TELEVISION

The natives’ land

A series vividly portrays Indian discontent

VICTOR DWYER September 9 1991
TELEVISION

The natives’ land

A series vividly portrays Indian discontent

VICTOR DWYER September 9 1991

The natives’ land

A series vividly portrays Indian discontent

AS LONG AS THE RIVERS FLOW (Regional public networks, Sept. 12 and 13)

TELEVISION

Alistless native teenage girl talks about her gas sniffing and heavy drinking with a tireless social worker, also Indian. When asked how she

sees herself in the years ahead, the girl mumbles grimly, “a drunk.” The segment is one of the more rivetting—and disturbing—mo-

ments in As Long as the Rivers Flow, a series of five one-hour documentaries about Canada’s native people. The shows examine such diverse subjects as broadcasting and land reform, and their tone ranges from the touchingly personal to the forcefully political. But in a brief introduction to the first episode, the series host, actress Tantoo Cardinal, touches on the theme that runs through all the programs— “my people’s efforts to gain control of our future.” Beginning on Sept. 12 or 13 on public TV networks in all provinces except Quebec, where it has already aired in French, and British Columbia, where it will run on the Knowledge Network in early 1992, Ay Long as the Rivers Flow is a stirring portrait of Canadian Indians’ struggle to master their destiny.

Producer James Cullingham founded Toronto-based Tamarack Productions in 1989 in order to develop a series in which native filmmakers—and non-Indian directors with a strong interest in aboriginal issues—could ex-

plore that theme. Then, Cullingham, a former executive producer of CBC Radio’s Sunday Morning and As It Happens, recruited veteran Canadian documentary maker Peter Raymont, director of The People’s Accord, a special edition of CTV’s W5 program on June 30 about the Maclean’s constitutional forum. Raymont joined Cullingham’s project as an executive producer. They approached six directors, and last September, as Mohawk Warriors faced

police and armed forces across the barricades at the Akwesasne Mohawk reserve near Oka, Que., the film-makers set out across Canada to document the struggle for Indian autonomy.

The result is a probing and powerful anthology about native life. One episode is titled Tikinagan, the Cree word for a strap-on device for carrying infants, and also the name of a child-care agency in Northern Ontario run entirely by native people. In it, director Gil Cardinal, a Métis from Edmonton, accompanies one of the agency’s child-protection workers, Angus Chapman, as he visits two reserves. Training an unforgiving lens on the bleak lives of several of Chapman’s clients—who include the gas-sniffing teenage girl—Cardinal offers a sad glimpse of the social worker’s daunting caseload.

More sanguine is Vancouver Métis director Loretta Todd’s The Learning Path, about three native women educators and their efforts to regain control of education programs. In interviews, the three women recount grim

memories of the residential schools that they attended and they describe their work in passing on Indian traditions and language.

The remaining episodes blend that guarded optimism with a blunt appraisal of the uphill battles that remain. In Starting Fire with Gunpowder, co-directors David Poisey, an Inuk from Baffin Island, and William Hansen, a Montreal film-maker, combine a look at the successful, native-run Northwest Territoriesbased Inuit Broadcasting Corp. with a frank examination of the topics—including alcoholism and wife abuse—that it has covered. In Time Immemorial, meanwhile, Vancouver film-maker Hugh Brody imparts a sense of irony to his examination of the relentless—but so far fruitless—struggles of British Columbia’s Nisga tribe to regain land claimed by provincial agents more than a century ago.

Flooding Job’s Garden is the most timely documentary. In it, Ottawa director Boyce Richardson untangles the complicated story of the 1975 James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, the predecessor to the controversial Great Whale River hydro project, which Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa temporarily halted on Aug. 21. Richardson documents the rank bitterness of local native hunters and fishermen whose territory has been devastated by the construction of dams, roads and reservoirs. But, like the other documentaries, Flooding Job’s Garden shows that Canada’s Indians are increasingly unwilling to play the role of victim.

VICTOR DWYER