About the Author

Gabrielle L'Hirondelle Hill

Gabrielle L'Hirondelle Hill is a Metis writer and artist from Vancouver, BC, which lies on unceded Coast Salish territory. Hill's practice investigates struggles over land use and occupation, as well as black markets and unofficial economies.

Books by this Author
Read, Listen, Tell

The Way of the Sword

Dawn Dumont


Dawn Dumont is a Plains Cree comedian, actor, and writer born and raised in Saskatchewan, Canada. She says of her reservation, the Okanese First Nation, that it is "quite possibly the smallest reservation in the world but what it doesn’t have in terms of land area, the people make up for in sheer head size" ("Dawn Dumont"). Trained as a lawyer, Dumont has said (in a tongue-in-cheek interview) that she decided to follow the talk show host Oprah’s advice to "follow your bliss” and become a writer instead" ("Dawn Dumont"). The story included in this anthology is from her collection of linked short stories, Nobody Cries at Bingo (2011). Three of Dumont’s plays, The Red Moon (Love Medicine), Visiting Elliot, and The Trickster vs. Jesus Christ, have been broadcast on CBC. She has also published a novel, Rose’s Run (2014). In addition to her work as a writer, Dawn has performed as a comedian at comedy clubs across North America, including New York’s Comic Strip, the New York Comedy Club, and the Improv.

Dumont has no trouble bringing her prodigious talents as a comedian to the page—while also using her sharp wit to make us think more deeply about serious issues, such as the legacy of residential schools, poverty, racism, bullying, and the stereotypical ways that Native people often are represented in books, films, and media. "The Way of the Sword" is a story about a young girl, also named Dawn, who obsessively reads Conan the Barbarian comics. Dawn loves Conan because, as she says, the story of his people "mirror[s] the story of Native people" (16). Finding her own experiences "mirrored" in Conan’s stories sustains Dawn and helps her find a way to counter the stereotypes of Native people that she contends with on a daily basis. But when Dawn is confronted with a real-life challenge by a group of older, stronger girls, she needs to find a solution other than hand-to-hand combat.


When I was growing up my hero was Conan the Barbarian. He wasn’t just a comic book character—Conan was a way of life, a very simple way of life. When Conan wanted something, he took it. When someone stood in his way, he slew them. There were no annoying grey areas when you were a barbarian.

Uncle Frank introduced me, my siblings and all my cousins to Conan. He arrived from Manitoba one day with a bag filled with clothes and a box full of comics. I was ten and had no idea who Uncle Frank was. "This is your uncle, " Mom said pointing at the thin man with no hair sitting next to her at the table.

" Yeah, hi, okay, " I said, breezing by as I polished an apple on my T-shirt.

I would have kept walking had I not overheard the words, "horse ranch. " I stopped short, reversed and sat to my uncle’s right as he laid out the plans for possibly the greatest single thing that has ever happened to the Okanese reserve—Uncle Frank’s ranch.

Frank had no children but his interests in horses, comic books and candies guaranteed that they would always surround him. From the first day he arrived, all the kids within a three-kilometre radius spent all our free time at Uncle Frank’s—a fact, which delighted our bingo-addicted mothers to no end. When the horses weren’t available, or the weather was inclement or we had stuffed ourselves with too many cookies and potato chips, my cousins and I gathered in Uncle Frank’s living room where we would leaf through his Conan collection. Each week, we’d fight over who got to read the latest issue, but it was just as easy to lose yourself in an old comic while a slow reader mumbled his way through the new one.

Uncle Frank had hundreds of Conan comics from various different series. You see, Conan led such a long and complex life that it had to be told from several different angles. There was Conan the Barbarian, Conan the King, Young Conan and the Savage Sword of Conan. The Savage Sword was my favourite because it was more of a graphic magazine than a comic book. On these pages, the artists took extra time and care to bring across Conan’s heroic form, stylized muscles and the blood splatters of his foes. These stories were savoured; each word would be read, each panel would be studied, to achieve maximum Conan absorption.

Every time I opened a new comic, I read the italicized print above the first panel that described the world of Conan, "The proudest kingdom of the world was Aquilonia, reigning supreme in the dreaming west. Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jewelled thrones of the Earth under his sandaled feet. "

Through these magazines we learned all we needed to know about Conan and his life philosophies. There was a recipe for living in those comics: love those who love you and conquer those who don’t. My cousins took this to heart and ran headlong into adventures like chasing down the bantam rooster until he turned on them and flew at their faces with his claws. They emerged from their adventures with bruises, scrapes and confident smiles. I always hung back, afraid of breaking a limb or scratching my smooth, plump skin. I knew I could be like Conan too, but in the distant future, far away from sharp claws and bad tempered chickens.

Part of the reason we loved Conan was we believed he was Native. The story of Conan mirrored the story of Native people. Conan was a descendent of the Cimmerians, a noble warrior people who made swords yet lived peaceably. They were attacked and annihilated by an imperial army who murdered the men and women and enslaved the children. Conan was one of those children and the only one to survive slavery (according to the movie). He was the last of his kind.

This was exactly like our lives! Well, except for the last of our kind business. We were very much alive and well even though others had made a concerted effort to kill us off. Later, I learned that throughout the world, people thought that Indians had been killed off by war, famine and disease. Chris Rock does a comedy bit about this point, claiming that you will never see an Indian family in a Red Lobster. This is a misconception: my family has gone to Red Lobster many times. (However, we are most comfortable at a Chinese buffet.)

In Saskatchewan, most non-Native people were very much aware that nearly a million Native people still existed, mainly to annoy them and steal their tax dollars.

But someone had tried to annihilate us and that was not something you got over quickly. It was too painful to look at it and accept; it was easier to examine attempted genocide indirectly. We could read about the Cimmerians and feel their pain; we could not acknowledge our own.

excerpted from "The Way of the Sword," by Dawn Dumont, in Read, Listen, Tell: Indigenous Stories from Turtle Island.

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