First off I want to begin by giving a shoutout to my local library: there was an explosion deliberately set off at the building that holds the library last week (as well as suspicion of a potential shooting situation), which has caused a lot of shutdown in the area as investigations and structural assessment are ongoing. But the library continues to work hard to provide what services they can in spite of all of this, through popup locations, the bookmobile, etc. as well as provide as much comprehensive information on what services can and cannot be done (and how) at this time. There’s a lot more that goes on there than just reading, and it is clear they are working as best as they can given the circumstances.
I say this because the library is house I came upon the graphic novel The Outside Circle in the first place, after seeing a poster for a talk with the author (and newly appointed member of the Canadian senate), Patti LaBoucane-Benson, as well as artist Kelly Mellings, taking place at the library. I was unable to attend at the time, but saw that the subject of both the book and the talk was based on LaBoucane-Benson’s many years of work and research in the “healing and reconciliation of gang-affiliated or incarcerated Aboriginal men.” This subject is certainly an important one, and one that I find is so misunderstood in a lot of general circles in Canada: that is, the topic of First Nations people in Canada is a touchy subject for a lot who just don’t understand (and frankly, don’t want to understand) the trauma that a lot of individuals face on a regular basis. While studying art therapy for a while, I also had the privilege of getting to hear a from one Aboriginal women who does spiritually-informed art therapy work within prison institutions give a guest lecture. It was very eye-opening for me, and definitely a subject of interest that has stayed with me, hence why I thought this graphic novel may be a very important one. And it certainly deals with some important subjects that a lot of Canadians should be more aware of, though of course with something like that, it is often the people who really need to learn the most who are the most unlikely to pick such a book up: why would you want to read about the issues faced by people you already have staunch prejudices about firmly planted in your brain? Well, maybe literature can serve as a bridge or piece of education for some.
The Outside Circle follows a young Aboriginal man from Alberta named Pete, who is involved in gang activity, and ultimately ends up in prison, while his younger brother, Joey, finds himself in the foster system. Largely focusing on Pete’s journey (with hints of Joey along the way), we see Pete as he realizes how his actions and decisions are affecting the life of his brother, and he begins a journey towards rehabilitation for himself, utilizing the spiritual aspects of traditional Aboriginal ceremonies, community, and healing circles.
Some of the subjects touched on in the novel include gang violence, drug addiction, tradition, and community, but more than anything it deals with generational trauma. It’s so frustrating listening to how a lot of people talk about First Nations people here in Canada, and I realize that so few understand generational trauma: more than that, people seem to believe that the bloody history of colonial Canada is ancient history, not realizing that the last residential school closed in Canada in the 90s. That’s not even a single lifetime ago, but is this even touched on in our history curriculums at school? I don’t remember ever speaking on it in the slightest. It’s something to simply forget about and then blame the people themselves for the issues that seem to be so prevalent in their communities. It’s not so simple, and The Outside Circle does a great job in illustrating just what generational trauma is and how it can affect people for years and years across generations.
There is a lot laid out in this graphic novel, and while the subjects are important and there is a lot of great info given, it almost feels a little too laid-out in a way: the plot points zip right by that it hardly feels like the characters have room to breathe; the artwork does more heavy-lifting in this area as there are some truly beautiful pieces within, utilizing traditional symbolism and showing some of the more spiritual aspects. However, beyond these few particular pieces, the art feels more like window-dressing. While this is clearly an emotional story, there are still large parts where I felt a lack of connection purely due to the nature of the content almost over-explaining everything; in particular, every aspect of the process and group meetings shown in Pete’s rehabilitation were given in a very step-by-step manner. Now, for myself this was a bit irritating as I felt it diminished the emotional depth, but from an educational or informational standpoint it works, and like I touched on earlier, maybe that’s what some people need in order to start getting it. I did, however, appreciate a lot of the counselling elements involved in the story, especially those which incorporate creative or expressive elements; creative arts therapies are so misunderstood or not entirely accepted by a lot of people, and I know this from my own interactions and trying fruitlessly to explain the concept to so many people over the years while I studied it. So to see this being presented in a meaningful way in a piece of literature makes me very excited.
Ultimately, The Outside Circle is a quick read and an important one that I think has the potential to be touching to many, if not good for providing some context and understanding on the topic of generational trauma and reconciliation in First Nations communities. Despite a few technical blips that I found on a personal level, there is something to be said about the voice of a Métis woman with years of research and work coming to develop this direct conversation about healing and how powerful it can be.
CBR10Bingo Square: Underrepresented