Film festival sheds light on aboriginal rights

By Lidia Semrau

This year’s One World Film Festival is more determined than ever to spotlight aboriginal people after a controversial Canadian vote against the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples last month.

“In the 18 years of the One World Film Festival, we have never done a spotlight before,” says Sonya Poweska, festival co-ordinator. “But this is something that deserves a lot of attention.”

After 20 years of deliberation, the UN declaration passed easily, but Canada, along with the United States, Australia and New Zealand, opposed it despite initially supporting the move.

In an interview with CBC news, Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl claimed the declaration lacked clear guidance for implementation and did not recognize the need to balance indigenous rights with those of other groups. He said Canada opposed the declaration because it believes it conflicts with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which the government believes already protects aboriginal rights.

The declaration affirms the equality of indigenous peoples and their right to maintain their own institutions, cultures and spiritual traditions. It also establishes standards to combat discrimination and eliminate human rights violations against them.

“The Assembly of First Nations and other representatives of indigenous peoples in Canada offered to work with the government to address the concerns it had and to come to a solution, but that offer was refused,” Assembly of First Nations Chief Phil Fontaine said. “This is a stain on the country’s international reputation.”

“The vote doesn’t surprise me,” says Nadia McLaren, one of the filmmakers participating in the festival. “It proves there’s still a lot of work and awareness that needs to be done.”

World Inter-Action Mondiale (WIAM), the charitable organization hosting the film festival, hopes the various films shown will spark public awareness, discussion, and positive action on the issues faced by indigenous populations across the world, as well as in Canada, such as drastic unemployment rates, poor living conditions and overcrowded reserve areas.

The film Muffins for Granny, directed by Nadia McLaren, tells the story of how she came to terms with her late grandmother’s residential school experience. McLaren combines home movie fragments, animation and the stories of six other elders to illustrate the reality that residential school survivors live in today.

The schools were places of profound physical and sexual violence where native children were taught how to become productive members of “white society.” According to the Indian Residential School Survivors Society, about 14 per cent of 90,000 survivors are currently involved in some form of litigation seeking resolution while the other 86 per cent are trying to understand, heal from and move beyond their physical and emotional experiences.

McLaren hopes the general public will leave with more compassion for indigenous peoples after viewing the films. She feels that today’s society is preoccupied with superficial issues of minor relevance.

“One of the triggers for this documentary was the realization that I knew more about Paris Hilton than I knew about my own grandmother,” says McLaren.

Jason Lujan, director of From One Dream to Another says he feels the same way about society.

“Frankly, people don’t think about natives,” he says. “If I can make people think about indians in a contemporary context, even for just the length of the time that they’re watching the movie, then I’ll have done a good thing.”

Midnight Messenger, a human rights drum circle comprised of aboriginal activists, plans to attend the film festival to promote the documentary Freedom Drum. The film documents the group’s 24-hour drum marathon held a few years ago to help Amnesty International in its campaign for indigenous rights. In the spirit of the film, Midnight Messenger plans to drum for 20 minutes prior to the screening of the film.

“We have come to a point in Canadian history where the rights of indigenous peoples must be dealt with,” says Mark Solomon, founder of the drum circle. “Until we reach that time, Midnight Messenger will continue to drum.”

Patrons will have the chance to mingle with several of the filmmakers, including Ervin Chartrand, McLaren, Nilesh Patel, and Katarina Soukup, who will be in attendance for question and answer sessions. Guests will also have the opportunity to attend a filmmaking forum and participate in various workshops.

The festival is scheduled to run from Oct. 10-20 at Library and Archives Canada, located at 395 Wellington St.