Canada’s aboriginal people, like all aboriginal societies cursed with colonization, have suffered from what many call genocide. While it serves no purpose for a mere film critic to determine if Canadian aboriginals have suffered genocide they have received the raw end of the stick through European colonization. Lands stolen and then “treaties” to make their dispossession appear legitimate.
And yes Canada with its sterling reputation priding itself from being so distinct and caring has been shattered of late over and above the poor living conditions, poisoned water and sky high substance abuse in its aboriginal communities with the issue of “residential schools” causing death, dislocation, societal destruction and high emotional trauma.
If you are keyed into the documentary film circuit you no doubt have seen the plight of aboriginal populations in Columbia, Brazil, Peru and the Philippines. But now just add on a withering view of a happy and so called caring Canadian nation getting a stinging international slap in the face with the Pope visiting Canada to apologize, sort of, for the havoc caused by Catholic residential schools that yanked children as young as 7 from aboriginal communities and placed them in residential schools stripping them of their language, dignity and community. Cruel Catholic priests and nuns some of which were pedophiles and not shy of infanticide. Babies burnt in incinerators and children buried in unmarked graves. I will not go into detail here as I will let the film do that. What I will say this horrific system has shattered the mental health of thousands of aboriginals and perhaps of many Canadians that such a horrific and cruel endeavour could have ever happened in Canada. Wake up Canada.
Getting personal here I grew up in Montreal with a large Mohawk reservation across the river yet despite the residential school system operating as early as 1860 in Canada we elementary students of 1960’s Canada learnt about Nanook in Northern Canada and Bunga in Africa with no mention of abuse of our aboriginal population. So in the film we see Phyllis Jack-Webstad, founder of the Orange Shirt Day, making appearances at schools throughout Canada teaching their young students about her life and that of her mother and grandmother suffering through the residential school system. Three generations of trauma!
So in addition to an explanation of the residential school system the documentary explores another aspect of possible genocide being the depletion of the salmon fishery of aboriginals on the Fraser River in British Columbia. The average salmon run up the Fraser River in 1950-1990 was 6 million salmon. In 2020 it is estimated at 283,000. The salmon fishing industry, commercial salmon farming, chemical leaks from mining and pulp and paper mills and climate change have decimated the salmon fishing culture of aboriginal communities. Salmon for many is a key aspect of their cultural and socioeconomic survival. The salmon fishery disappears their salmon centric society crumbles. Genocide is not simply about murder of which there seems ample evidence of in the residential school system but includes cultural and economic decimation. Mining, logging, salmon farming, hydro electric projects and damning may not be so crude as Nazi concentration camps but don’t they have the same effect?
I have 7 pages of detailed notes on this documentary and I have watched it twice so I will just leave you with my impressions and ask you watch this documentary and stop waving your Canadian flag. And Canadians when we have our statutory holiday on September 30th called National Truth and Reconciliation Day we give some thought to the harm caused to our aboriginal populations and listen to them how to stop the harm we have caused to them and our environment through our greed and stupidity.
It will be playing at Toronto Hot Docs Cinema from August 14-20 but I am sure it will be seen beyond that!
You can see the trailer here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0jhDD0NBEKI&t=40s
Directed by Sean Stiller.