National Indigenous Peoples Day 2021 on screen: Indigenous filmmakers, architects, and residential school survivors

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      This year’s National Indigenous Peoples Day today (June 21) arrives in the wake of the disturbing discovery of 215 unmarked graves of residential school students who never returned home.

      Although many Canadians have heard about residential schools, this discovery has brought its horrors to widespread attention, and made them all the more concrete.

      As the day is observed across Canada, a number of screen organizations are offering opportunities to learn more about Indigenous people and culture. Many of these offerings extend beyond merely one day, thereby making the ongoing education that needs to continue on more accessible to everyone.

      Who We Are

      The Vancouver International Film Festival and the Museum of Vancouver are copresenting the film series Who We Are, which “share universal hard truths that deviate from trauma based narratives, but explore the themes of: healing, resiliency, joy, laughter, pain and community all woven throughout as a singular curation”.

      The five films, chosen by curators Rylan Friday, Jasmine Wilson, and Sharon Fortney, offer narratives from First Nations, Métis, Inuit, and Maori filmmakers, and they’re available for home viewing at VIFF Connect from today until July 4.

      "Indigenous History Month is a time to acknowledge those who came before us throughout Turtle Island, to validate lived experiences and the trauma left behind from the legacy of residential schools, and the ripple effects of colonization that are prevalent in modern society,” Friday stated. “As Indigenous people, we must honour the past but most importantly walk forward and hold each other up as a community to a path of healing as these experiences shaped Who We Are."

      From the north, there’s Zacharias Kunuk's groundbreaking 2001 film Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, the first feature film entirely in the Inuktitut language.

      From New Zealand, the 2010 film Boy by writer-director Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit, Thor: Ragnarok) follows an 11-year-old Maori boy who must reconcile his idolization of his father.

      In Adam Garnet Jones’ 2015 feature film Fire Song, an Anishnabe teenager living in Northern Ontario struggles to keep his same-sex relationship closeted while supporting his family after his sister’s suicide.

      B.C. filmmakers Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers and Kathleen Hepburn garnered critical acclaim for the 2019 Downtown Eastside drama The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open, which also costars Tailfeathers.

      In Jeff Barnaby’s 2013 gritty drama Rhymes for Young Ghouls, a female teenager on the Red Crow Reserve in Alberta attempts to avoid residential school in the 1970s but her plans go awry.

      Single tickets are $10 and a series pass for all five films is $25. The films are free for those who identify as Indigenous. Full details are available at the VIFF Connect website.

      Next week, Atanarjuat’s Kunuk and The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open actor Violet Nelson will participate in a panel discussion facilitated by Odessa Shuquaya and Friday. Sponsored by the Talking Stick Festival, it will be livestreamed on Facebook Live at 5 p.m. on June 28.

      "Travelling College"

      NFB Indigenous filmmakers

      The NFB’s Indigenous Film Crew film program brings together four films made by Indigenous filmmakers.

      This 68-minute program includes four short films:

      • “The Ballad of Crowfoot” (1968) by Mi’kmaq singer-songwriter and activist Willie Dunn about his protest song;
      • “Travelling College” (1968) about a mobile vocational school teaching skills to Indigenous people;
      • “You Are on Indian Land” (1969), which chronicles the 1969 protest by the Kanien’kéhaka (Mohawk) of Akwesasne against the Canadian government’s refusal to uphold a treaty right permitting duty-free passage for its people on its territory across Ontario-New York State;
      • “There Are My People” (1969) about a public address from the Akwesasne Kanien’kéhaka (Mohawk) Nation on the traumas of European colonialism  and  Catholicism, and the desire for reconciliation.

      The program is available for free at the Cinematheque website from today until July 4.

      Indigenous Architects

      A new documentary shines a spotlight upon a diverse range of Indigenous architects and how they are leading in form and function that is balanced with sustainability.

      Many have overcome great challenges or difficult experiences, including assimilation, poverty, or violence, and yet all have risen to the top of their field—and have also retained their Indigenous identities.  

      Among the architects profiled is Patrick Stewart from the Killerwhale House of Daaxan, Nisga'a Nation, British Columbia.

      Other notable figures include Tammy Eagle Bull from the Oglala Lakota Nation (South Dakota), the first woman architect in North America; and Douglas Cardinal from Siksika and Blackfoot (Calgary), the first Indigenous architect in North America.

      Following a movement sparked by an international collaboration between Indigenous architects in New Zealand, the documentary follows the architects as they present, for the first time, Indigenous architecture from North America at the Venice Biennale.

      After From Earth to Sky premieres tonight (June 21) at 6 p.m. PT, it will be available to stream thereafter in Canada at, TVO Docs YouTube, or the TVO Roku Channel. 

      Residential school survivors

      While many people have read the news about the discovery of the 215 unmarked graves of B.C. residential school students, a Vancouver event will offer audiences a chance to hear about the experiences that survivors endured at those schools.

      Hear My Voice: Survivor Stories from Residential School will feature survivor accounts from residential schools from:

      • Squamish elder Bob Baker, speaking about his experience at Kamloops Residential School; 
      • Cori Thunderchild who will tell the story of her mother (a residential school survivor);
      • actor Ray G. Thunderchild, who attended residential day school.

      The event is organized by artist Tamara Bell of the Haida Nation. She had responded to the news about the residential school graves by placing 215 children’s shoes on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery, which has become a memorial and gathering point for Indigenous people, including survivors and children of survivors.

      Hear My Voice will be held twice, one at 1 p.m. and the second at 4 p.m., on Sunday (June 27) at the Rio Theatre (1660 East Broadway). The first session is almost sold out.

      More information and advance tickets by sliding-scale donation are available at the Rio Theatre website.

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook.