The Comic Book as a Medium of Resistance

Comics aren’t always known for treating serious subjects, but Gord Hill’s The 500 Years of Resistance Comic Book adds a dose of reality to the genre.

Hill, of the Kwakwaka’wakw nation, has taken the topics of dispossession, genocide, and the colonization of First Nations in the western hemisphere and, surprisingly, pulled off a rendering in comic book form. The 500 Years of Resistance Comic Book, published by Arsenal Pulp Press, presents in black-and-white panels the history of the overseas invasion by Europeans and the resistance of Indigenous peoples.

The 500 Years of Resistance Comic Book
By Gord Hill
Foreword by Ward Churchill
Publisher: Arsenal Pulp Press, Vancouver, 2010
Paperback: 88 pages
ISBN-13: 9781551523606

As a medium, comics have many attractions. They engage visually. They give information in bite-sized chunks—ideal for the modern reader’s short attention span. They are fun.

Much of colonial history in the Americas has been sanitized—indeed, current Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper denies colonization ever occurred in Canada. Today, the European invasion of Indigenous territories is often depicted in popular culture as the settlement of an untamed wilderness, a terra nullius, not the homeland of sophisticated civilizations who often fiercely contested Europeans’ claims to their lands.

Hill seeks to visually combat this narrative. “The story of our ancestors’ resistance is minimized, or erased entirely,” he writes in the preface. “This strategy has been used to impose capitalist ideology on people, to pacify them, and to portray their struggle as doomed to failure.”

Knowledge is key to fighting an oppressive system. “When we know and understand this history of oppression, we will be better able to fight the system it created,” he writes.

One way to counter the colonial depiction of history is to “always call things by their right name” as enjoined by Philip Deere, a Muskogee-Creek involved with the American Indian Movement. For instance, Hill places British Columbia within quotation marks, thereby questioning the legitimacy and morality of so-naming unceded First Nations territory. 500 Years of Resistance does this unevenly, though; Hill and Ward Churchill in his introduction use inaccurate designations for Indigenous peoples: “American Indian,” “Mohawk” instead of “Kanienkehaka,” “Huron” instead of “Wyandot.”

500 Years of Resistance roots invasion in the voyage of Genovese navigator Christopher Columbus, who encountered the Taino people in the Caribbean during his infamous 1492 voyage from Europe. It continues through to 1890—describing the Incan Mapuche, Pueblo, Pontiac, Seminole, Apache, Lakota, and Pacific Northwest Indigenous resistances to the colonists—and the fight to maintain their lifeways on their territories—at which point Hill signals the end of military Indigenous resistance. Millions of Original Peoples had been wiped out, many by warfare, but mostly by European-introduced diseases. The treaty process then picked up (a process noticeably absent from much of “BC”), and assimilation took over.

Hill tells of colonizers imposing slave labor, of barbarity, of disease epidemics, of greed for gold, of land theft and of the insinuation and imposition of the capitalist system during settling of the “New World.” To maintain the dispossession of their land and resources, the invaders tried to assimilate the remaining Original Peoples into European ways of being through religious conversion, the Indian Residential School system, and the imposition of the capitalist economic system.

Despite diligent colonial efforts to break them away from their identities—so closely tied to their land—Indigenous peoples persist in struggles for self-determination. Hill captures this graphically—from war on the Pacific Northwest coast, to the ’68 rebellion and Wounded Knee, Oka, Chiapas, Ts’peten, and Aazhoodena. 500 Years of Resistance is a well-drawn comic book that resurrects the history “erased, replaced by the occupying nation.”

Kim Petersen is an independent writer. He can be emailed at: kimohp at Read other articles by Kim.

20 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. teafoe2 said on July 30th, 2010 at 5:24pm #

    Compliments & thanks Kim, I’ll try to get a copy.

    There are two things here, one is the correction of the historical record, the countering of the version taught in US elementary & high school “history” classes.

    The other is the use of the Comic Book as a tool to educate and organize. It is underused. Activists should keep it in mind.

    Another underutilized tool is scrawling short messages on barroom toilet walls. Hehe, you think I’m kidding but I’m not.

    A variation is to manufacture mini-leaflets, containing just a slogan or a headline, and cover the reverse side with the kind of adhesive that once applied won’t come off; and paste those in restrooms and other spots with a lot of foot traffic where people can’t avoid reading them.

    “Israel Delendi Est”:)

  2. Rehmat said on July 30th, 2010 at 6:05pm #

    The ‘Jewish Comic Exhibition ‘ just concluded in Berlin.

  3. Ward Churchill said on July 31st, 2010 at 12:50pm #

    Powerful points about “Mohawk” vs. “Kanienkehaka” and “Huron” vs. “Wyandot,” Kim. But, since we’re on the topic, would you care to explain what a “Creek” might be? Or when the word “Muscogee” came to be spelled “Muskogee”?

  4. Kim Petersen said on July 31st, 2010 at 8:13pm #

    Ward, as you well know, there has been a process of assimilation that sought to “disappear” the Original Peoples. Hence, many First Nation designations have been altered/lost/replaced by colonial designations or even the designation of another Indigenous people.
    I agree with professor Harald Prins: “Ethnicity involves self-ascription.”
    I always make an attempt to find out how an Indigenous person or people wish to be designated.

  5. Don Hawkins said on August 1st, 2010 at 5:04am #

    an Indigenous person or people wish to be designated.

    Therefore, the distinction applied to indigenous groups can be formulated as “a politically underprivileged group, who share a similar… identity different to the nation in power”, and who share territorial rights to a particular area governed by a colonial power. Wiki

    A politically underprivileged group, who share a similar… identity different to the nation in power. Just on the off chance what we see with our own eye’s and now the science at last check 100% the underprivileged group who’s identity will differ to the nation in power in the twenty first century will be one for the history book’s the last history book’s. Again just on the off chance the change over from Ipods. Iphones, the world of I to the world of survival will not be boring. Just on the off chance how long 10 years it will be very clear 20 years right in our face granted that scenario only if we live in a perfect world. Will there be a few in the nation of power again just on the off chance that will find it easier to survive with a little help from there friends maybe. We have been told over and over in order to survive we need a new way of thinking and yes in some way’s old way’s and yet we do nothing. Herculean, enormous, kind of like a war effort and yes those words seem to denote action but action can also mean to slowdown. It’s a tuff one and as we see from James Hansen’s last post the decision has been make so far not just from the greatest nation on Earth but many other nations I guess less great full speed ahead. Why well millions of words have already been written on why and just maybe because the human’s who should be running the show this very day are a politically underprivileged group, who share a similar… identity different to the nation in power. Again just on the off chance what we now see with our own eye’s those of us who can still see and hear through the illusion, strangeness, bullshit as yes we have gained knowledge so far how does it play out well in the best case survival with maybe a few having the leftovers of modern man’s great advances like a washing machine.

  6. Ward Churchill said on August 1st, 2010 at 2:00pm #

    Hmmmm… That’s be fine, Kim. I absolutely agree. Which is why, since I know a fair number of Mohawks who call themselves as Mohawks, I tend to refer to them as such.

    On the other hand, I’ve never encountered anyone who identified him or herself as a “Muskogee-Creek.” (Kind of like I’ve never met anybody who called him or herself a “Lakota Sioux.”)

    Similarly, I don’t know a single Muscogee — and I’m acquainted with quite a few — who spells the word with a “k.” (Granted, Merle Haggard did, but I’m not sure he really qualifies as an authority.)

    As for “American Indian,” why do you think it’s called the “American Indian Movement”??? I mean, really…

  7. Kim Petersen said on August 3rd, 2010 at 7:03am #

    Ward, either you agree with what Philip Deere wrote, or you don’t. It takes some effort to find out the non-colonial designations of Indigenous peoples. As for “American Indians,” try telling a Haudenosaunee carrying his/her own passport that they are an American or Canadian, let alone Indian. Sure some Indigenous persons do call themselves by colonially derived designations, but does that not reflect the effectiveness of assimilation?

  8. Ward Churchill said on August 3rd, 2010 at 2:52pm #

    I find it impossible to believe that you’re actually as dense as you’re now pretending to be, Kim, but, hey, do have it your own way on that score.

    “Creek” is a “colonially derived designation.” Period. And adding an actual indigenous self-designation, even if it were spelled the way Muscogees themselves spell it, does nothing to alter that fact.

    As to whether I agree “what Philip Deere wrote,” I’d be quite happy to, had he in fact written it, which he didn’t. That being so, I’ll simply continue to wholeheartedly agree with what he SAID.

    I agree with what he MEANT, too, but that’s another story.

    But, enough of this nonsense. I hereby recognize you as being the founder and reigning Poobaw of the Indigenous Persons Movement. Maybe you can form a coalition with the African American Panther Party, or something.

    Or, if you’d like to attempt something a tad more constructive, try expending “some effort” acquiring a clue what you’re talking/writing about before assuming the posture of “expert.”

    Given you particular predilections, I suggest good place to start might be with a little piece I wrote for Z Magazine some years back. It was titled “Semantic Masturbation on the Left.” Let me know if you need help tracking it down.

  9. teafoe2 said on August 3rd, 2010 at 3:25pm #

    hohum. surely there are more substantial issues to be quarelled over.

    It’s OK to say “Indian” but semantic masturbation if you spell Muscogee with a K. Ridiculous.

    Much as I’ve admired Dr Churchill’s writings up to now, I’m amazed to see him publicly calling out Kim for trying to improve the customarily accepted nomenclature & usage by which North Americans refer to our indigenous neighbors.

    Oops, now I’ll get it for not capitalizing Indigenous;)

  10. teafoe2 said on August 3rd, 2010 at 3:37pm #

    Oh, I see. Forgot that Kim had criticized some usages employed by Hill and by Churchill in his intro. Well, when one of us newcomers to the continent starts criticizing indigenous persons for not using the approved terminology when referring to indigenous persons, said “newcomer” should realize he is going where angels fear to tread. Churchill’s reaction is entirely understandable and I would say predictable.

    Lemme outa here before I get myself in MORE trouble:)

  11. Kim Petersen said on August 3rd, 2010 at 3:54pm #

    It is stunning that a person who has been subjected to so much ridicule and name calling would stoop to the same level. That says a lot.
    You avoided the substance of what I wrote and resorted to ad hominem. I, therefore, assume you couldn’t logically refute what I said.
    It also seems that you did not catch what I’ve been saying. I agree with what you wrote:

    … I’ve sought to comply with Philip Deere’s enjoinder’s to always call things by their right name … (p. 17-18)

    I said that I agree with calling a person by what that person designates himself. So if an Indigenous person wants to call himself a Creek or Indian; that is fine. I will respect that. What you are going on about is beyond me.
    Seems to me that you are the person who is wrapped up in “semantic masturbation.”

  12. Ward Churchill said on August 4th, 2010 at 2:08pm #

    Talk about “avoiding substance,” Kim. You’re the one who raised this bogus issue in the first place, and rather preposterously so, given that you did so in the same sentence wherein you engaged in a classic example of exactly what you were ostensibly criticizing Gord and I for doing.

    I’ve repeatedly pointed out the problem(s) with the formulation “Muskogee-Creek,” and that “Creek” is an explicitly colonial designation.

    You’ve yet to acknowledge the points at all. Ditto the the proposition that the reason why the American Indian Movement calls itself the American Indian Movement.

    Instead, you’ve persisted in upping the ante, presuming — apparently oblivious to the fact that I’ve been periodically traveling on one since 1983 — to lecture me on the implications of indigenous passports, instructing me on the meaning of what Philip “wrote,” and so on.

    I began this exchange with a rather favorable impression of you, and was merely pointing out an inconsistency in your critique. Your subsequent behavior has changed my initial impression entirely.

  13. Don Hawkins said on August 4th, 2010 at 3:54pm #

    Truth is the best defense. Calm at peace mate tuff day’s ahead.

    Soon there will come from the rising sun a different kind of man from any you have ever yet seen. -Spokane Prophecy.

  14. Kim Petersen said on August 4th, 2010 at 5:09pm #

    What part of calling people by how they want to be called, do you not understand?
    I did not raise the “issue.” You raised the issue in the comic book’s foreword. I responded in agreement with the sentiment you paraphrased from Mr Deere.
    Also “Muskogee-Creek” was quoted from you. I did do an online check of this before quoting it from you, and it did not apprise me of another preferred designation by these people, so I went with it. I do not pretend to know the preferred names of all First Nations in the western hemisphere, But I make an effort to find out.
    As for “favorable impressions,” I will refrain from answering back other than to say: people who live in glasshouses shouldn’t throw rocks.

  15. Ward Churchill said on August 5th, 2010 at 11:02am #

    “On line” is pretty vague, Kim, especially since Philip Deere is described as “a Muscogee elder” on the very first page of my intro — i.e. p. 7 — which you purportedly read before writing your “critique.”

    Did you also happen to come across something he “wrote” while surfing the web? Or maybe an entry in the rather extensive bibliography I provided?

    In any case, as is glaringly obvious from the example I used in to illustrate what he meant when paraphrasing him — i.e., “genocide is genocide; it is not ‘ethnocide’ or ‘ethnic cleansing’ or whatever euphemism the perpetrators and their descendant beneficiaries my select to mask or mitigate the nature of their crime” (p. 18) — Philip was talking about something very different from what you claim to have been “agreeing” when announcing your “corrections.”

    You’re free to interpret the paraphrase as you have, I suppose, even at the expense of diluting/diminishing/diverting attention from what it was that Philip actually meant. Similarly, you’re entitled — even encouraged — to expend the effort necessary to discover the various names by which indigenous peoples originally called themselves (even if that’s very far from the point Philip was making when he said what I paraphrased).

    When you advance the use of original names as a signifier of correctness, however — as you plainly did — you are subject to exactly the same rules you impose. All I did was point out that you’d done exactly what you were criticizing Gord and I for doing, and that, rather laughably, you’d managed to do so in the very sentence in which the criticism was made.

    Something along the lines of “people who live in glass houses…”

    Granted, that was probably embarrassing, but it was an embarrassment of your own making and one from which a few constructive lessons might’ve been drawn (not least with regard to the “masturbatory” aspects of the whole exercise in which you’d elected to engage).

    Rather than acknowledging the rather simple point(s) at issue, however, you’ve increasingly sought to defend your “position,” whatever it is, by constantly shifting the goal posts.

    Having completely ignored my point about most Mohawks refer to themselves as Mohawks — not as “Kanienkehaka” — for instance, you challenge me to “try telling a Haudenosaunee carrying his/her own passport that they are an American or Canadian” (which I don’t remember ever doing, and which would in any case be different question entirely).

    Then, to offer another example, there’s your observation that “if an Indigenous person wants to call himself a Creek…that is fine.”

    While it was good of you to bestow permission upon indigenous persons — roughly half of whom happen to be female, BTW — to designate themselves by whatever names they see fit, the point was never whether “indigenous persons” preferred the term “Creek,” Kim, but that YOU’D employed the term.

    Nor does the fundamental dishonesty imbuing your argumentation end there.

    You keep insisting that you “respect” indigenous peoples’ choices in these regards, but the whole nature of this exchange, beginning with your “Mohawk vs. Kanienkehaka” critique, demonstrates exactly the opposite.

    You have, after all, been arguing with “Indigenous persons” about the appropriate “designations” of indigenous identity since the get-go.

    Ultimately, it appears that you’ve so thoroughly subsumed yourself in the role of what Wendy Rose and others have called the “Great White Expert” that you’re incapable of discerning the difference between respect and sheer arrogance.

    Maybe instead of co-opting a particular passage from Philip Deere for your own purposes, you’d do better paying heed to something else he said (paraphrased as it is on the same page of my intro): “…never try to be someone — or something — you’re not.”

  16. Kim Petersen said on August 5th, 2010 at 11:18am #

    Yes: “…never try to be someone — or something — you’re not.” It is surprising that you, of all people, would come up with “Great White Expert.” But ad hominem appears your stock-in-trade.
    I find your lack of comprehension surprising. I repeat: What part of calling people by how they want to be called, do you not understand?
    It has nothing to do with the straw man of “permission” you fabricate.
    And as for Deere, as you paraphrase him, did he then mean “to always call some things by their right name…”
    Notice that I made clear that “right name” — for me — meant how a person desires to be called. But seemingly you have a problem with this Sir.

  17. Ward Churchill said on August 5th, 2010 at 12:39pm #

    No, Kim, I didn’t notice you making it “clear,” for the simple reason that you didn’t. And still haven’t, for that matter, as is abundantly demonstrated by your ongoing refusal to respond to the point I initially made with regard to Mohawks by and large referring to themselves as Mohawks.

    As to your conveyance of permission, I fabricated nothing. You said it in plain English.

    Calling my observations of the obvious “ad hominem” changes nothing.

    That said, I’m done with this.

  18. Kim Petersen said on August 5th, 2010 at 1:35pm #

    Ward, I repeat: What part of calling people by how they want to be called, do you not understand? I repeat: “Ethnicity involves self-ascription.”
    If this is unclear for you, then I am sorry.
    If a “Mohawk” (from, as far as I have been able to discern, an Anishinabek word meaning “man-eaters”) wishes to be called “Mohawk” then i will call him a Mohawk. I usually call people how they want to be called.
    But my acquaintance — who is a “Mohawk”– is one person I take my cues from. He told me not to use the terms “Indian,” “native,” and “aboriginal” with what i thought were sound reasons. I never asked him about the word “Mohawk,” unfortunately.

  19. Ward Churchill said on August 5th, 2010 at 4:15pm #


    No need to pile up any further evidence, Kim. You’ve long since made my case and, per chance you failed to notice, I’ve rested it.

  20. Kim Petersen said on August 5th, 2010 at 4:26pm #

    ZZZZ. And you made my case. Thanks Ward.