Celebrated filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin’s Our People Will Be Healed highlights the hopes of the Norway House Cree Nation for future culture preservation.
Director Alanis Obomsawin’s work has been primarily about celebrating Indigenous voices and stories. Her 50th feature, Our People Will Be Healed, is a documentary that focuses on the hope the Norway House Cree Nation, of Manitoba, Canada, have in their youth to keep their culture thriving.
Opening with a Cree-language voiceover, overlaid on stunning Manitoban scenery, the relationship the Cree people have with nature is immediately apparent. An elder figure, Gordon Walker, is shown throughout the film to continuously encourage the preservation of traditional culture: camping, teaching youngsters to catch and prepare fish, as well as teaching the Cree language. He believes it’s important they learn all about their people, otherwise ‘they don’t know what has been taken away’. It’s a privileged insight into a First Nations community so clearly infused with a deep respect and affection for each other, as well as for preserving their culture during systematic oppression for over 200 years.
The focus of Obomsawin’s documentary is primarily the Helen Betty Osborne Ininiw Education Resource Centre, the local school that prioritises social development, ensuring its youngsters have a varied curriculum that encompasses ‘regular’ subjects as well as more culturally specific classes. But the film also spends time with the community as a whole, too.
There’s powerful testimony from women who experienced horrendous racism at Residential schools outside of Norway House, and who founded the ‘Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’ movement. There’s an interesting segue about the hardworking Fisherman’s Co-op, who do everything from maintaining petrol and diesel supply, operating a lumber business and undertaking all commercial fishing in Lake Winnipeg. And also an in-depth look at important community events like the Frontier Division Annual Fiddle Jamboree.
But it’s here that the documentary falters, somewhat. What has so far been an introspective, sensitive and reflective look at the preservation of Cree culture within the community and the education system, lingers a little too long on the fiddle. Interviews with students and teachers emphasise the importance music has within their culture, but, as the montage of performances nears the 10 minute mark, it starts to grate slightly. A tighter edit would have avoided letting down an otherwise powerful look at an oppressed people and their resilience in carrying on traditions.
Obomosawin’s interviews are wonderfully naturalistic – not everyone is comfortable in front of the camera, but they are allowed to be so – and the film ends on a hopeful note. As the community gathers to celebrate the Sun Dance, – one of their most important cultural celebrations that was outlawed in Canada from 1885 to 1951, yet continuously practiced in secret – the film reinforces the strength and spirit within the First Nations communities.
Our People Will Be Healed is ultimately a film encompassing the hope that its title sentiment comes true. It tells the enlightening story about the Norway House Cree Nation’s wish for the future: for the younger generation’s success in healing their community and ensuring their traditions, language and way of life are preserved and continue to thrive.
Our People Will Be Healed will be screened at Femspectives, the third annual Glasgow-based feminist film festival, running as an Online Festival Weekender from 23 – 25 April, 2021.