Chickaloonies: Intergenerational Creativity and Learning through Indigenous Comic Art

Grantee: Smithsonian Institute Arctic Studies Center, Story by Dimi Macheras
Dimi Macheras with Chickaloonies, Vol.1

I’m a third generation storyteller from the Ahtna-Athabascan village of Chickaloon. Growing up, my Grandmother told us the Ya Ne Da Ah stories of our culture and instilled in me a deep love of storytelling. Over the years, I’ve developed my skills as an artist, working for the Tribe to develop comic books based on the YNDA stories. My Mother, Patricia Wade, took up the mantle of our family’s Storyteller and evolved the experience by showing art from my comic books in projector format. During this time, I relocated to Seattle and began making my own comic books with my co-creator, Casey Silver. In 2010, we formed 80% Studios and in August of 2021 released our first full graphic novel, Chickaloonies. This all ages, Alaskan tribal adventure is my way of continuing my family’s tradition of sharing the themes and values of Ahtna culture with the next generation. Both my Grandma and Mother have passed on, and this project is a way to pay tribute to their legacy.

For the book tour, we created a live storytelling experience based around the comic book, which allowed us to connect with our audience on an immediate level and honor the strong storytelling tradition that is vital to Alaska Native cultures. 80% Studios then partnered with Dawn Biddison at the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center and received a Heritage Project Grant from The CIRI Foundation for our “Creativity and Learning through Indigenous Comic Art” project. The team consisted of myself, my cousin Melissa Shaginoff (Ahtna Athabascan, Paiute), my co-collaborator Casey Silver (non-native) and project manager Dawn Biddison (non-native). Together, we were able to use comic art as a vehicle to provide engaging and creative educational resources to help empower Indigenous youth in Alaska and beyond.

We created a “Comic Art Workshop” that teaches students to think visually and express their inner storyteller through the medium of the graphic novel. Our goal was to evolve the tradition of intergenerational knowledge-passing through a multi-faceted experience rooted in proper cultural collaboration that included heritage pieces from the Smithsonian Institution collections. Showing students that these items have a story inherent within them and how this knowledge is still applicable today helps to impart the emotional impact of the storytelling experience and to see that everyone, including themselves, are storytellers.

Dimi Macheras, Casey Silver, Melissa Shaginoff, Dawn Biddison, and students from Ya Ne Dah Ah School in online art workshop.

I’d like to give a special thanks to Melissa Shaginoff for helping guide the project with her Cultural Knowledge. One of our main goals was to create a uniquely Ahtna-Athabascan tone for the stories and lessons, and her partnership has been invaluable. I can confidently say my Mom and Grandma would be so proud of the work we’ve accomplished.

Also a special thanks to Dawn Biddison for recognizing the potential in this project and helping to provide us with opportunities to partner with the Smithsonian and utilize their vast collections. With her help, we were able to reach more Indigenous youth and demonstrate the possibilities of using their creativity to celebrate their own Cultures.