Neither Broken nor Hidden

  • Gord Hill
    The Anti-Capitalist Resistance Comic Book: From the WTO to the G20. Arsenal Pulp Press
  • Dan Beavon (Editor), David Newhouse (Editor) and Cora J. Voyageur (Editor)
    Hidden in Plain Sight: Contributions of Aboriginal Peoples to Canadian Identity and Culture, Volume II. University of Toronto Press (purchase at
  • Joylene Nowell Butler
    Broken but not Dead. Theytus Books (purchase at
Reviewed by Sarah Henzi

“That’d be the day I’d let some bastard break my spirit” is Zoë’s comment to her mother, Professor Brendell Kisêpîsim Meshango, about her best friend Jasmine’s abusive husband. It might, however, also be a perfect subtitle for Joylene Nowell Butler’s second novel, Broken but not Dead. For ultimately, Brendell not only surfaces as unbroken, despite her fears, prejudices, and the abuse-both psychological and physical-that has been instigated upon her, but she also opens herself to another level of understanding which, ironically, without Declan Warner, she may not have found.

Butler’s novel centers its intrigue on both language and mind games, gender power, and psychopathic, suicidal tendencies. Of special forte is the character Declan/Patris, who develops from being a sadist into a sad, unfortunate character; this is reflected in how his relationship with Brendell develops as well from fear, to hate, to a kind of compassionate connection, as depicted in the final dialogue at the end of the novel. It is in fact almost hard to believe that Patris, the dark-clad, in-control, bigoted, violent persona, who sequesters, beats and drugs Brendell senseless at the onset of the novel, is Declan, who at the end of the novel admits he “is in love with the idea of [Zoë]” and the pride she has for her mother; he is “glad” that Brendell is there with him when he kills himself: “Tell my mum I’m sorry,” he says to her. Despite what Declan/Patris did, including shooting his own brother in cold blood moments before, it is hard to not feel some element of empathy for Declan. The word “mum” seems to resonate even more poignantly: Declan’s manner of speaking becomes that of a broken, depressed youth, who longs to be loved and forgiven.

Beyond Brendell’s relationship with her own daughter Zoë, Butler further explores the importance of the mother figure with regard to Brendell’s troubled relationship with her own mother Agnostine who abused and beat her children senseless not only for being born, but also for being a quarter white (their father being Métis). These different layers of her past seem to conspire against Brendell throughout the novel: indeed, Agnostine’s hatred for anyone non-Native (she would call her daughter a “hideous, stupid frog-squaw”) resonates with Brendell’s own distrust of white people which, coupled with her distrust of figures of authority, puts her to the test on both a professional and personal level with Sergeant Gabriel Lacroix. De facto, after being attacked, Brendell refuses to go to the police to report what she believes to be a random hate crime. Her distrust and weariness is partially confirmed when she finds out that her abuser is none other than the son of a powerful (white) man-Leland Warner, the town’s MP. What could the white policeman do for her anyway?

However, as with Declan, Brendell’s relationship with the sergeant shifts as well to a different level of understanding. Ultimately, this was Declan’s lesson: the distrust, fear, and prejudice she inherited from her mother from her past can only be undone by herself if she is to become a strong, unbroken individual.

continuance with his The 500 Years of Resistance Comic Book, Gord Hill’s new comic book, The Anti-Capitalist Resistance Comic Book links different movements, concerns, and grassroots movements-from the 1999 “Battle of Seattle” against the WTO to the Toronto G20 summit in 2010-with a continuing visual, and at times indeed graphic, accountability. Along the lines of the two other books I am discussing in this review, the emphasis is placed on resistance and continuance when faced with adversity, the importance of the individual as a living, participatory part of the community, and rewriting an idea of history as dictated by colonial, neo-colonial, and imperialist authorities and institutions.

Additionally, given that Hill’s work is grounded in his own Indigenous struggles, this book rekindles a long-lasting alliance-for instance, going back to the 1996 Zapatistas’ “Encuentro for Humanity and Against Neo-liberalism”-between Indigenous and non-Indigenous activists, mobilizing along similar lines such as anti-capitalism, anti-colonialism, and anti-globalization. The numerous pages devoted to the anti-2010 Olympics-“No Olympics on Stolen Native Land”-underline concerns on a global scale about the environment, territorial occupancy, poverty, and homelessness, and how, ultimately, oppressive powers converge. More importantly, Hill’s work emphasizes how a history of repression against demonstrators-whether anarchists, pacifists, or environmentalists-has consequently intensified militancy: both media and “authoritative” representations of insurgency has thus pushed confrontation to the forefront, often to the detriment of what the message truly is. As such, Hill’s comic book truly does clarify “what taking on capitalism is really about.”

As with The 500 Years of Resistance Comic Book, and in the wake of the different Occupy movements and, most recently, the Idle No More movement, Hill’s graphic novel is certainly, once again, timely.

The second volume of Hidden in Plain Sight: Contributions of Aboriginal Peoples to Canadian Identity and Culture is a long-awaited follow-up and complement to the 2005 first volume. In volume two, the editors have carefully and wisely chosen a selection of essays that reflect upon the contributions and impact of Aboriginal peoples in Canada on economical and community development, environmental initiatives, education, politics, the North, and arts and culture. In addition, it includes profiles of several of Canada’s most prominent and thought-provoking Aboriginal personalities, such as writer Maria Campbell, filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin, politician Elijah Harper, historian Olive Patricia Dickason, and many others whose drive has been, and still is, to change and take the establishment to task, using as many tools and media as possible in order to do so. As Gord Hill suggested in The 500 Years of Resistance Comic Book, it is important to make use of “many diverse methods of communication-including newsletters, books, videos, music, posters, stickers, banners, and t-shirts-because no single one will be successful by itself.”

Furthermore, volume two of Hidden in Plain Sight, not only includes but offers an extended “Aboriginal Vision for Canada”; one that goes beyond that proposed in the 1996 report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, if only in the sense that it underlines what has been done and not done, what has been promised and apologized for, and what has been forgotten and forgiven, in the almost two decades since the report. In light of Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s apology, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the global exposure of Canada’s overall despicable treatment of its Aboriginal population-most recently, Canadian government-conducted nutrition experiments on malnourished Aboriginal children and adults in communities and in residential schools-it is no longer possible to ignore, nor keep hidden, these aspects of our history. It is no longer possible to think of Aboriginal Peoples simply in terms of a colonized, broken people, battling different kinds of authorities and oppressive powers. There is no need to think of Aboriginal cultures, as has been done for too long, in terms of “preservation” for if something needs to be preserved, it means it is on the verge of extinction. On the contrary, as the engaging and highly informative essays and profiles in this collection go to show, “a change has begun”; though I would venture to say that this wind of change has been underway for a lot longer than we-in particular our institutions-may choose to acknowledge. Indeed, this volume affirms, enhances, and promotes the voices of Aboriginal Peoples and their achievements, not only in terms of their contributions and sacrifices to Canadian identity and culture, but also in terms of a much more global, durable, (w)holistic and indigenous-based approach to understanding our identities and cultures as individuals participating in, and seeking for, an appreciation for our heritage as part of a more humane community. In this way, books like Hidden in Plain Sight are necessary to the formation of a new methodology of education, a pedagogical awakening, as they can enable readers to transcend that dark chapter in our collective consciousness and move onwards, in a proactive way, with the challenges that remain.

This review “Neither Broken nor Hidden” originally appeared in Tracking CanLit. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 220 (Spring 2014): 140-42.

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