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New Indigenous Superheroes Save the Day

Speaking tribal languages is just one superpower among heroes gracing the pages of comic books.

Miiyahbin, a 16-year-old Cree girl, becomes Equinox in the

Miiyahbin, a 16-year-old Cree girl, becomes Equinox in the "Justice League United" series.

Courtesy of DC Comics

A Cree girl from a small island town in Ontario, Canada, has an elemental connection to the earth, including powers that change with the seasons. A young man from the fictional Leaning Oak Tribe obtains super-human talents after consuming tainted commodity cheese. And speaking tribal languages help ordinary military men defeat evil dictators across the globe.

These characters—Miiyahbin Marten, Hubert Logan and a handful of Code Talkers representing several tribal nations—are taking center stage in the digital and hardcopy pages of mainstream and independent comic books. While there have been problematic representations of indigenous characters within comic book history, a new crop of artists and writers are helping redefine images and stories of indigenous people in an entertainment medium loved by millions worldwide.

Michael Sheyahshe (Caddo), author of the book Native Americans in Comics: A Critical Study, published in 2008, says comic books and their creators have entered an era where consumers demand better representations of the people and world around them.

“There’s a sense of empowerment in the information age we live in, in all the storytelling modes Natives can take part in,” says Sheyahshe, 38, who lives in Oklahoma. “Comics themselves are not good or bad, but represent the voice of what people want or are OK with seeing. In the past, our [Native] people were written as diminutive characters and were very one-dimensional. A lot of people… were okay with these notions of us as Native people subjected to whatever stereotypes dominated the national conversation.”

Writers and comic book creators Jeff Lemire, Lee Francis IV (Laguna Pueblo), and Arigon Starr (Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma) use their Canadian, Southwest and Hollywood roots to explore and develop new characters gaining popularity across Native American and beyond.

“When I was growing up, traditionally, the only people I knew reading comics were other white dudes, young boys, really,” says Lemire, a Toronto-based freelance cartoonist and writer, who created Miiyahbin for a DC Comics series that debuted this year. “As someone who works in comics and loves them, it’s getting so much more diverse in readership, and it’s really time for the medium to grow. We can’t keep putting up the same stereotypes, because those don’t reflect the audience. The reality is the world is full of other kinds of people, so work should represent that if you’re writing any kind of story.”