SIX NATIONS – The Two Row Times is excited to welcome a new comic series, ‘Spirits of Wampum’, illustrated by Don Jackson. ‘Spirits of the Wampum’ will be featured regularly in the Two Row Times, taking a new and exciting approach to the spirit of friendship. We spoke with the artist about his work and interest in Haudenosaune culture.
TRT: Your work is so impressive. I love love love this strip. How did you get connected with this Wampum themed comic strip?
Don: I was invited to sit on the Youth Concerns Council in Seneca Allegeny territory and met so many people who opened my eyes to what is happening. I became friends with premier Seneca artist Carson Waterman about 2 years ago and that opened the door to very many wonderful experiences and opportunities.
TRT: So, as far as background goes you are an artist and facilitator then?
Don: Yes, I am a non-native friend of the Haudenosaunee. I learned about the Two Row campaign and went down to NYC with Carson in 2013. I marched with some Tuscarora friends across Manhattan to the United Nations building. It was a profound experience for me.
TRT: So you are taking up your end of the responsibility in the Two Row.
Don: That is exactly right and my efforts with ‘Spirits of Wampum’ are to help attract and bridge other non-natives into this cause.
TRT: I was talking with a friend about this recently. When talking about the Two Row Wampum, right in establishment the people agreed that Ongwehowe and non-natives are not like father and son, but brothers, equals travelling down the same path. The Two Row Wampum is unique in that sense. It is the people’s treaty. So it is always refreshing and encouraging to see non-native people looking into our shared history and taking their responsibility to heart and acting on it.
Don: Since last year I’ve been doing more reading to get myself more educated on Haudenosaunee history and culture. I’m reading the Code of Handsome Lake, The Words That Come Before Everything, and A Basic Call to Consciousness. I’ve done a lot of research on the history of the Haudenosaunee from the 1700s to now. I’m by no means a historian, I just wanted to have a better grasp of everything and try to find my own historical identity within it.
TRT: Which is awesome to hear. I think its a sort of internal dream for a lot of Haudenosaunee is that our neighbours would take interest in who we are and our shared history. On your end, engaging in friendship while taking that sort of research and action based expression of friendship is authentic.
Don: That is really comforting to hear, thank you for saying that.
TRT: Can I ask, why comics?
Don: Comics. Another long story, I taught English in Asia for 4 years and learned that by drawing comic strips on the board it helped my students understand really well. I’ve always loved the medium but got my degree in Fine Art. I also studied traditional painting in Japan and Taiwan. These days, however, I feel comics is my greatest love. It’s the poor man’s film making! Comics are a powerful tool for education.
TRT: Its such a great way to reach people in this generation. I joke with my husband that my knowledge of the world is half the Great Law, and half Star Wars.
Don: I always pitch “edu-tainment” by saying people know more about Star Wars than they do about real wars. You have to entice people with a dramatic narrative and so when you deliver the moral of the story it will have a deep emotional imprint. Superheroes, in my opinion, are my mythology.
TRT: It’s true! We watched a long documentary about George Lucas last month and he absolutely did the research into cultural things from all around the world to essentially develop a pop culture mythology with Star Wars. Loosely based on the archetypes in cross cultural myths and legends. And look today we absolutely refer to it time and time again. When dealing with villains especially.
Don: I’m familiar with that. I would also recommend reading Joseph Campbell’s works on mythology.
TRT: Can you give me a small synopsis on the Spirits of the Wampum?
Don: Spirits of Wampum is a superhero adventure where the spirits of Peace, Justice and Respect are manifested in this world to bring people back to their historic covenant laid out by the Two Row Wampum Treaty.
TRT: So there are three heroes…any superpowers?
Don: As “manifestations” or Spirits… they possess super natural or super human powers. They bear the markings and culture of the Haudenosaunee but are cloaking themselves in these human forms for “us” to understand them. This is a fictional device to avoid issues of misrepresenting Haudenosaunee. I am very sensitive to that.
TRT: That is a really excellent way to tie superheores into the equation. What are they like?
Don: The Spirit of Peace, his name is SKYDOME. The Spirit of Respect, her name is WHITE CROW, and the Spirit of Justice, his name is ROOTS-RUN-DEEP.
TRT: It’s so great that there are two males and a female. It reminds me of Jigonsasaeh, Hiawatha and Tadadaho, who were three integral real characters in Haudenosaune Confederation.
Don: On the topic of representation and the Haudenosaunee, I have some cultural advisors that I consult with to keep me in line. I hope that people will enjoy the narrative and catch the spirit of friendship, respect and justice that I am trying to create by doing this.
TRT: Who are the advisors?
Don: Carson has been an enormous help. He is kind of my Gandalf. I always think, “Would Carson ‘OK’ this?” Also, Marissa Corwin, she is a consultant at the Education department at The National Museum of the American Indian in NYC. I believe this is a branch of the Smithsonian. I’m also in touch with a digital colorist from Kahnawake who happens to work for Marvel Comics. Teyowisonte Thomas Deer.
TRT: What would you say is your mission with this comic? You mentioned something about a research project?
Don: I’m completing my master’s degree right now using the content from Spirits of Wampum to do research on the effectiveness of using comics to teach Character Education. My personal objective is to engage more non-native people in this movement, to raise awareness and foster positive relations between non-natives and Haudenosaunee. I’ll be introducing my work to the Character Education Council of Western New York. Some years ago I was the CEO of a multimedia interactive CD-ROM company using comics for literacy, I had a booth at one of their education fairs and found there was great interest in the use of comics to teach Character Education.
TRT: Character Education as in morality of character kind of thing or illustrated characters?
Don: Character as in good character traits such as kindness, hard-working, trustworthiness and honesty
TRT: So are you a believer in morality?
Don: I’m Buddhist. I was raised Roman Catholic, I believe in God, I respect other’s spiritual journeys and think it is important to engage in some form of spirituality.
TRT: Wow, that even makes the alignment with Haudenosaune culture more interesting. Do you find there are parallels?
Don: Yes, specifically with Tibetan Buddhism, which I’ve practiced more recently. I feel there is a protective secrecy about Haudenosaunee spirituality though. I don’t want to poke my nose where it’s not welcome so I can’t really make a deep comparison on that. But there are universal truths that are evident in both Buddhism and what I can see in the Great Law…. this would be a great panel discussion.
TRT: That would be awesome to see and hear.
Don: I would definitely partake in that.
TRT: Thank you for your time. I look forward to seeing this series, and think our readers will too!
Don: Thank you.