News, Faculty and Research, Indigenous

Graphic novels as a medium for grappling with Indigenization & decolonization

March 25, 2019

Dr. Amy Parent is helping students learn how to engage with Indigenous stories by having them write—or, more accurately, draw—their own.

Parent is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Education. In Summer 2018, she taught EDUC 389, in which Indigenous graphic novels were used both to deliver the course material and to provide students a means to grapple with it. 

“I work with settler students that are teacher candidates, and there is a lot of concern and anxiety among them on how to Indigenize and decolonize the curriculum. For educators who are interested in utilizing Indigenous graphic novels in the classroom, this literary genre can provide useful tools to foster complex and structural understandings of settler colonialism, power, racism, decolonization and Indigeneity while simultaneously building students’ critical thinking and interpretive skills.”

Exploring Ideas Visually

One of Parent’s students, Kate, notes that for her, a key learning from the course was recognizing that Indigenizing the curriculum is not just about bringing in new resources, but about fostering the kinds of relationships that allow students to engage with them.  

“The graphic novels were wonderful and insightful, but also important was the atmosphere Amy created for us to explore them, which was one of respect and accountability—something I hope to create in my own classroom as a teacher.”

In addition to offering an entry point for integrating Indigenous content into their teaching practices, the graphic novel format provided a space for students to examine their own decolonization journeys.

“The students worked on creating their own graphic novels throughout the course, so that they could tell the story of how they were engaging with the course content,” says Parent.

She explains that each week students were asked to respond visually to questions such as “What can you do for self-care after working with issues such as residential schools and intergenerational trauma?” The students then used these weekly drawings to compile a final graphic novel to demonstrate their learning.

Princess Peach and the Power of Graphics

The use of visuals, explained one student named Kim, was powerful.

“Through the graphics, I was able to explore my own identity and relationship to Indigenous communities in a playful, gentle way. I was able to explore my privilege as a settler growing up without getting paralyzed by the guilt. For me, that meant drawing myself as “Princess Peach”—one of the characters from a video game I used to play when I was a kid—because I realized that the way I look in the world, with blond hair and blue eyes, has meant being treated like a princess in a lot of ways.”

Parent admits that incorporating a graphics-based form of assessment was new to her and credits Jason Toal, an interaction specialist in the Teaching and Learning Centre, with helping her make it work.

“One of the highlights was the support I received from Jason. I didn’t have any visual literacy skills going into this project. He gave us exercises that I used in the class to get students to overcome their fear of drawing and help them understand that it’s not the quality of their drawing skills that matters, but the ideas they represent.”

And according to Kim, those ideas have had a big impact.

“Indigenizing education is always going to be an ongoing process, but Amy’s class gave me a starting point. I feel like the personal exploration I have done will provide the groundwork for me to take Indigenous stories into the classroom.”

Parent, too, is pleased with the outcome. “It was the most enjoyable course I have ever taught, and a learning experience for me.”  

The course will be offered as a graduate-level course in the Equity Studies Program in Education in Summer 2019.