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Tintin in America pulled by Winnipeg Public Library pending review

03/18/2015 05:55 EDT | Updated 05/18/2015 05:59 EDT
Controversy in Winnipeg over Tintin in America, a 1930s comic by the Belgian cartoonist Hergé, has spread to the city's library system, which has decided to remove the book from circulation for review.

On the weekend a Chapters store in the city had removed copies of the title from its shelves following a complaint, but then restored them after determining the work did not violate its policies.

News coverage prompted the city to consider the issue.

"Following yesterday’s media coverage of this topic, we proactively asked that copies of Tintin in America be sent into our selectors for review," said Michelle Finley, communications officer for the City of Winnipeg.

An email obtained by CBC News that was sent to all 20 library branches on Tuesday stated: "The decision to withdraw this title was originally made in 2006 after several patron complaints about the content being offensive. The complaints were reviewed by the Youth Services Librarians at the time and the decision was made to remove it from the public collections based on overtly stereotypical and racist depictions of indigenous people."

Over the weekend, a First Nations teacher asked Chapters at Polo Festival to remove the book, saying it perpetuated harmful narratives and racist images. After more complaints came in through their 1-800 number and more specifically the Chapters Polo Festival Facebook page, the book was removed on Sunday pending further investigation.

However, Tintin in America was placed back for sale on Monday. Chapters spokeswoman Janet Eger said in an email to CBC that the book didn’t violate the chain's policies determining what would be allowed on its shelves.

The Winnipeg Public Library looked at its own shelves and found the book "was re-added to the collection in error," and had not been selected according to library policy.

Books 'need to be set aside'

University of Manitoba professor Niigaan Sinclair, who teaches a course on indigenous images in graphic novels, said no one is asking for the book to be banned, adding, "We rethink the educational value of books all the time."

Children have to be equipped to understand what they are seeing or these kinds of images are normalized, said Sinclair.

"The problem is when you show Indians carrying weapons coming out of the 15th, 16th centuries always invested in violence, deficiency, and loss, then [children] think that is what First Nations culture is. When they see a First Nations person riding the bus, going to a job, they can’t conceive the reconcilability of those two things."  

He said the book needs to be contextualized for children.

"Sitting in a library, sitting in a school — and no school I know of is teaching kids critical ideas of indigenous peoples in a very strong, competent kind of way at the grade 3, 4, 5 level, which is where this book resides — I think until the time we have well-equipped teachers and well-equipped curriculum, these books need to be set aside for now," said Sinclair.  

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