Delving into the past is a risky business but for someone who's been adopted, there's a compelling need to know. When Marie Klaassen went looking for her birthmother, she discovered that trying to find her would take perseverance and guts and that succeeding in the search was not the end but another beginning.
To my birthmother... answers the question "Oh my God, how did you find me?" with warmth and dignity. It is Marie's frank and earthy account of a personal journey through other times and other places to find the woman who gave her life. Told as a video diary, it's a fascinating story of a reunion fraught with suspense, humour and humanity.
Richard Cardinal died by his own hand at the age of 17, having spent most of his life in a string of foster homes and shelters across Alberta. In this short documentary, Abenaki director Alanis Obomsawin weaves excerpts from Richard’s diary into a powerful tribute to his short life. Released in 1984—decades before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission—the film exposed the systemic neglect and mistreatment of Indigenous children in Canada’s child welfare system. Winner of the Best Documentary Award at the 1986 American Indian Film Festival, the film screened at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 2008 as part of an Obomsawin retrospective, and continues to be shown around the world.
An important figure in the history of Canadian Indigenous filmmaking, Gil Cardinal was born to a Métis mother but raised by a non-Indigenous foster family, and with this auto-biographical documentary he charts his efforts to find his biological mother and to understand why he was removed from her. Considered a milestone in documentary cinema, it addressed the country’s internal colonialism in a profoundly personal manner, winning a Special Jury Prize at Banff and multiple international awards. “Foster Child is one of the great docs to come out of Canada, and nobody but Gil could have made it,” says Jesse Wente, director of Canada’s Indigenous Screen Office. “Gil made it possible for us to think about putting our own stories on the screen, and that was something new and important.”
Directed by Don Owen, this follow-up to Graham Parker’s 1964 filmJoey revisits the life of the eponymous young boy, who at the age of seven had trouble finding adoptive parents, most of whom look for children who are still in their infant years. This film catches up with Joey after he has found a home, and reveals some of the problems he faces in adjusting to the routines of family life.
This documentary from Martin Duckworth features young adults from two distinct Winnipeg neighbourhoods on either side of the Red River who struggle to overcome geographical and cultural barriers. High school students from the predominantly Indigenous North End and their peers from the Francophone district of St. Boniface work together to produce a play on the origins of the Métis.
Their collaboration raises questions about how these youths foresee their role and place within their respective communities and how these minority communities co-exist with the predominant culture. The film also tackles issues of intolerance, racism and discrimination.
The Elders of Shoal Lake 40 prepare a feast as part of their annual Fall Harvest, where they share traditional knowledge and teachings with the people of the community. As they prepare bannock, fish and meat, they plaintively recount traumatic experiences from their childhoods, including being hidden from residential school and remembering those who lost or risked their lives trying to cross the ice. When the Elders talk about their responsibility in caring for community members and passing their knowledge on to the next generation, they illuminate the powerful source of the community’s continued endurance and strength.
Shoal Lake 40 youth share what it’s like to be forced to live away from their close-knit families and community to attend high school in Kenora, Ontario. The community’s school provides courses up to the Grade 8 level only, so there are no other options for young people who want to continue their education. Some of the young men are able to work on the construction of the road, a rare opportunity to have a good job in the community. The pride of the youth in doing this work is palpable, and they express the gratification that comes with providing safety for their Elders and opportunities for future generations. Despite the systemic and personal racism they’ve already experienced, Freedom Road gives the youth a sense of optimism and instills hope in them for the future of their community and their own ability to contribute.
As the Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Senator Murray Sinclair was a key figure in raising global awareness of the atrocities of Canada’s residential school system. With determination, wisdom and kindness, Senator Sinclair remains steadfast in his belief that the path to actual reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people requires understanding and accepting often difficult truths about Canada’s past and present. Alanis Obomsawin shares the powerful speech the Senator gave when he accepted the WFM-Canada World Peace Award, interspersing the heartbreaking testimonies of former students imprisoned at residential schools. The honouring of Senator Sinclair reminds us to honour the lives and legacies of the tens of thousands of Indigenous children taken from their homes and cultures, and leaves us with a profound feeling of hope for a better future.
Also available on the Alanis Obomsawin, A Legacy DVD box set
Shoal Lake 40 women talk about their struggles, and those of their parents and grandparents, in trying to raise their families in a hazardous state of enforced isolation. Everyone in the community has a harrowing story of a loved one falling through the ice while trying to get across the lake, with pregnant women and new mothers fearing for their babies and having no choice but to make the trek in dangerous conditions. The film shows the key role of the community’s women in demanding funding for the road from three levels of government, and how their reconnection to culture and ceremony give them the strength to keep going.
This story begins over a century ago, when the City of Winnipeg decides that the water surrounding the traditional Anishinaabe territory of what is now Shoal Lake 40 First Nation will be diverted and used as Winnipeg’s primary water source. The community, their ancient burial grounds, environment, and ways of life are forever disrupted, and access to opportunities and essential services are severed. Enforced residential schooling and a tainted water supply compound the devastating impact. Community leader and former combat engineer Daryl Redsky sheds light on how generations of complex planning, cultural preservation and mobilization have led us to the current moment—and to the construction of Freedom Road.
The men of Shoal Lake 40 tell the story of life in the community from their perspective, in the lead-up to their annual powwow. Lorne Redsky works the outdated pump house; there is no money to fix basic systems and bottled water is required for everyday use. As Lorne focuses his energy on the monumental task of getting clean water to the powwow, community member Kavin Redsky prepares his regalia for dancing, a deeply personal process connected to his healing journey. The two men embody the powerful gifts of community, traditional culture, and medicines, which have given the people of Shoal Lake 40 the resilience to continue the fight for Freedom Road
This inspiring film is the story of how one woman has come to terms with her life as a survivor of incest. Sexually abused by her father from infancy to early adolescence, Shirley Turcotte is now in her thirties and has succeeded in building a rich and full life. In To a Safer Place, Shirley takes a further step to reconcile her past and present. The film accompanies her as she returns to the people and places of her childhood. Her mother, brothers and sister, all of whom were also caught up in the cycle of family violence, openly share their thoughts. Their frank disclosures will encourage survivors of incest to break through the silence and betrayal to recover and develop a sense of self-worth and dignity.