These comics put Native American stories at the front and center

Video produced by Carrie Saldo.

Native American comics are working to bring fresh attention to Native cultures and people in a country where many people have limited or inaccurate knowledge about them.

Arigon Starr launched “Super Indian,” as a webcomic in April 2011. The comic’s tagline is “Once a Rez boy… now a super hero!”

Starr said the work can help counter mainstream views of Native cultures that see them as belonging to the past. “We’re considered by many [to be] defeated, extinct, nonexistent, invisible,” she said.

Lee Francis IV, head of the Indigenous Narrative Collective, said this is a misconception that is often introduced in U.S. classrooms. “Native folks are very historicized,” he said. “There’s a period that we study in history where it’s Native folks all the way through, and then they stop being mentioned, as if we cease to exist.”

In many cases, characters with a Native background are described as half Anglo, and their Native heritage functions only as a device in the story — which also does disservice to that history, Francis said. Those stories become more of a “caricature than an actual exploration of Native identity and what that means,” he said.

Native comic book artists can counter those stereotypes by bringing Native protagonists to the center of contemporary stories, increasing representation and providing role models for young Native people, Starr said. “My goal, ultimately, is to have Native kids come to these [conventions] dressed as Super Indian,” she said.

Local Beat is an ongoing series on Art Beat that features arts and culture stories from PBS member stations around the nation.

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