As a young person who appreciates and loves being Canadian, it is my dream to see true and lasting reconciliation between Canada and its Indigenous peoples; the future of this country depends on it. A critical step in forging this imperative is changing the hearts and minds of all Canadians by fostering a greater understanding of the history and experiences of the people who were here before colonization.
When I was 19 years old, I decided that I was going to leave university and pursue my ambition of exploring the Canadian Arctic. The vast landscape had enchanted me since childhood. It was also my dream to be a documentary filmmaker. I didn’t really know how to make films, at least not in the traditional sense, but I found myself yearning to tell a story of great importance. Equipped with a young person’s courage, I flew a thousand kilometers north of the Arctic Circle to a small Inuit hamlet called Resolute Bay.
When the plane touched down in the little town of 250 people, I had a camera and five weeks. Five weeks to find a story and shoot a documentary. I knew no one. Most men in the community were hostile towards me. To these men, I was just another white man from the south coming to steal jobs, resources, or their sisters and daughters. I was kicked out of homes and I was threatened.
I stayed in the home of a young man, his wife, and their baby. He took me to meet his grandmother, sweet Zipporah Kalluk, the toughest woman I’ve ever met, and also one of the warmest. In her small living room, I felt at home, as if I was sitting in my own grandmother’s living room. Bannock was always baking in the oven, the kettle was always on, children were always running in and out and I was always welcome.
I came away with one of the greatest adventures of my life and a 22 minute documentary about Zipporah’s family. Her father was one of 80 Inuit men who had been convinced, under false pretenses, to move his family from their traditional lands in Northern Quebec to the farthest reaches of the high Arctic. The modern housing and electricity they were promised did not exist and the huskies they relied on to transport them across the sea ice were taken away by the RCMP. To me, it was a terrific blemish on Canada’s human rights record, and one that was unknown to most.
The film, called Resolute, rerouted the trajectory of my life. What I thought I knew about my country, a beacon of justice and freedom that shines bright all over the world, was dimmed as I began reading and studying more and more about the awful treatment that Indigenous peoples were subjected to for hundreds of years.
My new film, Survivors Rowe, documents four Anishinaabe men who were small boys when they were sexually abused by an Anglican minister and Boy Scout leader named Ralph Rowe. According to Nishnawbe Aski Nation health services, conservative figures indicated that Mr. Rowe abused upwards of 500 Aboriginal boys across Northwestern Ontario during the 1970’s and 1980’s. Rowe only spent five years in prison and today he lives freely in British Columbia. In the First Nation communities where he preached the word of God, he left behind a path of destruction.
Shooting this film in the isolated reserves of Northern Ontario provided me with a sobering look at the disparity that exists between First Nations and the rest of the country. There are many aspects of this fractured relationship to feel despondent about, but I choose to remain positive.
It is through documentary that I try and provide new perspectives and contemporary understandings to help build the bridge among all of Canada’s treaty people.
Resolute - Trailer