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The Outside Circle: A Graphic Novel by Patti LaBoucane-Benson, Art by Kelly Mellings


Interests/Topics: graphic novels, art, identity, family, aboriginal studies, gangs, healing circles, responsibility, destiny

Curriculum Connections: English, Visual Art, Equity Studies

Gender: M/F

Age: 14/16+

Blurb: So I’m thinking that my spirit animal is probably a cat. I’d like to claim that it’s a lioness or a cheetah, or even a sphinx, but I’m pretty sure that it’s just a domesticated housecat. You know, the kind that loves to sleep and only wants attention on its own terms? Yep, that sounds right.

Pete Carver’s spirit animal is a bear—he knows because it appeared to him during a healing ceremony. The bear is the perfect animal for Pete considering its size, strength, and courage. No one would ever dare question Pete’s bravery.

But Pete uses his strength to intimidate people. As a member of the Tribal Warriors, a gang providing drugs and terrorizing a community in Alberta, Canada, Pete is as tough as they come.

A shooting lands Pete in jail, but doesn’t free him from the gang’s expectations. After a violent attack nearly kills him, he is offered a placement in the In Search of Your Warrior Program—a rehabilitation program designed to help incarcerated Aboriginal men find peace by reclaiming their native roots.

But rehabilitation only works if a person is willing. Pete is filled with rage and shame—powerful emotions that don’t just disappear. The Warrior Program encourages Pete to call into question the most important argument he’ll ever face:

What does it mean to be a man?

Flavour: (The Outside Circle is a graphic novel. The text works with images to tell the whole story.)

“’Carver, we’ve got a job for you. One of our guys got shanked last night. Top Dog says it’s payback time.’ ‘Who was it?’ ‘The new goof trying to make a name for himself. He’s in your unit.’ ‘I’ll take care of him tonight,’ [says Pete].”

“’Pete, I’ve met lots of our people in jail. It doesn’t have to be this way.’ [says Jim, the elder] ‘I don’t know what you’re talking ‘bout. I’m not your people,’ [says Pete]. ‘There’s another way, Pete. You don’t have to spend the rest of your life locked up.’ ‘No disrespect, but times have changed. There’s nothing you can do for me.’”

“’You’ve been in Drumheller for a year, completed your programs, and you haven’t incurred any institutional incidents. I’ve approved your transfer to the Stan Daniels Healing Centre.”’

“’The way our communities were set up was like a circle,’ [explained Elder Roy]. In the middle of the circle were the children. Around those children were the elders, who would teach them. Around the elders were the women, keeping the home fires burning, for us all. And we were the outside circle, ensuring the safety of everyone inside. We were warriors. So what happened to our sacred role? Many of you around this fire only know what it means to be a predator and a bully. It’s all about power and control. We prey on the weak—women, children, and the elderly—to get what we want. So many of us grew up without dads and have never been taught about our responsibility as men.’”

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