a different approach to their story, with some choosing to focus on one or several historical events, to others creating fictional timelines 150 years into the future. Sinclair’s contribution to the book covers the time period of 1990 to 2005, with a particular focus on the Mohawk Resistance – often referred to as the ‘Oka Crisis.’


His story features a character named Washashk, an apathetic teen who accompanies his mother on a road trip to Oka, Quebec to support the Mohawk people in their resistance against the expansion of a golf course onto Indigenous land. The reader follows Washashk through his journey of learning about the unjust treatment of Indigenous peoples throughout history, and the importance of contributing to a collective goal of creating change for Indigenous rights in Canada.


“All of this maple-syrupy sweetness about Canada 150 was really lacking an Indigenous perspective, so we decided to provide that perspective,” states Sinclair. “In many ways, that character [Washashk] is built on my experiences living in Winnipeg in the 1990s… it’s a person who represents many parts of myself.”


Several of the characters in the book were inspired by some of the Indigenous women and activists in Sinclair’s life, who he credits with doing a lot of the heavy lifting with respect to political movements during that time period.


“Because of all of the activism in the 90s and before that, we have organizations—like Boldness—which are Indigenous-led,” reflects Sinclair. “In the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, we didn’t really have a lot of Indigenous-led organizations, so what was happening was that you had people on the streets but not people in the institutions. So now… it’s indicative that when Indigenous peoples are in the institutions then the institutions have to change.”


When reading his books, Sinclair hopes that young Indigenous people are left with a feeling of hope regarding their culture, land, language, and communities, and that they recognize the impact that activism of the past has had on their future.


“I hope they see that during some of the darkest days in Canadian history Indigenous peoples were actively working for them,” states Sinclair. “They were fighting to ensure that they would have the identities that they have today.”


Land Acknowledgement

The Winnipeg Boldness Project resides in and works on the ancestral, traditional, and contemporary lands of the Anishinaabeg (Ojibwe), Anishinabewaki (Oji-Cree), Dené, Michif Piyii (Métis), Nêhiyawak (Cree), and Očhéthi Sakowin (Dakota). We recognize that we have benefited from and continue to benefit from colonization on the Treaty 1, Treaty 3, and Treaty 5 Territories.

It is important to also acknowledge how we benefit in this territory at the cost to Indigenous Peoples. Winnipeg has been drinking clean water for over a century via an aqueduct from Shoal Lake. In 1917, 3000 acres of Treaty 3 was declared property of the city of Winnipeg to build the aqueduct. This aqueduct was built over ancestral burial ground, to build these structures, the ancestors were disinterred and reburied. Construction of the aqueduct changed the waters significantly, causing the peninsula to become a man-made island. This now isolated Nation faced many challenges as a direct result from this aqueduct; Necessities like water, groceries, schools, and mail were only accessible via the dangerous trek to the mainland. Lives of adults and children were lost crossing to and from the mainland. Freedom Road, an all-weather road access finally opened summer 2019, over a century after displacement. This road, a testament to the success of Indigenous-led solutions, helps bring materials to build schools and a water treatment plant.

“I always think of it, even when I turn on the tap I’m like this comes from our community and this water probably contains our ancestors and the spirits of our ancestor. I think about the hardships of the people from Shoal Lake 40 who have gone through so many things for the benefit of Winnipeg’s drinking water,” says Angelina McLeod.1

Another benefit we reap in Winnipeg at a cost to Indigenous Peoples and land is the Hydro Electricity Development in Treaty 5. To optimize water movement for greatest power production the Province of Manitoba increased waterflow by creating the Churchill River Diversion in 1976. The modification of the waterflow caused flooding, shoreline erosion, and changes to water quality. This destruction of habitat has caused disruption to waterway travel, fishing, and hunting.