Graphic novel explores Indigenous law, aiming to empower and educate

- Mitch Wright

Reaching back in time to correct past wrongs isn’t typically within the realm of legal literature, but a graphic novel created by the University of Victoria’s Indigenous Law Research Clinic is testing such new avenues in an effort to broaden understanding of Indigenous law’s complexity and legitimacy.

The project draws on work with seven different legal orders across Canada that will help empower Indigenous communities, as well as educate and engage legal practitioners. The graphic novel genre was chosen to tell the story of Cree Law: Mikomosis and the Wetiko because it is seen as a more engaging way to present complex information or subjects.

“We’re looking to demonstrate indigenous law’s complexity in a way that is accessible, but also sophisticated enough that it’s useful,” said Prof. Val Napoleon, who led the project with UVic alumnae Hadley Friedland.

Also involved were noted TV screenwriter Jim Henshaw and renowned comic artist and Ken Steacy, who led a team of four additional illustrators.

“This is absolutely one of the most challenging, exciting and rewarding projects I’ve been involved with,” said Steacy, a Camosun College instructor who has worked on some of the world’s most recognized comics, during the graphic novel’s official launch at UVic’s Fraser Building May 6.

Indigenous legal orders are living traditions of law that enable Indigenous societies to manage themselves as self-governing and self-determining peoples.

The story is a composite of true situations, and evolved from material gathered by clinic researchers and compiled by Napoleon. It explores the tale of a Cree man sentenced to death by a 19th-century Alberta court after carrying out an execution ordered by his Cree community under a Cree legal concept known as Wetiko.

A contingent of Indigenous lawyers travels back in time to intervene and apply aspects of Indigenous law not originally presented. With a more in-depth understanding of the circumstances, the court finds the accused not guilty.

The project was sponsored by the UVic clinic, the Indigenous Bar Association and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, with funding from the Ontario Law Foundation. More information about the graphic novel and the initiative that brought it to life at



In this story

Keywords: Indigenous Law Research Clinic, Indigenous

People: Jim Henshaw, Ken Steacy

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