The great Abenaki filmmaker, engraver, singer and storyteller Alanis Obomsawin is an essential indigenous artist. Member of the Order of Canada, officer of the National Order of Quebec, holder of 22 honoris causa doctorates, Alanis Obomsawin first arrived at the NFB in 1967 as a consultant and rapidly went behind the camera and stayed there, creating an unequalled body of work. Our People Will Be Healed, 50th and most recent film by the prolific filmmaker, reflects on the enrichment and empowerment of a Manitoba Cree community thanks to a model of education adapted to the community’s youth.
Alanis Obomsawin has fought her whole life defending and shining a light on the culture of the First Nations. Education is one of her weapons; she has long been a teacher of First Nations history in both Quebec and the rest of Canada, in order to directly address the bias found in most history books. Our People Will Be Healed highlights the enrichment of a Cree community in Norway House (north of Winnipeg), where the Helen Betty Osborne School has found itself with a funding that few indigenous establishments can say to have. The school encourages self-esteem and puts into value the culture of young indigenous people. Music lessons are mandatory, the students have the chance to travel abroad, canoe expeditions are regularly organised, and the teachers treat the students with respect and are genuinely interested in them and their dreams. The feature film is the fifth of a cycle that the filmmaker has dedicated to the wellbeing and the rights of children. The cycle began with The People of the Kattawapiskak River, a documentary that won her the Donald-Brittain prize in 2013 for best social and political documentary, pertains to the First Nations Attawapiskat Cree community, situated in northern Ontario, and whose heartbreaking story had become a national scandal. “The changes we’ve been seeing in the past few years simply fill me with joy.” says the filmmaker. Thrilled, she invokes the public’s renewed interest in First Nations cultures, the positive effects of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and its 94 calls to action, the efforts that many Nations are currently making to better the teaching of language and traditional indigenous values on their territories and the decisive leadership of prime minister Justin Trudeau.
The film Our People Will Be Healed embraces these positive developments without ignoring the past. It portrays the First Nations’ confinement to the reserves, the ban on all cultural ceremonies, like the Sun Dance and the atrocities committed in the boarding schools. But first and foremost, it want to transmit a message of hope: with a proper education integrating their own language and their own culture, indigenous youth may indeed reclaim their paths and realize their aspirations. Vibrating with hope, Obomsawin, who has deeply suffered the injustices of her people, searches for the right words: “The young have re-discovered the Sun Dance, which was declared illegal by the 1885 Indian Act, and I am so happy that my own artistic vocabulary is inadequate to express my joy.” More than 20 projects by indigenous creators are in production at the NFB who is launching Indigenous Cinema and currently offers more than 200 films by indigenous filmmakers, 20 of which are brand new and was recently added to the archive, on its free-streaming platform. Yours to enjoy!
Translation by Joshua Seguin