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concordia 06/12/2017 - 02:00PM

Tasha Hubbard Moves Mountains with BIRTH OF A FAMILY

Hundreds of people gathered for the joint Cinema Politica Concordia-RIDM screening of BIRTH OF A FAMILY on Friday, November 10th. The incredibly talented director Tasha Hubbard (Nehiyaw/Nakawe/Métis) graced the audience with an emotional and insightful question period about the considerate process she stewarded in telling this powerful story through her use of observational documentary filmmaking. The conversation went beyond the process of filmmaking to themes raised in the film: How do we move forward? After the bare minimum gesture of the Canadian government’s apology, what are the best methods to provide federal compensation for generations of violent colonial treatment of Indigenous peoples? The Q&A period determined that healing happens by listening to Indigenous voices— the voices who have been combatting this colonial oppression. Supporting Indigenous storytelling is de-colonial resistance, and it’s a good place to start.

Hubbard’s film delivers an Indigenous perspective on the colonial violence and the forced assimilation of Indigenous peoples in Canada. The documentary opens with Betty Ann pacing around the arrivals door of the Calgary airport, waiting in anticipation to meet her siblings for the first time. One at a time, each new family member enters through the doors: Ben, from Alberta, Rose, from British Columbia, and Esther, from California. The siblings, now in their 50s, find humour in an expression of their common gene pool: they all wear glasses. Hubbard, in consultation with Betty Ann, tells the story of the delayed birth of a family: the siblings were separated as babies (or at birth) from their mother Mary Jane (Dene), known as ‘MJ’, through the damaging policies carried out by the Canadian Government, now known as “The Sixties Scoop.” MJ’s kids are 4 out of 20, 000 Indigenous children that were forcibly removed from their Indigenous birth families and placed in white foster homes between 1955 and 1985. BIRTH OF A FAMILY provides first hand accounts of the impact of isolating people from their language and cultural traditions— a mandate that Ben aptly describes, “takes the Indian out of the child,”—proving false the myth that Indigenous children were ‘better off’ due to this policy and practice of cultural genocide. 

To celebrate their union, the family travels together to the iconic Canadian landmark site of Banff, Alberta. The four are followed around by Hubbard into gift shops, restaurants, and walkable sightseeing attractions. The four wear matching hoodies gifted by Betty Ann that read “MJ’s kids” to both honour the pain endured by their mother, who only got the chance to know Betty Ann out of her four children, as well as honour each other. One out of many beautiful moments in the film occurs when Betty Ann helps Ben face his fears by walking with him arm in arm on a suspended glass path across the valley of a vast mountainscape. This moment also succeeds as a moving and biting metaphor: Beautiful Banff— it’s grand mountains, snow covered peaks, and deep valleys— works to represent the pretty mask behind which lies the dirty dark secrets of Canada’s colonial history that have deeply deeply scarred MJ, MJ’s kids, and Hubbard herself who is also adopted by a white foster family. This powerful demonstration of resilient familial love between brother and sister is also a demonstration of de-colonial resistance. 

Near the end of the film, on the last evening of their family union weekend, the siblings discuss their mother MJ and her internalized oppression and colonial assimilation after being forced into the Residential School system. When MJ was released she didn’t return to the reserve, and following her release she chose white partners, opening up the question amongst her children if the assimilative goals of the federal government, in her case, “worked.” Betty Ann, Esther, Rose, and Ben share the loss of an innately known lack of identity in their experience growing up in foster homes. They all state that while they had a loving, therefore lucky, experience growing up, the issue isn’t about their foster families per se. It is rather about MJ’s right to raise her children, and about having access to their Indigenous culture denied to them. Betty Ann expresses after visiting an Indigenous culture centre: “I don’t feel lucky. I feel ripped off.” Hubbard discussed her own thoughts about moving forward through her own experience as a Sixties Scoop survivor, “You can’t get back the lost memories of family members that have now passed, but it will make a difference for her daughter.” Tying new ties, finding your family, doing the work to be and remain a family (Hubbard reports they had a reunion at Roses’s house), and celebrating the 211 missed birthdays won’t undo the damage or turn back time, but it will make a difference for future generations.

The semester is over, but we’ll be back in January! If you’re itching for more political cinema during the holidays, check out our CP On Demand service and start you free trial today!  


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