How “The Reckoner” trilogy contributes to TRC

The Reckoner: Even in Fiction, There Is Truth!

If you haven’t been following Indigenous teen superhero Cole Harper’s adventures in Wounded Sky First Nation, now is the time to catch up. The third book in David A. Robertson’s The Reckoner trilogy, “Ghosts”, is finally here—and fans will finally learn the fate of Cole’s community. While the books are fun and riveting to read, the series also invites readers into some very real topics. We spoke to David about the series, portraying mental illness, and what the series could mean for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

You mention in the acknowledgments of Strangers that the stories were really born ten years ago, while discussing stories with a friend. What were the stories you discussed that compelled you to produce The Reckoner trilogy?

Originally, The Reckoner was envisioned as a television show. A friend of mine, Jeff Ryzner, and I were discussing TV: what worked in shows we loved, what didn’t. And from that conversation, the concept of The Reckoner was born. It was really a product of influences. I think those influences are reflected, even today, in the tone of the series. Shows like Lost, X-Files, the kind of claustrophobic mystery that The Reckoner can be at times. You know, what would happen if all these terrible things were taking place in a remote community, where there was nowhere to run? Of course, over time, the series became so much more than that, but that feel is still there. Now it’s about relationships, about contemporary issues that First Nations people face, about representation, etc.

Why was it important to you to create a protagonist, Cole Harper, who struggles with the effects of trauma?

I wanted Cole Harper to be authentic. I wanted him to be an authentic representation of a Cree teenager who had become detached from his community, and what would happen if he had to return, and I wanted him to be an authentic representation of somebody living with anxiety. We don’t have a lot of protagonists who live with a mental illness, and I wanted him to be somebody that readers of all ages could relate to, people who are going through what he is going through. I think it’s empowering to know other people are living with mental health issues, whether they are real or fiction. If the representation is real, that’s what matters. Because I live with it, I could write from a place of truth. And the whole idea of Cole being a superhero, accepting that he can be a superhero, that he can be strong, even with this perceived weakness, was very important to me.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s final report illustrates how “reconciliation” means something different to everyone, but many contributors agree that reconciliation must be preceded by a time of healing and learning to decolonize. Do you believe that the Reckoner trilogy plays a role in this process, and if so, how do you hope it can impact the lives of Indigenous readers?

Sure I do. We need more stories like The Reckoner, because even in fiction there are important truths. If we read between the lines, this series addresses a lot. It has a lot to teach. It’s not for me to say what I want people to learn from it, but it’s there. You know, reconciliation is all about connecting with each other at a human level, through a lens of truth and respect, to listen and learn from each other, and to shove all the preconceptions and stereotypes aside. Books can facilitate that process very effectively. Maybe more effectively than anything else.

Did you receive any meaningful feedback from readers of the first two books in the series that stayed with you through the creation of Ghosts?

Mostly, it’s kids and adults who are living with mental health issues. And reading Cole and what he goes through, and listening to me talk about what I go through and have gone through, has helped them. This series has become a series that is at its most effective in the area of mental health awareness, and I’m proud of that. The theme of
Ghosts is really Cole accepting his anxiety as a part of who he is, and a part of what makes him a hero. That’s an important message.

Where there any scenes in Strangers, Monsters, or Ghosts that felt especially challenging to capture?

I think any scene that requires a significant emotional investment is challenging. Where you have to put a lot of yourself in it, and go places that will take something out of you. This book required a lot of that, but at the same time, it was cathartic. It’s healing to share, and I found that to be true. But, you know, writing about Cole having a panic attack can be anxiety inducing. But writing about Cole going through coping mechanisms reminds you of things you need to be doing in your own anxiety journey. 

And in terms of the subtext of some of the story, the contemporary or historical issues that The Reckoner addresses, like experimentation on kids, that can be hard, because you know it’s happened in the past, and you want to be respectful and do it in a subtle but appropriate way, with the right tone and message. So, yeah, all of that was pretty challenging. 

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Look, Then Look Again: Remarks on KC Adams’ Perception: A Photo Series

Art has always been a catalyst for social change. It’s one thing to bring awareness to a cause, or appeal for a change to the word of law. It’s quite another to use an artistic medium to dismantle harmful, pervasive stereotypes. In KC AdamsPerception: A Photo Series, she asks her audience to question their own prejudices with a simple, but revolutionary, request – look, then look again, at Indigenous faces. 

“Adams’ photo-based series Perception challenges racist stereotypes and remedies the aftershocks of colonization and its continuous and present hold on contemporary Canadian society,” writes Cathy Matthes in “The Perception Series: KC Adams, and the Value of Socially Engaged Art”, a critical essay included in the book.

In 2014, Adams came upon a viral Facebook post that had surfaced during the Winnipeg mayoral election. The racist post had been written by the wife of a mayoral candidate in 2010, but Adams knew the stereotype-laden tirade was no relic of the past. This was the inspiration behind the earliest shots in the series, which Adams debuted that August. Sadly, the series debut was shrouded in tragedy.

“I posted the images on August 18 at 12:01 a.m. because I was so excited to get this artwork out to the public,” Adams writes in the book’s preface. “Sadly, I found out later that day that the Winnipeg police had pulled two bodies out of the river the day before.”

One of the bodies belonged to Faron Hall, an Anishinaabe man who had saved two people from drowning in the same river that carried him away as he washed himself. The other belonged to Tina Fontaine, the murdered 15-year-old girl from Sagkeeng First Nation who went on to become the emblematic face of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls. It was a dark time for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Winnipeg, but the right time for Adams’s images to enter the public conversation.

“One strength of this work is that it doesn’t point fingers at people—it emphasizes the injustice towards the original people of this land,” Adams continues, “The lack of confrontation allows viewers to react and ponder their own prejudices.”

Each subject of the series was photographed as they offered a genuine reaction to familiar, hurtful comments and labels. They were then asked to clear their mind before Adams captured them a second time. In the second set of images, Adams worked with her subjects to represent them as they wished to be seen.

“People from all walks of life volunteered to be photographed, including students, youth workers, singers, philanthropists, award-winning journalists, and community leaders,” Matthes writes. 

Among the subjects of Perception was Katherena Vermette, a Métis author, educator, and Governor General Literary Award Winner.

“I forget the exact words she used as she directed me, but it was something about remembering a time I was made to feel worthless, less than…a time when I felt like I didn’t belong or was unwanted,” writes Vermette in the book’s foreword. Vermette was then asked to recall an intimate moment she shared with her husband. “That’s what you see in my pictures—sadness, smallness, and wanting to retreat, and then joy, love, and pure relief. Both are true, and both are only parts of the greater whole.”

As more people participated in the project, Adams was contacted by Winnipeg’s Urban Shaman Gallery to help her adapt her series to reach a wider audience. The images were displayed on posters, billboards, and bus benches from March to June 2015. In 2016, the campaign was replicated in Lethbridge, Alberta. Finally, the collection has found a permanent home in print.

Readers viewing the series for the first time can expect to be confronted by arresting portraits, each accompanied by the subjects’ self-descriptions which Matthes describes as “..revealing, humanizing, and, at times, cheeky and humorous.” 

From the moment you see Adams’ own self-portrait on the front of the hardcover, Perception is bound to provoke thought, heartache, and even a few smiles. Above all, however, it should provoke self-reflection. In Matthes’ words; “working in a collaboratively, culturally grounded way, Adams reminds us that it is important that we all ‘look again’ before making up our minds.”

You can order Perception: A Photo Series now.

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Richard Van Camp on Honouring Frank T’Seleie

Richard Van Camp is the author of “Like a Razor Slash,” a story in the anthology This Place: 150 Years Retold. The story features illustrations by Scott B. Henderson and colour art by Scott A. Ford. In his author statement below, Richard explores how the events of the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline served as inspiration for the #IdleNoMore movement, and shares the experience of writing about one of his heroes. 

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I was three years old when Chief Frank T’Seleie delivered one of the most important testimonies of our time in Fort Good Hope, NWT, defending the North against the proposed Mackenzie Valley Pipeline. You can watch the entire speech online and feel the tension grow in the room.[1] 

I wanted to use this chapter to highlight Mr.T’Seleie speech, but also to honour Justice Thomas Berger for his commitment to listening to almost 1,000 testimonies. He visited 35 communities along the Mackenzie River as well as other cities across Canada. This was three years of his life: listening, writing, deciding. 

I feel that The Mackenzie Valley Pipeline laid the groundwork for the IdleNoMore movement and the strong activism we see against corporations and pipelines to this day. This is when we used our voice to let Canada know that we would continue to proclaim our need for self-determination. 

I feel that Mr. T’Seleie’s speech is one of the finest speeches ever crafted. His words are eternal. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to call Mr. T’Seleie in his home several times as I wrote this. I was sad to learn that he, his mother, and his great aunt all went to Residential School. I decided to open this story by honouring Mr. T’Seleie as a young boy. 

Mahsi cho to everyone involved with this project. It’s not every day that you get to call one of your heroes and ask the questions that you’ve always wanted to.

Thank you. Mahsi cho.

– Richard Van Camp


[1] CBC Digital Archives. “Dene Chief: ‘My Nation Will Stop the Pipeline.’” Video. CBC Television News Broadcast, August 5, 1975, Fort Good Hope, Northwest Territories. (also available as “Dene Chief Frank T’Seleie – Mackenzie Valley pipeline/Gas Project in 1975”.)  

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Interested in learning more about the events that inspired “Like a Razor Slash”? Watch Fort Good Hope, a short documentary film shot during the Berger Inquiry into the Mackenzie Valley pipeline. 

Ready to read “Like a Razor Slash” for yourself?  Order your copy of This Place: 150 Years Retold today.

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Explore the past 150 years through the eyes of Indigenous creators in this groundbreaking graphic novel anthology. Beautifully illustrated, these stories are an emotional and enlightening journey through Indigenous wonderworks psychic battles, and time travel. See how Indigenous peoples have survived a post-apocalyptic world since Contact. 

Featuring Stories By: Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, Sonny Assu, Brandon Mitchell, Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley, David A. Robertson, Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, Jen Storm, Richard Van Camp, Katherena Vermette, and Chelsea Vowel

Illustrated By: Tara Audibert, Kyle Charles, GMB Chomichuk, Natasha Donovan, Scott B. Henderson, Ryan Howe, Andrew Lodwick, and Jen Storm

Colour By: Scott A. Ford and Donovan Yaciuk


This is one of the 200 exceptional projects funded through the Canada Council for the Arts’ New Chapter program. With this $35M investment, the Council supports the creation and sharing of the arts in communities across Canada. 


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Jen Storm on Windigos and a Way of Life that Changed Forever 

Jen Storm is the author of “Red Clouds,” a story in the anthology This Place: 150 Years Retold. The story features illustrations and colour art by Natasha Donovan. In her author statement below,  Jen delves into the inspiration behind “Red Clouds” and shares what was important in writing from a woman’s perspective.

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In the early 20th century, the Indigenous peoples of northwestern Ontario were starving. The fur trade era was coming to a close, and animals had become scarce through over-hunting. During this time, there were notable instances of people becoming delirious and resorting to cannibalism. Indigenous communities took this offence very seriously and had their own laws to deal with it. 

In writing this story, I relied heavily on the oral histories, trial transcripts, and other information in the excellent book Killing the Shamen, by Thomas Fiddler and James R. Stevens. It was important to me to write this from a woman’s perspective, as it granted me the opportunity to tell a story without retelling the one already written.

Page from “Red Clouds” illustrated by Natasha Donovan.

Wahsakapeequay is the name of a real woman who was killed by her community’s leader, Jack Fiddler, when she became delirious. However, she never ate human flesh. Little is known about her life. In this story, the character is a fictionalized composite of Wahsakapeequay, Kichi Kakapetikwe, and a number of other windigo accounts told by Fiddler’s descendants. The police charged Fiddler and his brother with murder upon hearing of the medicine man who had killed 14 windigos. 

This is the story not just of a windigo, but also of a way of life that changed forever.

– Jen Storm


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Want to find out more about the story behind “Red Clouds”? Learn about the life and trial of Zhauwuno-geezhigo-gaubow [Jack Fiddler] in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography.

Ready to read “Red Clouds” for yourself?  Pre-order This Place: 150 Years Retold today.

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Explore the past 150 years through the eyes of Indigenous creators in this groundbreaking graphic novel anthology. Beautifully illustrated, these stories are an emotional and enlightening journey through Indigenous wonderworks psychic battles, and time travel. See how Indigenous peoples have survived a post-apocalyptic world since Contact. 

Featuring Stories By: Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, Sonny Assu, Brandon Mitchell, Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley, David A. Robertson, Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, Jen Storm, Richard Van Camp, Katherena Vermette, and Chelsea Vowel

Illustrated By: Tara Audibert, Kyle Charles, GMB Chomichuk, Natasha Donovan, Scott B. Henderson, Ryan Howe, Andrew Lodwick, and Jen Storm

Colour By: Scott A. Ford and Donovan Yaciuk


This is one of the 200 exceptional projects funded through the Canada Council for the Arts’ New Chapter program. With this $35M investment, the Council supports the creation and sharing of the arts in communities across Canada. 


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New Books for BC Classrooms

Now that the weather is getting warmer, the school year is drawing to a close. For students, that means summer vacation is just a few sleeps away. For teachers, it’s almost time to plan for another year.

These new and upcoming titles are perfect additions for BC classroom bookshelves and will help you incorporate Indigenous perspectives in your lessons.

Mothers of Xsan series from HighWater Press

The Mothers of Xsan series uses a story-based approach to guide kids through concepts in the natural world. These books are a great choice to support science curriculums up to Grade 5 .

The Gitxsan culture relies on the life cycles of native plants and animals. The Mothers of Xsan series offers young readers a closer look at these ecosystems with storytelling by Gitxsan creator Hetxw’ms Gyetxw (Brett David Huson) and colour illustrations by Vancouver artist Natasha Donovan.

The Sockeye Mother is the first book in the series, released in 2017. The story follows the life cycle of the sockeye salmon, a traditional food and trade staple of the Gitxsan people. Students will learn about the delicate balance of the natural world.

Young readers will enjoy story-based exploration of concepts in the natural world while learning both scientific terms and words in Gitxsan language. The Sockeye Mother was awarded the 2018 Science Writers and Communicators of Canada book award in the Youth Category.

If you enjoyed the storytelling style in The Sockeye Mother, you can add to your collection with the second book of the Mothers of Xsan series, The Grizzly Mother, coming this September. The Grizzly Mother will capture young imaginations as they embark with a family of grizzlies through the land and forests along the Skeena River. The story uses beautiful language and artwork to show how a mother grizzly teaches her cubs how to survive on their own.

The third book in the series, The Eagle Mother, is expected for release in 2020.

Hands-on Science: An Inquiry Approach from Portage & Main Press

Developed specifically for BC’s New Curriculum, Hands-on Science and Technology: An Inquiry Approach is a resource for kindergarten to grade 2 classrooms. The four volumes in the series are Living Things for Grades K-2, Properties of Matter for Grades K-2, Properties of Energy for Grades K-2, and Land, Water, and Sky for Grades K-2.

The revised BC science curriculum is the province’s most progressive yet. Learning objectives will focus on Core Competencies like Critical Thinking and Communication. It also calls for the inclusion of First Peoples knowledge and perspectives.

The Hands-On Science: An Inquiry Approach series is tailor-made for BC science teachers. These learning resources use a student-driven scientific inquiry approach based on the Know, Do, Understand model.

Each book uses a multi-age approach geared toward kindergarten to grade two learners.

The multi-age bands presented in Hands-On Science support the diversity inherent in both single grade and multi-grade classrooms, as they centre each of the modules around overarching questions, Big Ideas, Curricular Competencies, and Core Competencies. — Faye Brownlie, staff development consultant, author

The content in each chapter helps students digest Big Ideas while practising the curricular competencies they need to meet provincial learning standards. The books also include a comprehensive assessment plan to help teachers and students reflect on the learning.

These titles make great tools for a well-rounded science program, while honouring BC’s ethnic diversity. With these books in your classroom, kids can build a stronger connection to the world around them.

Early years educators can purchase their copies today from the Portage & Main Press website. The grades 3–5 modules will be released starting this fall!

Follow us on social media for more information on new releases!

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An Interview with Peter Diamond, Cover Artist for the Reckoner Trilogy

Peter Diamond is a Canadian illustrator who studied Fine Arts at the University of Halifax. He is now based in Vienna, Austria. Besides working freelance with clients around the world in publishing, editorial, and advertising, Peter also teaches drawing at Illuskills and works with the international illustration community through Illustria and the European Illustrators Forum. He is the recipient of the Patrick Nagel Award and an Eisner Award, and has also received medals from the Society of Illustrators New York, 3×3, Society of Illustrators LA, Illustrative, and Autori Di Immagini. Peter is the cover artist for The Reckoner trilogy by David A. Robertson, which includes: Strangers, Monsters, and the highly anticipated conclusion, Ghosts.

In his Q&A below, Peter takes us through his illustration process; what it was like working with Reckoner trilogy author, David A. Robertson; and the concepts that were fundamental in creating the trilogy’s covers.

  • What does your typical cover illustration process look like?

The process always starts with coming to grips with the concept, getting as much info as I can from the client about the subject matter and whatever leanings or slants they may have about which parts of the concept to highlight. The technical specs of size and physical media are critical at this point, too.

From there it’s a matter of finding a fitting image idea through a process of sketching and then refining the best of those ideas in concert with the art director. Once that’s all laid out, I’m able to just draw and make the art look as beautiful and compelling as I can, knowing that it has the backbone of a solid idea to keep it strong.

  • Did you find that there were any differences in your process for the The Reckoner trilogy?

I don’t do a lot of book covers, so it’s an application for which I don’t have any particular strongly-embedded habits, but the same process is at play regardless.

In this case the biggest difference, and something I really enjoyed was the chance to discuss the ideas in detail with the author himself. David was very forthcoming and very engaged in telling me all about his characters and inspirations, and it was a treat, honestly. There is usually an intermediary or two between the author and the illustrator if you are doing editorial illustration (for newspapers or magazines, for example), and if you are doing advertising work there are many layers of such intermediaries, so this was refreshingly direct and collaborative.

  • In your 2010 interview with Squidface & The Meddler,  you mentioned that you aim to make your illustrations visual short stories. In creating cover art for The Reckoner trilogy, what elements of the books did you choose to highlight and why?

For the first book, it was clear to me from my conversations with David that I wanted to hone in on the liminal quality of the world he’d built; the way everything seemed to be happening along a border of one kind or another. Between the worlds of spirits and the living, urban life and the wild, or of beasts and humankind, some kind of duality seemed to permeate all of the most compelling aspects of the story. Jayne is a perfect embodiment of this idea, the way she is split down the middle, and it was clear among all the different sketches that the designs focusing on her were most compelling.

  • You’ve created the illustrations for all three covers of The Reckoner. How do you think the three covers work together? How is creating covers for a trilogy different than creating a cover for a single book?

The clear difference with a trilogy is that it’s a family of stories rather than a stand-alone thing, so the covers for the second and third books were very much beholden to the first for their approach; we wanted a clear unity of design in the trilogy even while the covers were all distinct. Since the concept of duality we used to approach Book 1 was something fundamental to David’s world-building for the whole series, rather than something specific to that instalment of the series, it carried over very well across the trilogy. That’s actually a good example of the importance of starting every project with an in-depth examination of the underlying concepts.

  • What are you working on currently? What can we look forward to seeing from you in the future?

My aim for the coming years is that you’ll be seeing more self-made projects from me, and at the moment, a big part of what I’m engaged in is sorting out how to pursue the backlog of my own ideas in some productive way while keeping up with my client work in editorial, advertising, and publishing. It’s not easy, but such a wonderful problem to have.

Over the last few years I’ve been doing more and more screen-printed posters with Black Dragon Press in the UK, and that’s something I’m really excited about pursuing further.
Interested in seeing Peter Diamond’s art up close? Get the Reckoner trilogy today!

Stay tuned for more information on The Reckoner, graphic novel series and origin story about Cole Harper. “An Indigenous superhero, minus the tired stereotypes.”


The first issue comes out fall 2020. The Reckoner: Breakdown.

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Find Us at Congress 2019!

This year, we’re honoured to be exhibiting at the annual Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Vancouver, BC from May 31-June 4, 2019. We’ll be joined by some of the inspiring educators and authors we’ve worked with over the past year.

If you’re unfamiliar with the event, it’s an annual gathering of over 70 scholarly organizations organized by the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences. ‘Congress’ brings together some of the most brilliant minds across Canada, and invites attendees to engage in workshops, panel presentations, cultural events, and more.

Each of our authors below will be speaking at the event as part of the educator strand. If you’ll be attending the event, you won’t want to miss out on these talks! For now, we’re excited to introduce you to these inspiring individuals.

Dr. Jennifer KatzDr. Jennifer Katz, PhD

Dr. Katz has been spent 16 years as an educator for 16 years and has published 28 titles, each striving to support teachers in creating an inclusive learning environment. In 2016, Dr. Katz received the MCEC Outstanding Achievement Award for Leadership. Her most recent release, Ensouling Our Schools: A Universally Designed Framework for Mental Health, Well-Being, and Reconciliation, is a road map for educators to nurture mental, spiritual, and emotional health in diverse learning environments.





Ensouling Our Schools 2018
Ensouling Our Schools
aims to dismantle systems of marginalization within our educational environments to create nurturing, meaningful learning experiences for all students.



Dr. Leyton Schnellert, PhD

Dr. Schnellert is an associate professor in UBC’s Department of Curriculum & Pedagogy and Eleanor Rix Professor in Rural Teacher Education, with a background as a middle- and secondary-school educator. He has also been a learning resource teacher for grades K-12. Dr. Schnellert has developed books, produced films, and written research articles that have been used around the world to inform a more inclusive approach to pedagogy. His most recent title is Creating Pathways for Learners in the Middle Years, part of the It’s All About Thinking series.



Dr. Schellert also wrote the foreword for One Without the Other: Stories of Unity Through Diversity and Inclusion by Shelley Moore, also featured.

Dr. Sara Davidson, PhD

Dr. Davidson is a Haida educator and scholar of Literacy Education. She has worked as an educator with adolescent and adult learners in British Columbia and the Yukon Territory. She has spent most of this time working with Indigenous students transitioning from rural communities to larger urban centres to complete their education. Today, she’s an Aassistant pProfessor in the Teacher Education Department at the University of the Fraser Valley, where she works with teacher candidates to introduce Indigenous content and perspectives into their classrooms. Dr. Davidson has spent a large portion of her life researching the writing process as a means to explore one’s identity, and how to combine Indigenous and non-Indigenous teaching practices to create stronger curriculums. She collaborated with her father, Robert Davidson, to produce the book Potlatch as Pedagogy, which underscores how Haida traditions can be integrated into contemporary educational practices.



Davidson and Davidson offer readers an important exploration of how one nation’s culture, knowledge, and protocols can inform pedagogy for the better.

—Dr. Frank Deer, Canada Research Chair and Associate Professor, University of Manitoba


Shelley_MooreShelley Moore

Ms. Moore is an inclusive-education consultant, speaker, and educator. Currently a PhD student at the University of British Columbia, Ms. Moore’s research focuses on the combined impacts of inclusive education practices, curriculum, and teacher professional development. She has developed courses at Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia, and has worked in elementary and secondary schools supporting students of all abilities. Her book, One Without the Other: Stories of Unity Through Diversity and Inclusion, uses stories from her experiences in the classroom to guide conversations about what an inclusive classroom looks like. The book addresses real challenges educators are facing, such as the difference between integration and inclusion, inclusion as a philosophy and a practice, and ways to extend inclusiveness to students with diverse needs.


Shelley Moore is a gifted storyteller. Her willingness to be vulnerable and share the moments she has experienced inclusion, and exclusion, power, and need, allow all of us to see the connection between our own lives and the experiences of our students. Shelley is passionate and inspirational— – she will cause you to think, to cry, to laugh, and to dream.

—Jennifer Katz, author of the Teaching to Diversity series

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Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm on“Nimkii,” and the History of Indigenous Children in Foster Care

Akiwenzie-Damm, Kateri
Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm
 is the author of “Nimkii,” a story in the anthology This Place: 150 Years Retold. The story features illustrations by Ryan Howe and Jen Storm, and colour art by Donovan Yaciuk. In her author statement below, Kateri shares the stories that inspired “Nimkii,” and the personal connection that runs throughout. 

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“Nimkii” was inspired by the lives of a few specific children in care, the shocking statistics about Indigenous children in the system, and my own experience as an adoptive mother. In the late 1980s, I watched Alanis Obomsawin’s documentary Richard Cardinal: Cry from the Diary of a Metis Child about a boy who took his own life after being placed in 28 different foster homes during his 14 years “in care.” Richard’s story lodged itself in my heart, changing the way I understood Indigenous history and what it means to be “in care.” I resolved to adopt when I started a family. Later I heard about Teddy Bellingham, an Anishinaabe “Crown Ward” with roots in my community, who was brutally murdered in Smith Falls, Ontario. I learned about the Sixties Scoop and its devastating impacts on children, families, and communities, many of whom fought to bring their children home. When I eventually started my family, I did adopt. I have two beautiful, smart, loving, Anishinaabe boys who are the loves of my life, my family, my joy. It’s heartbreaking to know that there are many other children, just as beautiful and deserving of love, who languish in the system, neglected, abused, placed in homes where they are simply a “meal ticket” or a “good deed,” pawns in a power game by CFS workers and agencies exerting their control over Indigenous lives. There are Indigenous children “in care” who develop lifelong attachment issues, with no one to care or advocate for them, exposed to crime and addictions, taught to hate their Indigeneity. Of course, some Indigenous children are adopted into families bonded by love, respect, and caring. Some are fostered with kindness. Some thrive despite the system. They too inspire me and deserve to be celebrated. With “Nimkii,” I have done my best to tell a story that lovingly honours all of these children.

– Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm

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Watch Richard Cardinal: Cry from a Diary of a Métis Child, the powerful 1984 documentary film by Alanis Obomsawin that inspired “Nimkii”.

Looking for more information on the Sixties Scoop, or wanting to get involved? Check out the Métis National Council’s portal site.

Want to read “Nimkii” for yourself?  Pre-order This Place: 150 Years Retold today.

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Explore the past 150 years through the eyes of Indigenous creators in this groundbreaking graphic novel anthology. Beautifully illustrated, these stories are a wild ride through magic realism, serial killings, psychic battles, and time travel. See how Indigenous peoples have survived a post-apocalyptic world since Contact.

Featuring Stories By: Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, Sonny Assu, Brandon Mitchell, Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley, David A. Robertson, Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, Jen Storm, Richard Van Camp, Katherena Vermette, and Chelsea Vowel

Illustrated By: Tara Audibert, Kyle Charles, GMB Chomichuk, Natasha Donovan, Scott B. Henderson, Ryan Howe, Andrew Lodwick, and Jen Storm

Colour By: Scott A. Ford and Donovan Yaciuk


CCA_NewChapter_logo_transparent-eThis is one of the 200 exceptional projects funded through the Canada Council for the Arts’ New Chapter program. With this $35M investment, the Council supports the creation and sharing of the arts in communities across Canada.


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Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley on Inuit Shamanism in “Rosie”

Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley on Inuit Shamanism in “Rosie”Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley are the authors of “Rosie,” a story in the anthology This Place: 150 Years Retold. The story features illustrations and colour art by GMB Chomichuck. In their author statement below, Rachel & Sean delve into how colonization affected the Inuit, as well as some of the principles of Inuit shamanism.

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Secrecy. Intuition. Isolation. These factors conspired to make Inuit latecomers to assimilation. The result is that Inuit retain specifics regarding their cosmogony and shamanism—traditions spanning the circumpolar Arctic and laughably huge compared to our tale set around Canada’s “Foxe Basin.”

Doing a search for “Inuit beliefs” can get pretty depressing. Inuit psychology, as rendered in many sources, is presented as chaotic. Crude. But most researchers failed to understand that shamans (Inuktitut, aangakkuit; eldritch word implying “ecstatic ones”) were expressing a form of “imaginal intelligence” (praised by Einstein) necessary for physical and psychological survival. This is a vision of existence using layered, reiterating systems, whether in the human heart, or ice and wind.

“Rosie” is a nod to shamanism—a secret history of Inuit. To its layers. Much of this story is true. And while we’re not going to pluck at fact over fiction, for those who think the idea of shamans versus Nazis is … over-the-top, well, that really did happen. The dolls were real, too. So don’t be surprised at the rest.

Please note this, if nothing else: shamanism is different from spirituality. Aangakkuit are specialists in the soul (of any life), a membrane where mind meets spirit. The mind is temporary, while spirit is borrowed from a greater All, eternal and beyond expression. Shamans, in this sense, are not spiritual people. One might instead call them practitioners of “psychotechnology” (there’s a nice made-up word for you). Not the Inuit religion, but a system. An understanding. Of what? (Inuit secrecy…)

– Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley

* * * * * *

Interested in more from Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley? Read about their award-winning young adult novel, Skraelings: Clashes in the Old Arctic and find “Rosie” in This Place: 150 Years Retold.

* * * * * *

Explore the past 150 years through the eyes of Indigenous creators in this groundbreaking graphic novel anthology. Beautifully illustrated, these stories are an emotional journey through Indigenous wonderworks, psychic battles, and time travel. See how Indigenous peoples have survived a post-apocalyptic world since Contact.

Featuring Stories By: Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, Sonny Assu, Brandon Mitchell, Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley, David A. Robertson, Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, Jen Storm, Richard Van Camp, Katherena Vermette, and Chelsea Vowel

Illustrated By: Tara Audibert, Kyle Charles, GMB Chomichuk, Natasha Donovan, Scott B. Henderson, Ryan Howe, Andrew Lodwick, and Jen Storm

Colour By: Scott A. Ford and Donovan Yaciuk

This is one of the 200 exceptional projects funded through the Canada Council for the Arts’ New Chapter program. With this $35M investment, the Council supports the creation and sharing of the arts in communities across Canada.

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Potlatch as Pedagogy, an interview and introduction of Sara Davidson and Robert Davidson

Book launch and talk at The University of the Fraser Valley.

Book launch and talk with Sara Davidson and Robert Davidson at The University of the Fraser Valley.

Inspired by Haida ceremonial practice, Potlatch as Pedagogy is a resource for teachers written by educator Sara Davidson and her father, renowned artist Robert Davidson.  Sara began writing the book when she realized the traditions of the Haida practiced by her father—holistic, built on relationships, practical, and continuous—could be integrated into contemporary educational practices.

We sat down with Sara and Robert to chat about the book in preparation for its release.

PMP: Sara, what inspired you to write this book?

SD: One of my roles in teacher education is to teach educators and candidates how to integrate Indigenous content, perspectives, and pedagogies into their classroom practices. With the curriculum change in British Columbia that resulted in learning standards that are connected to Indigenous knowledge being introduced across grade levels and curricular areas, educators have become increasingly interested in how to bring that knowledge into their classrooms. Because of the difference in worldviews, some educators do not understand the protocols that may be associated with including Indigenous knowledge in their classes.

When my father first began carving the totem pole, his understanding of the art was still emerging. He did not realize the depth of ceremonial knowledge required to raise the pole. I hoped that by sharing the story about my father learning about the ceremonial knowledge connected with the pole raising, educators might also come to better understand the depth of Indigenous knowledge or at least to consider the different protocols that may be connected with bringing it into the classroom.

In my courses, I also talk a lot about the importance of connecting with local knowledge, and it was my hope that this project could serve as a starting place for thinking about how educators might be able to connect with local knowledge and educational principles to guide their teaching or at the very least to begin to understand the power of doing so.

PMP: The painting on the cover of the book is stunning. Could you talk a bit about what it represents?

SD: My father described this painting as “two working together” or a bow and arrow and it was the title that resonated with me at first. When my father spoke about the painting with me, he described the two faces that he saw in the shapes and the thin black lines of communication and he spoke about the significance of the colours in Haida art from before and after contact with Europeans. I described what I saw when I looked at the painting in the book, but as I mentioned previously, it was really the title that resonated with me – because it speaks to the process that we used to write the book. We really were two working together as we drew upon a process of intergenerational sharing of knowledge. (for more about the painting, see pages 9-10 in the book)

PMP: Your father [Robert Davidson] uses the expression “born in the nick of time.” Could you speak about what that means in relation to learning from your elders and passing that knowledge along to future generations?

SD: This expression would not have been necessary if not for the Potlatch Ban. Without it, we would have been free to pass on our knowledge to future generations in the ways that our ancestors did. However, during the Potlatch Ban, we were very restricted in the knowledge we were able to share.

My father speaks about his generation being “born in the nick of time” because they were at the right age – both old enough and young enough – when the Potlatch Ban was lifted to be able to receive the knowledge from the Elders before they passed on. Though we are now able to share our cultural knowledge without those same restrictions, we now face a similar challenge with our language, and I believe that those who are working to revive the language could also be considered “born in the nick of time” to be able to learn from the few remaining speakers.

PMP: Generally, what are the sk’ad’a principles, and how can they help teachers?

SD: In British Columbia, FNESC developed the First Peoples Principles of Learning which are not specific to an individual nation, but they “represent an attempt to identify common elements in the varied teaching and learning approaches that prevail within particular First Peoples societies” (BC Ministry of Education, n.d.). In working with teacher candidates over the years, I have always encouraged them to work with these principles, but I have also encouraged them to seek local connections and to learn more about how specific communities conceptualize teaching and learning in their local context.

Sk’ad’a is the Haida word for learn and the root word for teach. The sk’ad’a principles are based on stories that my father told me to help me to understand how he learned outside of the school environment when he was growing up. As I listened to the stories, I started to hear themes in what he was telling me. Following the conversations, I sat with the stories and the themes became more clear and these emerged to become the sk’ad’a principles. It is important to note that these are not Haida principles, as they are only based upon my father’s experiences, and I did not consult with the Haida Nation about the principles. I chose to call them the sk’ad’a principles after consulting with a few community members who are more knowledgeable than I am.


PMP: Could you speak about some of the struggles of the Haida people and the steps they took to ensure that their culture survived?

SD: The Canadian government worked very hard to assimilate Indigenous peoples, including the Haida. This included (but was not limited to) the banning of our potlatches which prevented us from remembering and sharing our cultural knowledge with future generations, sending children to residential schools far away from our communities where children were abused and prevented from speaking their ancestral languages, and placing an Indian Agent in Masset to reinforce the Indian Act – punishing those who did not comply. This resulted in the necessity for Haida Elders to find innovative ways to ensure that the knowledge was not lost, including potlatching in secret and sharing the knowledge at Christmas dinners and/or weddings.

When I was doing research for this book, I learned about a specific dance that I will never learn because of a missionary who lived in Masset and prevented us from practicing the dance and passing it on. It is easy to focus on the loss, but I really try to focus instead on the gratitude for the Elders who worked to piece together knowledge of the old ways so that I have strong connections to my Haida culture today.

My father and my uncle started a traditional Haida dance group when I was a young girl, and this has also helped to revive our ancestral knowledge. Participating in this dance group has allowed me to live my Haida ancestry rather than to simply remember it or learn about it in books.

PMP: Robert Davidson’s carving of a totem pole for his village is a vital story in this book. Could you elaborate on that?

SD: I think that the story of the carving of the pole gave us a tangible way to talk about revitalization of cultural knowledge. It began with the stories my father told me about learning outside of the school environment. Through those conversations, I learned about how my father learned – what elements needed to be present for him to learn. As those conversations ended, he began talking about the pole raising, and I realized we had transitioned into something entirely different. He was speaking to me about learning cultural knowledge and protocol. He used the story of carving the pole and raising it in the community to teach me about relearning cultural knowledge after attempts had been made to destroy that knowledge. That experience of carving and raising the pole provided my father with an opportunity to learn that knowledge from the Elders. When he learned that knowledge, he felt compelled to share it and did so through hosting and co-hosting feasts and potlatches. What was particularly interesting to me is that he used those same sk’ad’a principles to share what he had learned.

PMP: Could you talk a bit about the difference between ownership of art and art that “belongs” to the community?

SD: First, to provide a bit of background, there is a moment in the book after my father has finished carving the pole when he is helping the community to move it to where it will be raised. As my father is helping to move the pole his tsinii (grandfather) tells my father that the pole doesn’t belong to him anymore.

I think that if you asked my father, he would say that the pole never did belong to him in the way that we often think about ownership. Both my father and my brother speak about the art emerging from the medium – for example, the wood from which it is carved. But there is this time, that they spend with the art, helping it to emerge, when they are completely connected to the art. They are so connected that when it has been completed, the piece has the ability to tell a story on their behalf. But in order for that story to be shared, the piece has to be let go into the world.

I think that those words that my great-grandfather said to my father have always remained with him because I believe that there is always a moment when the piece is finished and the artist must let the piece go. This is not about the art no longer being attributed to the artist – it is more about honouring the life in the art and the need for art to be out in the world interacting with people in order to complete its purpose. In the case of the pole, it belongs to the community because it created the opportunity for the Elders to remember knowledge and it allowed the community to live the culture once again.

PMP: The story about your great-grandmother putting a paper bag over her head to perform a traditional dance is very moving. Could you speak to the significance of her action, and what it has meant for you and other Haida?

SD: I cannot speak on behalf of others, but I can say that for me this was always an act of courage. Although I was not there, I have always felt that my great-grandmother struggled to share this knowledge, but she knew that it had the potential to die with her. I believe that this gave her the strength she needed to overcome any fears or shame that she may have faced in order to share the dance with my father.

As I mentioned previously, while doing research for this book, I learned of a dance that I will never know because of the Potlatch Ban, and specifically because of a single missionary who lived in Masset – this filled me with a tremendous sense of loss but also anger that I was denied this inheritance. My great-grandmother’s courage to share the dance and my father’s willingness to learn the dance meant that I was not also denied knowing this dance. For that, I am grateful.

Get your own copy of Potlatch as Pedagogy.


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