Ebany Carratt is part of a team of CPCIL Research and Knowledge Gatherers producing content and compiling resources on themes such as inclusion, ecosocial justice, partnerships, conservation, organizational sustainability, climate change and biodiversity, connection to nature, conservation financing, and ecotourism, to support effective and equitable leadership and inclusion in parks and protected areas across Canada. These positions are funded by Canada’s Green Jobs Program and supported by Project Learning Tree.
Throughout writing my series of that takes into consideration the ideas around reconciliation and the awful histories of oppression Indigenous people have faced, I often worry that I, as a non-Indigenous person, am not doing enough or I don’t understand the full picture of what this process means. Yet, despite feeling frustrated by not knowing all the answers at once, I still feel strongly inspired and motivated to do what I can to push for progress and change in my society for generations that will come after me. One documentary series that has significantly helped me understand the history, but also learn the importance of protecting the land and advocating for justice, was the Elder in the Making series published in late 2015.
The series follows Chris Hsiung, a first-generation Chinese-Canadian, and Cowboy Smithx, a Blackfoot First Nation, on a spiritual journey throughout Alberta learning about the history of Treaty 7, reconciliation, and what it means to be an elder in Indigenous culture. While the similarities between these two may not seem apparent to someone from the outside looking in, Hsiung likens the experiences of the Blackfoot to that of his own by stating that “both have to navigate two cultures and two languages” and have faced similar tribulations and difficulties with reaffirming their identities within Canada as they’ve made their way through life. Yet, unlike Hsiung, Cowboy has had to deal with being seen as a “foreigner in his own land”.
Exploring the Path to Reconciliation
The film introduces us to many knowledgeable and well-spoken elders and those who we can consider ‘elders in the making’, including the late Narcisse Blood, a Blackfoot film director, teacher, and visionary. From speaking with these many insightful individuals, the viewers are able to explore what the path to reconciliation looks like and see the meaningful and respectful ways to maintain and protect the land for future generations. The best way this film beautifully expresses this need for protecting the land and empowering Indigenous cultures is by frequently using the past to paint a comprehensive image of how a treaty “signed in good faith” had fallen into a disaster within a few years.
Countless promises made by governments were broken. The buffalo, a keystone species and sacred to Indigenous people, were intentionally wiped from existence in the prairies and perpetuated a horrific famine and furthered the dependence on Industrialism for prairie tribes. Diseases such as measles, smallpox and mumps were introduced into Indigenous populations and catastrophic numbers of people, unthinkable today, were extinguished from North America. Patronizing laws such as The Indian Act, signed even before Treaty 7, show that early Canada treated First Nations people as wards of the state that needed to be civilized and assimilated. Our first prime minister, who approved residential schools, was motivated by the thought that Indigenous people who went to school on their land and practised their traditions, were nothing more than “a savage who can read and write”. All this, along with the banning of many other spiritual and ceremonial traditions that define peoples and cultures, had a genocidal effect that has devastated generations and will continue to do so without proper reconciliation.
A Call for Humanity
Yet despite all of this pain and horrific accounts of history, Elder in the Making does not lay blame. Instead, it calls for the better aspects of humanity. The empathetic side of humanity that puts themselves in the shoes of those who have been wronged to work together while protecting the land and all the entities that depend on it for a better tomorrow. This is what being an elder is about. According to Chris Hsiung: “It’s not about being Blackfoot or being Chinese. It’s that sense of being human and being able to connect with our humanity in a way that recognizes that we come from a long line of generations and that there are many more generations ahead of us that we have to take care of”.
I know personally from reading countless articles on this topic that I have often felt confused about where I stand as a non-Indigenous child of an immigrant. So seeing someone who comes from a similar background as I do learn what this means from elders and other elders in the making, has provided me with well-needed clarity moving forward. Reconciliation, just like a treaty, is an ongoing process that must be revisited and renewed time and time again. It is up to all of us, no matter our backgrounds, to make treaty with each other on the land which sustains us.
So I hope after reading this blog you will want to watch this wonderful documentary too! What other documentaries or resources have helped develop your understanding on reconciliation?
Thanks for reviewing this documentary Ebany! Really insightful commentary and background. As a non-Indigenous person and daughter of immigrant parents myself, I can definitely relate to the things you’ve outlined in your blog, such as not having enough information or feeling like I’m being ignorant of these issues, but becoming more aware and attaining education through documentaries such as this “Elder in the Making:” is one step everyone can take on the long road towards reconciliation.
Thank you for the comment, Hameet! I am so glad to hear that you could relate to many of the things written within my blog. I can definitely relate to feeling like I am ignorant at times on these issues too, but thankfully there are so many resources and other documentary series that have helped me along the way. I think at the very least reconciliation can begin by wanting to learn more about these issues, regardless of what our cultural backgrounds may be as Canadians!