WILL I SEE?
WILL I SEE? is a comic based on the missing Indigenous women of Canada. I find it equally relevant for the U.S., where Indigenous women in America are also oppressed within our society. This series attempts to bring the injustice of missing and abused Indigenous women to light. With a script by Iskwe and Erin Leslie, story by David Alexander Robertson, and art by GMB Chomichuk, WILL I SEE? tells of the fears and social anxieties Native women and girls face every day. The comic is beautifully done, mixing fantasy, horror, and reality in a way that makes its world feel all too real.
The plot of WILL I SEE? focuses on a young Cree girl named May. She’s walking home when she meets a black cat. This black cat, Chipiy, leads her through the park to different lost items. May finds random objects such as an egg that fell out of a nest and miscellaneous jewelry. As she picks up the items, she places these trinkets in a medicine bag. May wears the bag around her neck, which leaves the items these women have left behind close to her heart. She doesn’t know how or why each item got there, but May picks them up because she feels Chipiy has shown them to her for a reason. May doesn’t know it yet, but this event changes her life drastically.
“These lost women and girls, there are many of them…
The art in WILL I SEE? is the most important reference to the anxieties of Native women. The color palette is in a stark black and white. Within the black and white, some of the images and the text become muddled and disorientating. For each lost item May picks up in the park, Chomichuk makes sure to show how it got there, but he does so in a manner that makes it easy to miss. As May picks up each item, Chomichuk draws the instance of violence another woman endured to lose it.
This depiction is perfect. The images of violence blending into the background mirrors how Native women are lost within Western society. Canada has around 1,200 Native women and girls that have either gone missing or are victims of murder. Indigenous women only make up only about 3% of the overall population yet make up 10% of all female homicides in Canada. 10% may not seem like a lot but, for a small community, it’s a significant amount. Such a large number of people missing can make a huge impact.
WILL I SEE? reflects on what this impact could be by having very few characters. While May is the protagonist, there’s only one other Native person who has any speaking parts: May’s kokum (or grandmother). It’s also relevant that May’s mother is missing from the story. I wonder if May’s mother wasn’t as lucky as May was — that maybe her mother was one of the missing. The text provides more questions than answers, leaving readers in the same place as the families of these missing women. The lack of Native characters reflects the absence these missing women left behind.
…Sisters, daughters, mothers, cousins, friends…
Yet, the occasional red appears, giving the story an uncomfortable undertone. Whenever May picks the item up, not only is the woman wearing the item enduring violence, but a bold stroke of red crosses the page. This color signifies intense violence. These random trinkets seem inconsequential — an earring, bracelet, a key — but each item represents the woman that lost it. The red is a way of making the reader acknowledge and face the violence and fear Native women and girls have been dealing with for centuries.
Red is also thrown on each page either as an accent for the item May found or as blood. The color looks like drops of blood that have dripped onto the page, adding emphasis to the violence these women faced. Yet, the color red represents things other than violence and blood to non-Western cultures. Although it seems clear in this case, the Cree view red as not only a color of blood but also of bravery, lust, as well as being a color on the Ojibwe medicine wheel.
The red on the wheel represents youth, physical health, summer, and cultural pride. Chomichuk uses all of these elements, making red the perfect fit for the text. May’s bravery in the face of impending danger makes the red more relevant, giving a well-rounded view of who May is. Yet it also reflects May’s youth. She’s still in high school, fitting into the medicine wheel as a young adult. Not only is the red bold and attention grabbing, but it also has meaning through Western and Indigenous cultural relevance.
…When we lose them, they blossom again from Mother Earth. Their spirits do, you see? They become animal spirits, and everything those spirits represent. They become one…
The art of WILL I SEE? can also teach readers that some of the things they learned in school are lies. The black and white coloring also hides Cree or Ojibwe hieroglyphs. For years, I was taught in school that Native cultures didn’t have a written form of language. Instead of a written language, the history, culture, and society the Native cultures built were dependent on oral tradition. The problem is that this just isn’t true.
The Cree and Ojibwe people have a written form of language that history either ignores or overlooks. It highlights how little we, the Western reader, know about these cultures and situations because we have the luxury and privilege of not needing to know. We miss important information while the facts and truths are staring us in the face. Unlearning and relearning is hard, but it’s a necessary part of life.
…They are beautiful, always…
Like the violent background scenes, the brilliant thing about the hieroglyphs is that if you don’t look for them, you won’t notice them. They’re difficult to see and separate, which makes them blend into the background and almost disappear. This decision alludes to the Native women going unnoticed. There’s no police investigation into the women’s disappearances in this story: the women are forced into the background. The mystery of the hieroglyphs highlights how Western society has forced Indigenous cultures into the background.
The intent was to eliminate the Native culture, yet Western ideals couldn’t stifle it. I, personally, have difficulty with not knowing what the words mean. I need answers, and the hieroglyphs refuse to give me any. Yet not knowing what the symbols say is just as important as knowing. The glyphs highlight how the families of these women and girls feel; we see the evidence, but we never get to know the answers. These families may never know what happens to their daughters, mothers, sisters, or cousins, so why should the reader get to know what the words mean?
…They create flower blooms with every step they take. They leave flowers everywhere. And when we pick them, they share their spirits with us…
After picking up the trinkets, May finally makes it home and shows her grandmother all the items she’s found. May’s grandmother makes a necklace with them, so all of the jewelry is in a convenient place for May. With the women and girls around May disappearing, she’s fearful of leaving her house. She asks her grandmother: “What if somebody took me? Some…monster.” May’s grandmother gives a perfect response: she tells of how these missing women turn into the animal spirits that create flowers with every step they take. When we pick these flowers, each woman is giving some of her spirit to us. May’s grandmother then makes a necklace with the lost items for May to wear, still keeping the lost women close to her heart.
The seven animal spirits May’s grandmother names are references to the Seven Sacred Teachings. These are virtues that help create the foundation for Mino-Pimatisiwin, or the good life. The women change into the Bear (courage), Eagle (love), Beaver (wisdom), Wolf (humility), Turtle (truth), Buffalo (respect), and Saber or Mistapiw (honesty). This metamorphosis makes the women more human. Although each one is an animal spirit, each one represents something the women may not have received or had in life. When they went missing, the police and society were indifferent to their situation, similar to what happened to Tina Fontaine. In WILL I SEE? these lost women change into the exact thing they needed when living, and they give flowers to every woman alive. Although their situations were bleak, in death they continue to try to give hope back to their people.
…Our women, our girls, our lost ones, they leave us in one way, but they are not gone from us…
The following day, May heads to school. Unbeknownst to her, she’s being followed. Once she arrives at the school, the man kidnaps her. He throws her into his car and drives off to a distant, isolated place. May tries to run and wave down cars for help, but all the drivers pass by. This scene is profoundly uncomfortable, which is precisely how it should be depicted. The man twists his face into a sinister grin, staring at the reader greedily. He’s the only character in red, highlighting his evil intent. Twice as unsettling is the dialogue. He constantly reminds May that no one will stop for her, and he justifies his acts as “all of you want it.” These justifications emphasize the rape culture we live in today.
We’re living in a society where women wearing short skirts apparently want assault. Cases of sexual assault are much higher for minority (especially Indigenous) women. In the U.S., one out of every three Native women is assaulted. This figure is assumed higher because not all Native women report their assaults. Most of the assaults on Native women that occur on reservations are from non-native men. For these cases, little is done to give these women justice.
Due to issues regarding Tribal Nations versus U.S. Governmental Laws, the assaults on reservations are rarely resolved — even less are taken to trial. Tribal police don’t have the authority to try a non-Native person, forcing them to rely on state officers. This fact makes the scene with the creepy man doubly uncomfortable. Your heart drops when you see him eyeing May, because it’s extremely likely that the police won’t search for her. As the reader, we know that if he abducts May, she’ll probably go missing and never receive justice.
…And these monsters that scare you, remember…
Somehow Chipiy manages to overpower the stranger, giving May the opportunity to push the man off a ledge towards the fate he had designed for her. The story turns into a fantasy when Chipiy non-verbally asks May to open her medicine bag. When she does, the egg from the beginning is glowing. It hatches into a sparrow and takes the medicine bag, spreading seeds. The seeds grow into the missing women, and the missing women transform into the animal spirits. They thank May by growing flowers at her feet, then walk away leaving a trail of flowers behind them. May picks the flowers and heads home to her grandmother. May gives the flowers to her grandmother, telling her kokum the necklace she made “doesn’t belong to me.” The two agree to share the jewelry, so the women’s spirits will never be forgotten.
WILL I SEE? is a beautiful story. After my first read through, I cried. I hurt for May and her horrifying near-abduction, and I cried for May’s grandmother and how close she came to losing her granddaughter. I cried for Tina Fontaine who couldn’t prevent her kidnapping and who police blatantly ignored hours before they found her dead body. Most of all, I cried for the families that have to endure the pain of a missing person. A lot of the women that have gone missing are mothers. Their children must face unspeakable brutality with their mothers gone.
…They are just people.”
The constant threat of disappearing without a trace is horrifying on its own. Yet this book gives this fear a face and forces you to acknowledge it. The lack of justice for Indigenous people is absurd and ridiculous. Things need to change. WILL I SEE? brings to light the reality of missing Indigenous women but also highlights that these things can change. By addressing the issue, the reader now has a way to research and find out about these occurrences within our society.