From the Roots Up by Tasha Spillett is the second in a series of graphic novels that delves into the lives of Indigenous women and two-spirit people living in Winnipeg. Following Surviving the City, From the Roots Up revisits Dez and Miikwan’s lives after the death of Dez’s kokum (grandmother) leaves Dez struggling to recoup in a foster home and the introduction of a transfer student leaves Miikwan with some predictable butterflies in her stomach. Endearing, friendly, and incredibly relevant — as June is both Pride Month and Indigenous History Month in Canada — From the Roots Up is the perfect sequel to the instant classic that was Surviving the City.
Tasha Spillett, joined again by Natasha Donovan as the illustrator, creates an environment that shifts from safe and friendly to sharp and foreboding at the stroke of a pen, adding to the depth to the daily stresses and joys of Dez and Miikwan’s lives. If you haven’t read the first graphic novel in this series, it’s centered around recognizing the unrecorded or unreported loss of life that surrounds the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people in North America. The weight of this graphic novel reached new heights in the wake of the discovery of the 215 Indigenous children found buried at a residential school in Kamloops, B.C., whose deaths had been unreported; the number of deaths associated with that residential school was vastly underrepresented in 2008 to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that was tasked with recognizing the loss of life associated with the residential school system in Canada. These past few weeks have illuminated the necessity of telling, reading, and sharing stories that mandate the safety and recognition of Indigenous lives, with Spillett’s series being among the many that do so.
I highly suggest reading this series in order, as this installment in Spillett’s series really focuses on Dez’ experience as a two-spirit person and introduces Kacey and Riel as new additions to the cast of characters in Spillett’s ever-expanding world. This graphic novel also asks (and productively answers) questions about living well and treating others with respect, especially when the effort of keeping various Indigenous traditions and practices alive sometimes leads to the exclusion of two-spirit people. One example of this in From the Roots Up is Dez’ exclusion from the Anishinaabe Jingle Dress Dance, as the dance is largely a women-only activity. In this instance and many others, From the Roots Up questions the cost of continually reinforcing what is “traditional” to the point that it makes people feel like they can’t comfortably interact with their culture. I found that both Surviving the City and From the Roots Up give recognition and respect to stories that already exist, and have existed for generations. Like the fact that two-spirit is a relatively recent term originating in Winnipeg in 1990 to describe a wide variety of queer and spiritual Indigenous experiences, Spillett’s series interacts with a lot of conversations that are happening in direct and helpful ways, particularly for those who do not know a lot about the topics or are open to learning more.
It really is a privilege to review two books in the same series, as having the time to reflect on Surviving the City before reading From the Roots Up did wonders for my ability to appreciate the intention and beauty of Spillett’s series. Honest, thoughtful, and a perfect read for June, From the Roots Up preaches reflection and respect, two things that are very much needed right now.