As a middle-aged, middle-class white man living in a good apartment in America, it would be easy for me to believe a white washed version of U.S. history, one where this land wasn’t stolen from the indigenous people already living here. But then accepting the truth, especially when it’s unpleasant, is never easy. Learning it, however, can be. Which brings me to Gord Hill, the writer and artist of The 500 Years Of Indigenous Resistance Comic Book: Revised And Expanded (paperback, Kindle), an updated version of his 2010 history lesson in graphic novel form. In the following email interview, Hill — a member of the Kwakwaka’wakw nation — discusses what inspired the original comic, as well as what prompted him to revisit and revise it for this new edition.
For starters, what is The 500 Years Of Indigenous Resistance Comic Book about?
It’s a history of over 500 years of Indigenous resistance against European colonialism, beginning in 1492 and continuing up to this day.
What prompted you to write the original edition?
Originally, I never planned on producing a comic book or graphic novel. I was creating short 4-8 page black and white comics that could be easily photocopied and distributed at conferences, pow wows, and other Native gatherings. These first comics were focused on recent acts of resistance by Indigenous peoples such as Oka 1990, Ipperwash and Ts’Peten in 1995, etc. It was a way of maintaining a history of resistance and contributing to building a culture of resistance. After I had done a few of these, a comrade suggested that I expand on them to make a 500 years of Indigenous resistance comic, after which I started work on new chapters.
Other comic books that are non-fiction, and about something important, will sometimes include lists of other books people can read to learn more about the subject at hand. The 500 Years of Indigenous Resistance Comic Book does not have a suggested reading list or study guide. How come?
I have considered including a reading list, and of course in the first 500 Years Comic Ward Churchill did include a substantial list of recommended books. For this new revised edition, I once again thought about including a list but in the end, I was struggling with the deadline just to get the art finished and so the reading list was neglected. I also considered footnotes but ultimately, I didn’t like how it interfered with the text.
Now, in the interview we did about your previous book, The Antifa Comic Book, you actually said, “I wish I could go back and redo The 500 Years of Indigenous Resistance Comic Book with the skills I have now, I think I could do a much better job and also update it.” But how did this actually come together?
For many years I’d wanted to redo the 500 Years Comic, and in fact it got the point where I didn’t even want to look at it. I wasn’t happy with the art and as I learned more of the history, I realized how many inaccuracies there were, as well as omissions of important struggles. So, after I finished Antifa I approached Arsenal Pulp Press about redoing 500 Years and they were pretty happy to do it.
So then, when it came to making The 500 Years Of Indigenous Resistance Comic Book: Revised And Expanded, what aspects of the original book did you revise, which did you expand, and why did you feel those aspects needed to be redone and/or added to?
Right off the mark I would say the chapters on the Taino, Mexica, Inca, and Mapuche were the primary ones I really wanted to expand on. The first edition of the comic certainly didn’t do these peoples and their fight any justice, and I think they are very important parts of the colonization of the Americas and certainly with the Mapuche, I mean they are probably the most important and successful of the anti-colonial resistance struggles that occurred, and they were never conquered by the Spanish.
I wanted to redo The Seminole as well, as I felt the original chapter I had done was rather weak. And then there was a large gap in terms of anti-colonial resistance in the Eastern Woodlands in the first edition. In addition, since the last art for the first 500 years comic was finished probably around 2006 there was a big gap in terms of more current acts of resistance, including 6 Nations in 2006, Elsipogtog 2013, Idle No More, and the Unist’ot’en anti-pipeline struggle.
When it came to the parts of the text that you revised or added, what were your biggest sources of new information? Like, were there any really good books on the subject that were especially helpful, any really good documentaries…?
With the first comic I was really limited in terms of information I could use as resources. I was homeless at points, so I couldn’t have a lot of reference books, for many years I was in rural environments and libraries in these areas simply don’t have very much material. I also didn’t have a computer or internet access.
For the new edition, I now have a laptop and am in a more stable living situation. I was able to gather more accurate reference materials. I bought several books from Osprey Publishing which specializes in military history and has pretty decent reference materials for historical clothing, weapons, shelters, etc. I got several books on Native American clothing, uniforms of the British Army in North America… One book I found very useful was Thundersticks by David J. Silverman which documents the history of Native peoples and the early trade in firearms.
But probably the biggest source was the internet — especially for the Taino — as there are numerous websites maintained by traditional Taino that had a lot of information I just didn’t see anywhere else. And certainly, for a lot of the graphic material, such as traditional weapons, clothing, and shelters, I relied on a lot of websites that specialize in this type of material.
As you mentioned, you redid the art in The 500 Years Of Indigenous Resistance Comic Book: Revised And Expanded. Are there any artists whose work you came to like in the eleven years since the first version of Resistance who you think had a big influence on the new art?
I would say no. I’m not really following new comics or graphic novels at this time. When I started the Antifa comic, however, I did some study of comic artists that I was more familiar with from the 1970s, particularly Jack Kirby, just to get a better grasp of how comics can be created with more dynamic action and flow. And I continued this when I began work on the revised version of 500 Years. I also tried to get a better grip on human anatomy as I wasn’t that pleased with some of the art in the Antifa comic, along with animal anatomy and in particular horses, which began to play a prominent role in both European colonization and Indigenous anti-colonial resistance.
There are people on one side of the political divide who hate it when anyone says anything bad about their country. What do you think people like that would learn from this book, if you could get them to read it?
I think they could learn that the history they are taught is intended to make them feel good and even patriotic about their country, but that this history is false.
In a similar vein, people on the other side of the political spectrum are quick to cancel anyone who does something bad, even if they’re otherwise a good person. What do you think people like that would learn from The 500 Years Of Indigenous Resistance Comic Book?
That life is not black and white, that every resistance movement has contradictions, but that this does not invalidate the struggle as a whole. Every people and culture has contradictions, but this does not always invalidate them as a whole, either.
Some might say the Mexica, for example, were no better than the Spaniards, as they also built their empire through violence & oppression. But this was under the direction of the Mexica ruling class, and even here we can see a difference in the forms of European and Indigenous empire-building. The Mexica did not wage genocidal wars or carry out massacres as a routine. In fact, at the time of the Spanish invasion, the Mexica were primarily carrying out “Flower Wars,” which were mostly symbolic battles that enabled Mexica warriors to capture prisoners that were then sacrificed, and in many ways their religious and military system were intertwined and dependent on the capture & sacrifice of prisoners. To me this is a corruption, a contradiction, that arises from the authoritarian structure of Mexica society. But with the Flower Wars, large-scale conflicts were minimized, the destruction of entire towns and regions avoided, which benefited both the empire and the populations it ruled over.
To me, this type of contradiction doesn’t justify the destruction and genocide of the Mexica people, which is what the Spanish carried out. For me, the anti-colonial resistance of the Mexica as a whole was a righteous struggle. The Spanish were the invaders.
The Taoists of ancient China, for example, recognized violence as something that wasn’t good. Weapons were seen as “instruments of ill omen,” something to be used only as a last resort. At the same time, they recognized the need & validity of “righteous wars” in which organized violence was used to stop injustice, to defend populations from attack or looting, etc.
And then for people like me, who recognize that life isn’t black and white, and that good people can do bad things, what do you think we’ll get out of reading The 500 Years Of Indigenous Resistance Comic Book? Or, rather, what do you hope we’ll get out of it?
Well, the main purpose of the book is to highlight Indigenous anti-colonial resistance in order to counter the narrative that Natives were passive victims of genocide, to show that our ancestors engaged in this resistance and were often quite successful. From this I hope that Indigenous people take pride in their ancestry and are inspired to participate in resistance movements occurring today. For non-Indigenous people I hope it reveals the harsh truth of colonialism, the violence and genocide that are at the heart of colonization. And I hope it also inspires them to join social movements that work for positive change and that the book will help influence these struggles with an awareness of Indigenous anti-colonial resistance, which continues to this day.
Finally, if someone reads The 500 Years Of Indigenous Resistance Comic Book: Revised And Expanded, and they want to know more, what book of someone else’s would you suggest they read? Oh, and it doesn’t have to be a comic book.
That’s a hard one to answer as there really isn’t one single book I would recommend that would cover 500-plus years of Indigenous resistance. But a good starting point is Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, which primarily focuses on U.S. expansion into the Great Plains and Southwest during the 1800s, mostly because it is so well written and documented.