Paying the Land by Joe Sacco

Paying the Land is a nonfiction graphic novel about the indigenous peoples of Canada. The book covers the politics of land and resources, residential schooling, and horrors of abuse, both physical and substance. It is a tough read at times, but there is also great hope to be found in the changes that are being made: Dene (the Canadian name for the indigenous population) are able to hold government office. The powerful stories are accompanied by intricate drawings featuring crosshatching and detailed scenes of Dene culture. Sacco’s work is travelogue, history, and sociological study. He includes himself in the narrative which provides a personalized introduction to each of the book’s participants.

Sacco acknowledges that the Dene have hard choices to make and the community is not always in agreement. This is what makes the book such a gripping read. Education vs indoctrination. Jobs vs destruction of the ecosystem. Traditional cultural vs an escape to the outside world. Each thread is an awesome task to wade through on its own, but Sacco does the exceptional and weaves all the stories together making a complete and complex series of conflicts to follow. And what a brilliant series of drawings that he gives us to illustrate these issues. One pages reveals the skinning of the animal and the next shows the decimation of villages due to alcoholism.

If you are at all interested in the relationship between Native Peoples and governments, this is essential reading. Partner that with this artwork and you have book that approaches being a masterpiece.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

Thank you to NetGalley, Henry Holt and Company, and the author for an advanced copy for review.

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