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Warming up with some Hot Docs

April 22nd, 2008     by Jessica Yee     Comments

I’m a big fan of documentaries, and North America’s largest documentary film festival Hot Docs is currently in Toronto until April 27th serving up an excellent roster of real-life movie genres.

So I thought I’d give you my take on two films so far that have rocked me to the core:

Club Native and Umiaq (Skin Boat)

Have you seen any Hot Docs this year?

Club Native

First off, Club Native by award-winning director Tracey Deer was probably one of the most personally touching films I have ever seen and I really wasn’t expecting that when I walked into the theatre. Set in the director’s home community of Kahnawake which is in Quebec, the documentary tells the stories of 4 women who have to deal with the possiblity of losing their legal status as Mohawk as a result of a relationship outside the community on some level that is affecting them.

It was one of the first times I have actually heard somebody say “it’s not okay to call someone a half-breed”. As a Chinese-Mohawk woman myself, this is a term (and many other like it) I have been called my entire life and in fact when I was growing up it seemed kind of cool. Club Native really confronts the deeply-rooted prejudices we have against each other and the damage it can do to our inner-most selves. It makes the connection that in the end we are all human beings and need to celebrate who we are as a whole.

One of my favourite lines from the film is “the colonizers sure taught us well because the same system they used to divide and conquer our peoples, we are using against each other” and this is in reference to the whole Indian card status and band registry list that Native peoples in Canada have to go through to legitimize and prove our ethnicity. Club Native will be coming to DVD soon at the National Film Board (NFB) and I HIGHLY recommend that you check it out.

Umiaq (Skin Boat)

The other film I saw Umiaq (Skin Boat) is also set in the director Jobie Weetaluktuk’s home community of Inukjuak, Quebec. Fully in the Inuit language of Inuktitut (with English subtitles), the documentary follows this Inuit community as they build the first umiaq in more than 50 years. An umiaq is a boat made out of seal skin and requires a lot of preparation and multiple people to build it.

However the film is much more than building a boat. Having returned from Inuvik in the Northwest Territories myself a few months ago, I met people who have recently been colonized as a result of all the resource extraction that is going on in the Great North and the complete disregard for an entire culture that has been taking care us in the North for time immemorial. We leave the Inuit out of the “Aboriginal” picture quite a bit as many Inuit who go down south are forced to get services from a Native Friendship Centre or somewhere like that, which are really First Nations and Metis centric. The Inuit are a distinct, unique Indigenous culture and deserve the equal recognition as such.

It is so important to witness the return to traditions and customs because this gives hope to the survival of our culture as Indigenous peoples for the future. Umiaq is a good example of how the determination to come back to our roots affects the good of us all.

Tags: film reel, in my opinion...

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