Photo Credit: Submitted by Jim Zub / Illustrated by RB Silva / Marvel Comics
When Ira Timothy was growing up, sports weren’t his thing. He rather spend time following superheroes on their quests through comics. That appreciation grew, as he did, through comic-cons and cosplay. While the geek in him was elated with meeting and playing superheroes, the lack of Indigenous people in the room didn’t go unnoticed.
Timothy is a member of the Lenape People of the Delaware Nation at Moraviantown in southern Ontario and he says today there are still very few creative outlets for Indigenous youth that don’t want to play sports.
“If we don’t have a sense of identity for our youth… they’ll completely forget about who they are and where they came from,” says Timothy. “And that is just a slap in the face for the ancestors and elders that have sacrificed so much to get us the rights and the identities that we have.”
The need for an alternative led him and business partner Kira Flynn to launch Indigi-Con.
The event was billed as a mini comic-con dedicated to Indigenous youth. It had all the staples of a classic con with a few twists like Indigenous superheroes, vendors and “native tacos”. Held at the Oneida community centre last August, admission was free for Indigenous youth from surrounding communities.
The pair say their different perspectives added to the event.
“Having both of our faces has been great to get other people interested in coming as well,” says Flynn.
After a sponsor pulled out and nearly caused the cancellation of the event, the community came together through a “Save Indigi-con” GoFundMe page. The fundraiser surpassed its $1,000 goal by nearly $200 and the event was saved.
“That really hit us in the heart to know we had that much support,” says Timothy. He adds that they’ve already started planning next year’s event.
As with the broader Indigenous futurisms movement, Indigi-con is a celebration of both Indigeneity and geekery.
In his book Indians in Unexpected Places, Philip J. Deloria argues colonial perspectives of Indigenous peoples is often stunted in “primitivism, technological incompetence, physical distance, and cultural difference.” He writes, “such images have remained familiar currency in contemporary dealings with Native people.”
For Timothy, Indigenous futurisms is a tool that offers Indigenous people the both the ability to honour traditions and be a part of contemporary society—on their own terms and in their own words.
“There are a lot of wounds between First Nations and white people,” he says, “and I’d like to see that healed.”
From hero appreciation to hero creation
Originally from Igloolik, Nyla Innuksuk now lives and works “within geek culture” in Toronto. Marvel writer Jim Zub consulted with her to create Snow Guard. The latest addition to the Champions comic series is a young Inuk woman named Amka Aliyak who’s given shamanistic powers by Sila after discovering an industrial plant outside her hometown of Pangnirtung.
Innuksuk admits that when she first heard of the Snow Guard project, she was a little “nervous” since consultations like these aren’t always done in good faith with Indigenous communities. For Zub, bringing on Innuksuk was an opportunity to “smash any preconceived notions” he had. Now he wants to work with her as a co-writer to flesh out Amka’s backstory.
Innuksuk was inspired by personal experience to create the character: her nephews still live in Pang and her great grandmother was a shaman.
“With Indigenous futurisms, it’s this idea that we’re not even really supposed to exist in the present if this indoctrination with colonization had succeeded,” she says. “So to imagine ourselves in the future or with superpowers or interacting with aliens, it’s always a bit of an empowering thing to think about.”
Zub quotes Stan Lee on what makes a timeless comic: “It’s the world outside your window.”
That’s exactly what students in Pang saw when they read the comic. Innuksuk has received letters from students asking if Amka knows how to drive a snowmobile and that they were excited to find the hidden building outside of town.
In Snow Guard’s introduction, the Champions team also grapples with deeper issues like land sovereignty, informed consent and climate change. Later, Amka struggles with the decision to leave her home and travel the world with the Champions. That internal dilemma is universal for young people and especially potent for Indigenous readers, says Innuksuk, who may feel “like they’re living between two worlds.”