DAREarts partnered with REEL Canada to participate in their National Canadian Film Day, April 20th. I arrived a day early to settle in and chat with Webequie First Nation’s Chief and Council and Simon Jacob Memorial Education Centre’s Principal, Mary Gardiner, about the upcoming film event. Webequie First Nation is a remote, fly-in community about 1,000 kilometres north of Thunder Bay. April is a lovely time to visit! I’ve been coming here for DAREarts for over 8 years now, as part of a team of artists/educators working with the youth and Elders to create works of art, theatre, music, poetry and videos. It’s an incredible relationship that has grown over time, rooted in trust and raised in Oji-Cree culture and language.
April 20th fell in the middle of Webequie’s Culture Week, a chance for the youth to work with Elders to develop knowledge about the land, culture and local history. It’s also Goose hunting season and a lot of families were out on the land, hunting goose.
I was invited to go out on an excursion on the Winisk Lake, to witness the nets being pulled up with their catch. I got on a sled pulled by a skidoo and held on for dear life as we flew over ice and slush. The wind was like a hair dryer melting the surface of the lake, and I was so glad I wore my hunting boots. My feet were dry, my face was warm and we were all on an adventure!
Mary Gardiner and some of the teachers preferred to slosh over the ice as we sped toward the fishing hole.
The sound of kids in the distance drew us closer and I could finally make out a pole sticking out of the ice, which I guessed was keeping the net from slipping away. The fish came out, their scales sparkling in the warm light. Every time the kids squealed, I giggled.
Tonight would be the viewing of a Canadian feature film called ‘Maina’, filmed in Quebec, about an Inu girl and an Inuit boy and their “Unusual romance.” I had watched it and am looking forward to the reaction of our audience – if we have one. I’m not sure if we’re going to have anyone there, with all the activities happening in town and out on the land. I was so moved by that movie I decided that to make a little documentary about our time here. Next time I go up, this will be a part of a showing. And who knows, maybe one of these kids might be inspired to hold a camera in his or her hand and do some filming.
Christopher pulled the nets up from the frigid ice with his bare hands and disengaged the fish and the kids jumped and squealed every time he threw them in the sled.
This is an excellent experience for all of us. Learning by doing is the best way to retain good teachings. These kids will never forget the mechanics of fishing and later, will learn how to clean and cook the fish. The delight is contagious. The adults enjoy the exceptionally warm day, the sound of feet sloshing in the water above the ice, the warm wind, the nature all around us.
And our four-legged friends had a good time, too. Jakobee, a husky, was lucky enough to get a “dog-fish” which came out dead and was left on the ice for other creatures to feast on.
A ten year old boy asked me if he could hold my camera and film. He slipped his hand into the strap and looked into the view-screen. “Why am I looking down? He’s right there.” He was filming Jakobee eating the fish. “Eww! Groooosss!” He handed the camera back and said, “I think I want one of these.” I can’t wait to see his reaction when he sees what he shot.
Later, in the school gym, kids, moms and teachers gathered to watch the films that REEL Canada shipped up. Three little girls volunteered to put out chairs for the audience. The concession opened up, and pop and chips were served. The short films began and Indigenous filmmakers reflected our cultures back to us. Healing stories, animated and live action films played out on the big screen, lighting up the faces of our intimate audience. Some of the young boys had come straight from their drum practice and they still carried their drumsticks with them.
And then the feature film Maina began. One of the boys beat time along with the movie’s beautiful score on his chair. The world in the movie looked a lot like Webequie. Black spruce, rivers, bogs, caribou. This story is set in the time before colonization. The original languages echoed throughout the gym. There’s a strong Innu girl- a good hunter. She loves an Inuit boy she’s seen in her dreams. There’s a courageous boy the same age as the kids in the audience. Scenes of great battles, intrigue, betrayal, love and all the strengths and frailties of human nature made us lean forward.
I watched our audience react to the film and realized that this is kind of the atmosphere I used to love at the drive-in when I was a kid. This isn’t the same as watching a movie in a basement. It was a gathering that brought these kids together after school to see themselves reflected back to themselves in a positive way. Some of what they saw will stick with them for a long time.
A couple of years ago, one of the teachers here did a project with the kids. They envisioned Webequie as they would like to see it. They built a model of what Webequie would look like if they built it for real. There were the usual buildings…a KFC, a big grocery store, a big recreation centre, a mechanic and a Home Depot, but the movie theatre was huge. Sadly, it points out what is missing in their lives, things that kids in the south take for granted.
It’s going to be a film project here in Webequie next for our DAREarts team, I think. Thank you, REEL CANADA and the community of Webequie for this great partnership with DAREarts for National Canadian Film Day.