Toronto International Film Festival
Alanis Obomsawin shows no sign of slowing down.
This year marked Canada’s 150th anniversary. Well, at least since they signed the British North America Act of 1867 to become a confederation. But Canada is much older than that, and some of the nation’s indigenous communities rejected the milestone because it overlooked history prior to the event. The release of Our People Will Be Healed, the 50th documentary from Alanis Obomsawin (Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance), couldn’t have come along at a better time, as it serves as a reminder of the perseverance and self-reliance of the country’s aboriginal population.
Obomsawin’s career has focused on films that give Canada’s indigenous people a voice, and through her body of work she’s shone a light on the issues and inequalities that plague their communities. In Our People Will Be Healed, she invites the audience to experience life in Norway House Cree Nation, one of Canada’s largest First Nation communities. Only this time around, the future seems bright with possibilities.
The central subject is a school that’s enabled children to develop a wide range of skills while also emphasizing the importance of staying connected to their cultural heritage. We’re shown students learning music, science, and sports, but they’re also taught native languages and how to live off the land.
Some students move on to college afterwards, while others stay in Norway House and work. Regardless of their endeavors, we meet several skilled students who possess a strong ambition to succeed, and avoid the crime and poverty trappings that beset generations before them.
Some of the older subjects discuss the darker days in detail, though. One man talks about how joining a gang used to feel like one of the only options young people had available. These days, a substantial portion graduate from high school and set their sights on new pastures. In another scene, we meet one student who shares his dreams of seeing the world and hopes his skills in audio production can make that happen. It might not sound like much, but this mentality was non-existent until a few years ago.
While the film is imbued with a sense of optimism throughout, memories of past injustices are still present. The school in question is named after Helen Betty Osborne, a local woman who was kidnapped and murdered in 1971. The Canadian government has come under fire again this year regarding the amount of unsolved murder and missing person cases involving members of native groups, and Norway House is still a community seeking closure.
The scenic backdrop of Manitoba elevates proceedings, as well. It’s beautiful and serene, which is very fitting to the story being told here. The director lets her subjects discuss their own journeys, and there appears to be a sense of contentment and calm in the community despite their hardships and troubled history. The film does pose bigger questions about the rights and treatment of Canada’s indigenous population, but it’s also a reflection of a collective consciousness focused on growth and healing.
I do wish the doc was punchier and more urgent at times. Some scenes drag because the subjects’ perspectives are too similar, therefore it doesn’t provide much in the way of diverse point-of-view. That’s only a minor complaint in what is otherwise a fantastic documentary. At 85 years old, Obomsawin shows no signs of slowing down, and the fire that drives her cause is still burning away.