by Daniel Hart, Center Chair and Director and Co-Director of Native Voices
The Canadian Studies Center was pleased to be able to partner with the Native Voices Program and the United Indians of All Tribes Foundation to present the 6th Annual Native Voices Film Festival, an event that featured many First Nations guests, films and filmmakers. The four-day event, that ran from February 28th through March 2nd, featured the premiers of five new films and included a special honoring of the life and works of Native filmmaker Phil Lucas.
All of the new Native Voices films had a powerful cross-border focus dealing with issues that strongly affect both Canadian First Nations and Native American communities. Thursday evening saw the premiers of two new works: Frybread Babes by Steffany Suttle, an intimate new film that speaks about Native women, body image and identity; and, In Laman’s Terms: Looking at Lamanite Identity by Angelo Baca, a provocative work that explores the impacts that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and the Book of Mormon had on native peoples and communities.
On Friday, three new films premiered. History Lessons, by Clark Miller, explores how Native peoples are excluded from North American history, and how media and popular culture create the “Indian of the white imagination.” Travels Across The Medicine Line by former Canadian Fulbright scholar, Lyana Patrick, is a historical and contemporary look at the impact of the Canada-US border on Indigenous nations – the border has severed ancient ties to families, ceremonies and homelands. Finally, Reclaiming Our Children: a Story of the Indian Child Welfare Act, by Marcella Ernest, is a powerful new documentary that tells the story of the wholesale separation of Indian children from their families, one the most destructive and tragic aspects of Native life today.
Highlights of the festival were the events honoring the life of Phil Lucas (1942-2007), the acclaimed Choctaw filmmaker who sadly passed away this year. Over the course of his 30-year career, Phil produced many remarkable works, many of which were filmed in Canada in First Nations communities and had tremendous international impact influencing an entire generation of filmmakers. Phil was a pioneering voice in indigenous media, one of the first Native Americans to take control of the camera in an industry where Native voices are rarely heard.
The festival screened a number of Phil’s films. Healing the Hurts (1989) tells the story of adult survivors of Indian Residential Schools who gathered at Alkali Lake, British Columbia to attend a four-day intensive workshop on healing the hurt and shame of the boarding school experience. The attendees this healing ceremony accepted the camera and crew as participants in the process, resulting in the creation of this powerful film. Voyage of Rediscovery (1990) tells the moving story of Frank Brown, who as a young Heiltsuk Native boy of Bella Bella, British Columbia, found himself in trouble with the law. In an agreement between family and judge, traditional Heiltsuk law was applied and he was exiled from his village to a remote island for eight months. As a result, his life was transformed and he eventually led a canoe project, which helped to restore a sense of pride to his people. Finally, The Honor of All (1987) was screened, a groundbreaking work that tells the true story of the Alkali Lake Band of Indians in British Columbia and their successful struggle to conquer alcoholism in their remote community. The 1987 docu-drama won the prestigious international public television INPUT award and inspired Native recovery movements around the world.
What was especially exciting and rewarding about this year’s festival is that many of the First Nations participants of Phil’s films were able to come down for the screenings of their works. Andy and Phyllis Chelsea, and Fred and Irene Johnson of the Alkali Lake Indian Band, were able to respond to questions about The Honor of All, and Frank and Kathy Brown of the Heiltsuk Nation were able to answer questions about Voyage of Rediscovery. On Sunday, there was an inspiring memorial service for Phil Lucas at Daybreak Star Cultural Center, with hundreds of people from the US and Canada in attendance.