Patti LaBoucane-Benson and Kelly Mellings visit Mt. A to speak of their graphic novel The Outside Circle
Mount Allison was honoured last week: Patti LaBoucane-Benson, writer of the award-winning graphic novel The Outside Circle, and Kelly Mellings, the book’s illustrator, visited the Owens Art Gallery on Wednesday, Sept. 27. The crowd that assembled to witness this memorable speech filled the reception area. Organizers hadn’t anticipated such a turn out and had to bring chairs out from other areas to suit the crowd. Both guests seemed thrilled with the magnitude of the crowd and spoke highly of the opportunity to speak at the University.
Mellings, who learned from professionals such as Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman, owns and manages his own animation and art studio, PulpStudios, which has won numerous awards for writing and illustration. Mellings’s concern when illustrating for his personal friend LaBoucane-Benson was letting go of the wheel.
The Outside Circle follows Pete, a young Indigenous man who is unable to see the beauty of his own culture. Enraged by his circumstance, he acts out and finds himself in prison for manslaughter. The book’s key message is communicated as Pete embarks on a restorative journey of cultural discovery.
LaBoucane-Benson wrote her doctoral thesis on aboriginal healing and reconciliation programs in Canada. She refers to this novel as her “sneaky way” of getting people to read all the research she has done. She spoke of the fact that more than twice the amount of Indigenous children live in poverty than the national average.
LaBoucane-Benson lamented the sad truth that many Indigenous people, especially children, feel a great shame for their own culture. “There is no place for blame, shame or guilt,” LaBoucane-Benson said. Instead, she highlighted that we must seek reconciliation through understanding. LaBoucane-Benson made this central to her speech by explaining the meaning behind her writing. She spoke of the discrimination that Indigenous people face daily and the strife that ultimately leads to the casting aside of their culture, resulting in a loss of direction.
LaBoucane-Benson wanted to get her message of reconciliation and healing to as many people as possible. The book, released in 2015, is currently in its fourth printing and has indeed reached a wide audience. Winning the Burt Award for First Nations, Inuit and Métis Literature has brought further acknowledgement to this book. The Outside Circle is currently on required reading lists in both high schools and universities nationwide.
LaBoucane-Benson finished her address on a hopeful note, saying that today 30,000 Indigenous students are enrolled in university, and that the demographic is growing. This is a promising statistic, and novels like this help heal what is a timeless wound.