Thursday is the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada, a new federal holiday. Several Canadian broadcasters, principally CBC and APTN, offer a slate of programming and content showcasing First Nations, Métis and Inuit perspectives and experiences. It’s an opportunity to stop, sit, listen and watch.
Those Canadian broadcasters who offer little or nothing, on the day, should be scolded for their ignoramus attitude. If Hollywood Suite, a specialty channel devoted mainly to film, can present a full day of programming for the event, so can bigger commercial broadcasters.
We Know the Truth: Stories to inspire reconciliation (Thursday, CBC, 9 p.m. and CBC Gem) is a CBC Manitoba documentary hosted by Stephanie Cram. It’s a plain-spoken presentation that aims to explain how to “recast Canada’s history and future through the empowerment of Indigenous Peoples.” To that end, it profiles and gives voice to people who are challenging the conventional history of Canada and in particular that of residential schools. It has various survivors of the schools who have never spoken publicly about their experience. And it has survivors who call themselves “thrivers” because they have been open about their personal history to their families and plan to thrive because they are reclaiming what was lost to them. There is both anger and pride here as the program explores pathways still livid with rage. But it also suggests that although the problems are daunting, solutions exist, and it asks, what personal acts of reconciliation will you be adopting?
There is a live program, produced by the NCTR (National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation) on both CBC and APTN at 8 p.m. to “provide Canadian viewers with the opportunity to honour residential school survivors in ceremony.” That is followed by Indian Horse (APTN, 9 p.m. and also streaming on Netflix Canada). The feature-length drama, from 2017, is based on the popular novel by Ojibway writer Richard Wagamese. It begins in the late 1950s with eight-year-old Saul Indian Horse (Sladen Peltier), going deep into the bush with his grandmother Naomi (Edna Manitowabi), his parents, and his ill older brother. It’s an attempt to escape the authorities who want to put Saul’s brother back in a residential school. This segment, drenched in landscape and light, is very powerful. Thereafter, the film follows Saul through the residential system and his sanity being saved by a gift for hockey. The film goes awry as the adult Saul (Ajuawak Kapashesit) breaks down while enduring racist abuse as a pro hockey player. But it stands as a forceful story of hard-fought survival.
Hollywood Suite has a full day of programming from Indigenous filmmakers and producers on Thursday, including the classic Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, at 9 p.m. Before that, there’s the less well-known film Rhymes for Young Ghouls, written and directed by Mi’kmaq filmmaker Jeff Barnaby, from 2014. Set in the 1970s on the Mi’kmaq Red Crow Reserve, it stars Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs as Aila, a steely, streetwise teenage girl.
Nobody’s fool in this tough world she inhabits, Aila’s business is selling weed and she’s getting rich from it. Rich enough to avoid the prison that is the nearby residential school, St. Dymphna’s. That’s where Indian agent Popper (Mark A. Krupa) wants to put her. When things fall apart for her, Aila plans retribution and the film becomes an extraordinary revenge-fantasy narrative with plenty of dark-magic realism. Breathtaking at times, and twisted, it’s fuelled by incandescent rage.
Over on CBC Gem there’s an entire Truth and Reconciliation Collection, including The Secret Path, the animated film adaptation of Gord Downie’s album and Jeff Lemire’s graphic novel. Using Downie’s poetry and music, Lemire creates a visual representation of the life of Chanie Wenjack, an Anishinaabe boy, and his escape from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School in 1966 and his death from hunger and exposure while trying to find his way home.
Right now, the public sphere is infested with all manner of arguments and bitterness. Rationality is in scarce supply. But we should all be able to agree on something and that something is that there is a past to be reckoned with. On the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, there’s plenty to contemplate across multiple TV platforms, so just stop, listen and watch.
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