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Jeff Lemire to Create Superheroine Inspired by Real Teen Activist
by Susana Polo | 4:12 pm, October 31st, 2013
When DC announced that the fallout from its Trinity War and Forever Evil story events would result in the Justice League of America moving to Canada (aside from some obvious jokes), Canadian comics creator jeff Lemire said that he’d be creating a brand new superhero for the team, one that “reflects a real part of our cultural identity, who could be a real Canadian teenager.”
CBC has the news that not only has Lemire decided to look to real Canadian teens for inspiration, he’s chosen one teen in particular: Shannen Koostachin, a teen activist of the Cree Nation who fought for the rights of First Nation children to be provided with safe and comfortable schools.
Koostachin began her activist work in 2007 when the Canadian federal government, responsible for funding education on First Nation reserves, broke its third commitment to rebuild her former school. The J.R. Nakogee elementary school had been condemned since 2000 due to a “decades old” fuel leak, with students being taught in makeshift portable units instead of fully equipped classrooms. Her online campaign, Students Helping Students, sought to help her home town of Attawapiskat rebuild its school, and by the age of fourteen, after speaking for Students Helping Students to newspapers, conferences, and in front of the Canadian parliament building, she was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize. Unfortunately, Koostachin died in a car accident in 2010, just shy of her sixteenth birthday.
Lemire says, “I think if I can capture some of that heart and some of that essence in this character, perhaps [Shannen Koostachin will] almost be a guiding spirit in the creation of this character. There would be the cultural strengths; the family ties, the knowledge of the land, the rich, rich symbolism of the Cree on James Bay.” He has plans to visit schools in Moosonee and Moose Factory, Canada soon, to talk to students and organize a contest whereby they can choose the superpowers of Justice League Canada‘s new superheroine. ”
In an industry that has historically depended on making heroes out of an “average teenager” who was almost always a white male, it’s downright refreshing to see Lemire turn to a more diverse representation of Canadian youth to represent a “real Canadian teenager.” The best case scenario for bringing more diversity into comic book universes is of course to craft an industry where there are enough people working within the industry to create a diverse universe of characters from personal experience. That takes time, however, and in between then and now, having creators who are willing to step up, do their research, and try to bring those characters to audiences in a respectful way is great. Talking to actual Canadian First Nation teens, and borrowing the characteristics from a specific person rather than a culture as a whole are good first steps on keeping a character from becoming a clumsy stereotype or an unrealistic or unrelatable paragon.
Whoever Lemire winds up with when he’s done creating the character, there are still plenty of Canadian superheroes, and I’m not just talking about Marvel’s Alpha Flight. There’s also Nelvana of the North, Canada’s first natively created superheroine, who is currently the focus of a nearly finished Kickstarter campaign.