Tuesday, 3 July 2018

The Red and the White of Canada Day

I hope I never have to read another book like this one, Seven Fallen Feathers, Racism, Death, And Hard Truths In A Northern City.  This is worse than dystopian fiction.  Sadly, all these stories are true and exhaustively researched by award winning journalist Tanya Talaga.  Seven Fallen Feathers was on my radar when it made the CBC Canada Reads challenge.  I have been on something of a year-long marathon of learning about Indigenous culture.  When a friend gave me a copy, it fit perfectly in my purse and it became my go-with-me-everywhere book.  As it turns out, I was very glad to read it in short bursts of time and in waiting rooms, airport lobbies, etc  The stories it tells are hard and harrowing–as Katherena Vermette says in her review.  I found them so harrowing that I had to keep putting the book down and I was glad when I was not alone. 

Seven Fallen Feathers is heavy medicine and I could only take it in small doses.  When I read that Canada's Indian Act had been used as a template for Apartheid in South Africa, I felt physically ill.

Another curious thing occurred about taking the book with me and reading in public.  There were frequent, spontaneous conversations with strangers.  It seemed everyone had an opinion or their own heart breaking tale to share.  I met two people with direct experiences in Thunder Bay that included open acts of racism (like having a beer bottle thrown at your head from a passing car) and the tragedy of suicide within the family.  All of a sudden being a Canadian meant something different to me.

Alanis Obomsawin
Thankfully, the darkness of these bleak truths was somewhat alleviated by the National Film Board's Wide Awake Series.  This initiative addresses the need for more women filmmakers and especially Indigenous women filmmakers.  So far, there have been 900 free screenings across Canada that showcase these films.  Last week I was able to attend two, here's a snippet from the press release:

Our People Will Be Healed is 85-year-old Alanis Obomsawin’s 50th film. It follows a school in a Cree community that experienced a remarkable increase in high school graduates after introducing ancestral culture to the curriculum. 

Both of the film presentations were accompanied by Q&A sessions and social events.  This gave us a chance to learn more about Obomsawin's and Clements' creative vision and decades long careers.  Obomsawin had a lovely grace about her too and I could only wish to "grow up" and be like her.

Marie Clements
The film on the next evening was The Road Forward, Marie Clements’ stunning musical documentary about First Nations activism, told through seven story-songs, performed by an ensemble of some of Canada’s finest vocalists and musicians.  I will never forget the opening scene where the keystrokes of a 1920s typewriter are paired up with the urgent sound of a tribal drum.  The ensemble acting in this film was seamless and the collection of activist musicians from across Nations was inspiring.  Please let there be a CD released of this soundtrack!  Anyhow, long story short –these two films tell much-needed, honest, good news stories of resilience.

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