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The 500 Years of Resistance Comic Book, by First Nations artist and longtime political activist Gord Hill, promises a fresh approach to understanding what has happened to indigenous people in the Americas since 1492. But over the course of 80 illustrated pages that demonstrate an evident depth of research, the book fails to deliver on that promise.
The subject matter is rife with dramatic tension – a cruel history of genocide, cultural erasure, forced relocation, and sexual abuse that has repercussions to this day. But Hill’s retelling is burdened by ideological didacticism and fails to engage the reader with any sustained narrative drive.
A significant part of the problem is the scope of this project. Recounting many of the key moments of the past five centuries in roughly 10,000 words is an obvious challenge – in one case, the chronology leaps forward 85 years from one panel to the next. Too much of the narrative is divided between uncreative, rote description and repetitive, dogmatic references to “the struggle” that could have been lifted from the pages of Socialist Worker. The unfortunate irony is that despite the unconventional graphic format and the incredibly unsettling subject matter, this book is sometimes as dry as the traditional history texts to which the author seeks to provide an alternative.
There are some bright moments, though. The drawings themselves are rich with complex historical and ethnocultural detail. The varied experiences of indigenous peoples from Chile to Alaska are enumerated with an uncommon specificity, paying particular attention to geography and the details of people’s homes, customs, and attire. In this sense, the book provides an antidote to the monolithic stereotype of “the Indian” that continues to hold sway in the North American imagination. The story and pictures also employ occasional flashes of humour, particularly when lampooning white-dominated police and military forces in sections that deal with modern-day native battles. And many lesser-known – and shameful – moments in North American history are brought to light.
But ultimately Hill’s primary audiences, First Nations people and those in allied movements for social justice, would be more effectively engaged and inspired by stronger storycraft than the bland rhetoric that predominates here.
The 500 Years of Resistance Comic Book combines the American tradition of graphic novels with a depth of American indigenous history unlike any publication that has come before it.... Hill's visual history weaves the stories of colonialism and resistance together and fills the gaps of our average historical knowledge, making the reader feel the weight of these conflicts and their results in a way sometimes hard to grasp from academic texts and brief newspaper articles.
Art Threat (Art Threat 2010-05-11)
Gord Hill has put colonial myth-makers on notice with a comic that educates and inspires.
The St'at'imc Runner (St'at'imc Runner 2010-06-16)
Gord Hill blends his visual and literary talents to tell the story of aboriginal life since the arrival of Europeans in the Western Hemisphere in 1492.... 500 Years of Resistance succeeds as a bold primer on colonialism and its haunting legacy today.
This Magazine (This Magazine 2010-07-02)
Comic books have a long tradition of being subversive, and Gord Hill uses every ounce of that tradition to challenge the treatment of First Nations across North and South America. The introduction and bibliography, written by activist Ward Churchill, provides an overview of Churchill's own involvement in the American Indian Movement and the Wounded Knee uprising of 1973. It frames Hill's intention of using The 500 Years of Resistance Comic Book as a primer on the colonization of the Americas, from a First Nations' perspective.
ffwd (Calgary) (ffwd 2010-07-10)
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.
Dissident Voice (Dissident Voice 2010-07-31)
Hill's raw images convey the events depicted effectively.
Publishers Weekly (Publishers Weekly 2010-08-18)
A reminder about just how complacent popular culture has become in the oppression of human rights, and how wonderfully engaging and provocative comic books can be if they're done properly ... What's really impressive about the book, however, is how the medium fits and re-energizes the message perfectly: the anarchy of comic books, and their ability to shape young minds. And therein lies the true importance of a comic book as brave as this one: it has echoes of the topicality of headline-grabbing causes that the government ignores, wishes would go away (and, thus, get worse). Wow.
Facepuller (Facepuller 2010-08-23)
The 500 Years of Resistance Comic Book is a milestone. Never before have I come across a non-fiction graphic novel capable of evoking such a powerful emotional response. Dealing with such topics as genocide, oppression and assimilation the comic is sure to cause frustration and sadness in the reader. At the same time, 500 Years of Resistance is inspirational and empowering, accurately depicting the strength and nobility of Native warriors. Gord's straightforward approach to writing coupled with his iconic illustrations has created a truly groundbreaking comic book.
Redwire Media (Redwire Media 2010-09-27)
This is a fantastic illustrated introduction to American history that most of us don't know, including contemporary rebellions like the Zapatistas in Mexico and the two Canadian standoffs in the late 90s.
Sacramento News & Review (Sacramento News & Review 2010-10-21)
An eye-opener, not least because Hill's assured treatment of these dark pages of history is a welcome addendum to the seminal A People's History of American Empire by Zinn, Konopacki and Buhle.... How many of us know of Lautaro (Mapuches), Tupac Amaru (Incas), Tecumseh (Shawnee), Pontiac (Ottawa), Cochise (Chiricahua Apache), Crazy Horse (Oglala Lakota), Geronimo (Chiricahua Apache) or Yellow Thunder (Ho-Chunk)? Hill introduces them as one whose knowledge is intimate and theirs are truly edifying stories.
The Morning Star (UK) (The Morning Star 2010-10-21)
Illustrating the time of Columbus through today, author Gord Hill presents with fat, jagged lines a legacy of occupation, enslavement and efforts to erase cultures, and the wars of resistance in return. Hill, an activist for Native Americans, allows anger to seep off each page, lending a sense of first-person passion to an otherwise straightforward series of historical events.
Colorado Springs Independent (Colorado Springs Independent 2010-10-22)
Gord Hill's goal of giving indigenous peoples a better understanding of their past so as to counter the benign version all too often taught in schools and presented in the media makes the format [of his work] the perfect vehicle for his hard-hitting message.
BC Studies (BC Studies 2012-03-14)
Hill showcases the dialectical relationship between colonial abuses and ongoing indigenous resistance, and, in doing so, makes an important contribution to the literature examining the colonial past. Left History (Left History 2015-05-01)