by Trish Weatherall
Published in the North Island Eagle newspaper Nov. 10, 2017
The award-winning film The Road Forward, featuring interviews with local activists, will be screened in Port Hardy and Port McNeill Nov. 21 and 22, the third film in the local leg of the National Film Board of Canada’s Aabiziingwashi (Wide Awake) Indigenous Cinema Tour.
The musical documentary film evolved from the live 10-minute performance Metis/Dene writer and director Marie Clements produced for the 2010 Winter Olympics Cultural Olympiad Pavilion closing show. She transformed it into a live theatre performance at the PUSH! Festival in 2015, and the film adaptation released in 2017. The Road Forward combines storytelling through original contemporary and traditional songs with powerful interviews with First Nation activists, following the growth of the Native Brotherhood and Native Sisterhood movements.
Clements says the film and its title was inspired by the hundreds of archived Native Voice newspaper articles that she studied.
“Reading the Native Voice newspaper, I saw this feeling of movement, that things were starting to add up, and I saw the velocity of moving forward in time, and moving toward change.”
Canada’s first Indigenous newspaper, the Native Voice was published from 1946 to 2002, and was the official voice of the Native Brotherhood of British Columbia (NBBC), that covered issues of Indigenous rights like education, housing, and health services.
The film depicts those First Nation reporters, and shows archived news clips, one stating “Canada has one of the worst human rights records in the world” and lists the average lifespan of Canadian Indigenous peoples in 1965 as age 33 for men, and age 34 for women. It tells the truth behind Canada’s Indigenous history, and show how the same issues are still prevalent 50 years later.
‘Yalis (Alert Bay) resident Elders Edwin and Vera Newman, were interviewed in the film. Vera was a former Native Sisterhood president and Native Brotherhood member, and Edwin was a Native Brotherhood president for 11 years, early contributor to the Native Voice, nephew of long-time Native Voice editor Kitty Carpenter, and is currently Chief of Bella Bell and Fort Rupert. In the film he explains:
“The Native Brotherhood first began in the 1930s. At that time, it was illegal for Aboriginal people to meet. So, people who created Native Brotherhood had to find a way to get around the law and find a way to fight the issues. And they did that by going under the umbrella of the Church, and the anthem or the prayer at that time was Onward Christian Soldiers.”
The film also highlights a movement little known in mainstream history, known as The Constitution Express, when thousands of Indigenous elders, adults, and children across the country boarded trains bound for Ottawa to peacefully protest the federal governments decision to leave Indigenous rights out of the proposed patriation of the Canadian Constitution in 1980-81. Delegations also went to New York and Europe, and eventually the federal government agreed to recognize Indigenous rights within the constitution.
“The commitment it took to collaborate and coordinate travel was incredible,” said Clements. “The Native Voice achieved a way for even the most remote communities to be a part of this bigger community and movement.”
One young interviewee in the film explains that she was labelled an ‘at risk youth’, but she calls herself a ‘culturally deprived youth’.
“We begin to understand how systematically our culture was deprived,” said Clements. “People were disconnected. If we are healthy and we know where we come from – we recognize our history, language, and place in the world – we are more grounded human beings.”
Others interviewed in the film include Native Brotherhood President Henry Clifton; former Native Sisterhood President Karen Jeffery; Aboriginal educators Lorna Williams and Amanda Nahanee: former Supreme Court Judge Thomas Berger; artist/activist Maurice Nahanee; activist Vicki Lynne George, daughter of Ron George; cultural activist Delhia Nahanee, and performing artist Marissa Nahanee.
Musical sequences are performed by some of Canada’s finest vocalists and musicians.
The Road Forward was an award winner at the Dreamspeakers International Film Festival 2017, and was official selection at Hot Docs 2017, DOXA Documentary Film Festival 2017, Atlantic Film Festival 2017, and American Indian Film Festival San Francisco 2017.
The Road Forward will be shown at the Port Hardy Civic Centre Nov. 21, at 6:00 p.m., and at the Port McNeill Gatehouse Theatre Nov. 22, at 6:00 p.m. $5 admission tickets are available at Café Guido in Port Hardy and Flora Borealis in Port McNeill.
The North Island film screenings were coordinated by Don Kattler, Housing First Project Lead at Sacred Wolf Friendship Society in Port Hardy. Admission proceeds go toward the local Housing First Initiative, a federal government program to house the homeless.