Bringing the past to life in comics

Andrea Shecapio (Photo provided)

By Patrick Quinn

Journalist of the Local Journalism Initiative

An English and history project at Voyageur Memorial High School in Mistissini has been so successful that teachers are trying to find a wider audience. In it, Andrea Shecapio uses digital comic media to create a moving tribute to her grandfather, Peter Shecapio, who passed away in 2020.

Her one-page story contrasts her painful residential school experience with her later life accomplishments, including supporting other survivors, music, and starting a family.

Shecapio’s comic book is now available on Voyageur’s Facebook page and is already motivating other students.

“It was my first time doing a comic like this,” Shecapio told the Nation. “I didn’t expect all the comments. I thought it was really cool that my comic got so much attention. I feel more motivated to create more stories.

The project asked students to describe a historically significant event in the past 150 years, inspired by the graphic novel anthology This Place: 150 Years Retold, which collects stories of resistance and renewal from Indigenous creators. Several students chose to illustrate the impact of residential schools.

“He would talk a lot about his experience with me,” Shecapio said of his grandfather. “He was telling me how he was treated by the nuns. He would sometimes struggle to tell his story, some parts were too much for him. It made me very sad and a little angry.

With classes currently online, Secondary 4 teachers of History and English have developed a project that integrates both disciplines with technology to help students work from home. Shecapio embraced the task and impressed with its research, composition and artistic abilities.

“Andrea immediately jumped on the project,” said Krista McNamara, a history teacher. “The late Peter Shecapio was so involved in elementary school and such an important voice in the community. She did a great job connecting all the pieces and really thinking about the specific sections she wanted to highlight. »

Andrea brought her grandfather’s story to life using the Pixton web app, which allows students to create custom avatars, choose from a variety of backgrounds, or even incorporate boarding school scenes. The medium helps explore historical events and storytelling techniques while stimulating students’ artistic talents.

“A lot of them gravitate to difficult stories, but I think the medium of a cartoon representation isn’t as shocking as something photo-realistic,” McNamara explained. “The big goal was to give students the opportunity to do additional research on a passion area of ​​an event throughout history. We also hope it will create a sense of belonging to their history and their stories. .

While some students used flashbacks to explore the skills their grandparents had taught them, others featured events like the Oka and Ipperwash crises. Others focused on figures such as actor Saginaw Grant or women’s rights activist Mary Two-Axe Earley.

A student in the Mikw Chiyam arts program works on a hand-drawn chronicle of Francis Pegahmagabow, Canada’s greatest sniper of the First World War.

“It makes students feel like they’re speaking out about their own story,” English teacher Logan Taylor said of the project. “Instead of doing a standard short story, they can choose something more creative and potentially more personal.”

A student analyzes the impact of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement by inserting herself as a character in its development. Another interviewed the former student, Judge Debassige, about his internationally recognized role in standing Mistissini youth against uranium mining.

“We want student work to be at the forefront of all of this,” Taylor said. “We gave them basic scaffolding with a website, but the students really own it and do a great job.”

The project organizers would like to develop an anthology of this project, or at least a blog, for those willing to share their work. They plan to make it an annual project, viewing it as a valuable learning resource for students and their audiences.

By introducing this digital media platform, students can pursue career paths they might not have considered. While Shecapio’s post-secondary plans currently focus on training as a helicopter pilot, his grandfather has always been supportive of his works.

“He was very caring and encouraging,” the 16-year-old recalled. “I was very close to him. I’m glad he told me some of his experience so that I could raise awareness of what people went through in those boarding schools.

patrick quinn is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works for the NATION. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

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