Our People will be Healed premiered at TIFF in the Masters Programme, marking filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin’s 50th documentary. Heralded as one of the greatest indigenous voices of our time, Obomsawin’s newest film once again reaffirms her visual sovereignty, “to provide a voice and a story for a lot of people who historically have not had that opportunity.”
She stays true to the style of her past films, weaving together photos, historical maps, re-enactments and documentary footage into a visceral masterpiece. Obomsawin simultaneously voices small individual stories: The Helen Betty Osborne Ininiw Education Resource Centre in Norway House, a radio station engineer, a fiddle jubilee, a Sun Dance and a two week canoe trip while telling an all encompassing story of Indigenous life and healing after the trauma of colonization and residential schools. Reading that synopsis, one understands the importance and weight of its subject matter. However, the film presents itself as a message of both love and hope.
The soundscape immerses the audience in picturesque views of Canadian landscape; you can feel the water flowing down the streams, and wind blow through the bulrushes, the jolly chortle of the fiddle as a group of children play traditional tunes and the thunderous applause of the community as they cheer on their recent graduates.
What Obomsawin continues to capture in each of her films, is the spirit and unity of the community. There’s an intangible connection, of hearts beating in rhythm, between the elders, the youth, their traditions and the land.
This image, found here in the trailer, appears continuously throughout the film. A group of teens journey by canoe down a long outstretched Manitoba river. Each teen provides a testimonial of their thirst to learn from their mentor, how reconnecting with the earth and fellow indigenous people have strengthened their identities. There’s stillness as the group rows in unison. The teens approach a rough spot in the river, getting caught in a manmade dam from early colonization trade routes. Just as we think their trip has ended, their mentor wobbles out onto the rocks and thrusts the canoe forward so they can continue on their path.
The sheer power of that image moved me to tears. Obomsawin explains, “The root of it all is love of the children, love of the people. And to pay attention to what our ancestors went through and these traditions. You take the best of it and apply it. My God, there has been so much suicide and such a history of alcohol and drugs, but there is a strong movement with young people saying no … a strong movement of young people helping other young people who still have problems.”
Our People Will Be Healed is a must see, for the importance and validity of the story and the glimpse it provides into the spirit of the people captured on film. This film stands as yet another account proving, just as the filmmaker herself explains, that by relying on each other, relearning their language, reviving their traditions, the Indigenous community continues to strengthen their voice and will be healed.