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concordia 02/02/2018 - 12:00AM

Centering Indigenous Perspectives Through Cinematic Storytelling

Hundreds gathered at CP Concordia on Jan. 29 for First Voices-An evening of indigenous cinema.

Hundreds gathered at Cinema Politica Concordia last Monday for First Voices- An Evening of Indigenous Cinema, part of First Voices Week at Concordia. After a land acknowledgement by a member of First Voices, Inuk mediamaker Stephen Agluvak Puskas introduced the artists whose short films were shown at the event. The audience erupted into applause and cheers at the name of Katsitsionni Fox (Kanien'kehá:ka), director of OHERO:KON (UNDER THE HUSK), who was present for a post-screening Q&A. During the open-floor discussion, Fox discussed the spiritual and social significance of bringing back Ohero:kon, a four-year rite of passage ceremony for teenagers in her community. She spoke of the importance of gathering her community members around mutual, collective caring and pride through the ceremony. With her powerful, inspiring words she communicated the necessity of intergenerational language transmission and the place of embodied knowledge and memory in bringing back the lost tradition.

The creation of spaces for community gathering under settler colonialism is a core theme in some of the other short films screened at the event. In DISLOCATION BLUES, Cleo Keahna recounts incomplete visions of being at Standing Rock, focusing on the impactful memory of arriving at the camp in darkness, to find many different nations gathered in solidarity and united by a common goal. They also remember the particularity of being in a space in which, unlike the rest of the country, media representation, infrastructure and discussions did not solely cater to white people, but instead centered Indigenous experiences. THE ROUNDHOUSE equally stresses the difficulty and beauty in cultivating Indigenous spaces and traditions under settler colonialism. Liya is a student in a predominantly white high school, where classmates mock her traditional stories and pressure her into attending a party where she is made to feel uncomfortable and out of place. At the end of the short fiction film, she puts on a dress, braids her hair, and joins a powwow with her little sister, remembering the value of her roots and celebrating her identity.

In many of the short films screened, women occupy the center of these celebrations of Indigenous identity. In her Q&A, Katsitsionni Fox stressed the importance of aunties (Fox has been an auntie herself), chosen by the girls going through the four year rite of passage, to support them in their journey and lead the ceremony. In NUUCA, Michelle Latimer explores the link between violence enacted on Indigenous land and sexual assaults against the Indigenous women who live there. Whereas the film starts with soothing, contemplative visions of landscapes, juxtaposed with a girl’s voice describing life at home and the importance of “connection to Mother Earth”, the tranquility is abruptly disrupted by jarring visions of machines and freeways. With the exploitation of the Earth for oil and natural gas comes the establishment of work camps for men and the tripling of violent assaults in the region where the film is set. Latimer ends on a determined, repeated call to “take only what you need”.

Processes of embodied memory also occupy a central place in many of the short films. In THE VIOLENCE OF A CIVILIZATION WITHOUT SECRETS, the Khalil brothers and co-director Jackson Polys ask the question, who is allowed to speak for an object? Which forms of knowledge are privileged over others, and how does this determine what is perceived as ‘evidence’? By addressing the case of the Kennewick Man, in the larger context of museographic practices of colonialism, the directors offer an urgent look at the political agenda behind invalidating embodied knowledge and memory to privilege scientific ‘fact’ based on physical and racial assumptions. THREE THOUSANDis a poetic, intimate journey through Inuit collective memory, gathering archival footage from the NFB and original animation to weave together fleeting visions of the past, whispered reflections on the present and a luminescent future imaginary. Both shorts recenter Indigenous memory-making processes, reclaiming and resisting colonial modes of representation, which silence Indigenous experiences and immobilize them in the past.

Katsitsionni Fox’s words echo the urgent need to refocus on Indigenous ways of knowing and remembering, especially in times of decolonial struggles. She told the audience to dwell not on “what they took from us” but rather celebrate “what we can get back”, especially in the context of the Ohero:Kon ceremony, which was “still in the bodies” even if it hadn’t been enacted for a hundred years. The ceremony was brought back by dreams, visions, embodied knowledge of the past and concentrated action, and is today in constant evolution as it spreads to other communities. All of the short films screened at this charged event spoke to this need to recenter Indigenous lives, stories and perspectives, while constructing histories and invoking embodied memories as a kind of resurgence against colonial frameworks of knowledge and understanding. Thanks to these talented filmmakers, we are always learning and understanding, and we will never forget.


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