In November 2023, the UBC Comics Studies Cluster (CSC) and the non-profit Education without Borders (EwB) joined the Homalco First Nation on a site visit to Bute Inlet. The visit took place as part of the CSC’s “Remember” Comics project, a partnership that is led by Homalco media personality Tchadas Leo and cofounded by EwB.
The “Remember” Comics project combines research design expertise that draws from Participatory Action Research, Indigenous storytelling traditions, and land-based epistemologies. The project has commissioned three Indigenous cartoonists to translate three collections of recordings of Homalco Elders into three short comics. It prioritizes Indigenous leadership and creativity to help reconnect young readers with Homalco storytelling traditions. Storytelling is crucial for preserving Indigenous knowledge, and the “Remember” Comics project seeks to honour these traditions while providing young Indigenous artists with opportunities for career advancement and mentorship.
Considered one of the most breathtaking fjords in the world, Bute Inlet is located on the west coast of British Columbia and is part of the traditional and ancestral territory of the Homalco First Nations. The CSC’s site visit sought to connect the project’s cartoonists with the place and the history their work was thematizing. We were joined by Homalco Elders and Chief Darren Blaney of the Homalo First Nation.
Indigenous cartoonists Alina Pete, Gord Hill, and Valen Onstine came onto the project to engage three themes drawn from this history and culture of the Homalco people, including hunting, clam farming, and other subsistence methods and coming-of-age stories. They were assigned recordings of Homalco Elders over the summer and had been working on researching their themes for months. Our shared visit to Bute Inlet thus allowed for further dialogue with members of the Homalco First Nation and land-based engagement to deepen their engagement with the material.
The site visit entailed a 6-hour boat tour where the artists met with Homalco Chief Darren Blaney, who has held the position for 25 years, and several Elders of the Homalco First Nation. Other participating members of the trip included the project lead, Tchadas Leo and his assistant Alisha Griffiths, EwB co-founders Cecil and Ruth Hershler and CSC Director Elizabeth “Biz” Nijdam and the cluster’s project assistant Keerti Gupta. While passing by various landmarks, including the site of the New Church House, Tchadas explained their significance, while the Elders revealed rich and detailed stories from their personal experiences and the history of the Homalco people. The cartoonists asked insightful and engaged questions to help them better understand the history of the land, clarifying and building upon the artists’ ongoing research and learning on their respective topics.
Homalco Wildlife and Culture Tours provided the boat tour, and their guides ensured the safety of all the participating members. During the tour, participants were able to witness the beauty of Bute Inlet’s vegetation, waterways, and wildlife. We visited clam farms and learned about the practices of clearing this shallow ocean coastlines over generations; we watched a killer whale mother and her calf play in; and we witnessed the elegant dives of a humpback whale. The tour made one stop in Orford Bay, where the participants climbed into SUVs and pick-up trucks in search of local grizzlies of the Inlet. At Orford Bay, participants also learned about the history of traditional salmon farming, spotted an elk, and learned about the year-round businesses of the Homalco First Nations from their guides.
Inspired by the rich and rewarding journey, cartoonist Alina Pete began her sketches of the mountainous terrain of the Inlet while looking out her window on the return trip to Campbell River. When interviewed as a part of an in-progress documentary about the project, Alina commented on how witnessing the Inlet helped her contextualize the experiences of the women in the coming-of-age stories she was working with, who journeyed down to the ocean and into the cold water every day at dawn.
The journey that day was utterly unique and left a profound impact on all the participants.
“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 is honoured to help continue to shape and foster engagement with Indigenous storytelling through its work at UBC and beyond and looks forward to seeing the results of this project through the eyes of the young Indigenous cartoonists who are capturing the storytelling traditions of the Homalco First Nation.