Ceremonial walk of residential school survivors to launch this year's Weengushk film festival

Thursday, July 4th, 2024 8:59am


Image Caption

In the film Sugarcane, directed by Julian Brave NoiseCat and Emily Kassie, Ed Archie NoiseCat grapples with the shocking truth of his secretive birth at St. Joseph’s Mission Indian residential school. (Credit: Emily Kassie/Sugarcane Film LLC). Sugarcane will open this year's Weengushk International Film Festival.
By Sam Laskaris
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A procession of residential school survivors will precede an Indigenous film festival on Manitoulin Island in Ontario.

The eighth annual Weengushk International Film Festival will run July 11 to July 14. Films throughout the festival will be screened at the Four Directions Complex located in Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation. Aundeck Omni Kaning is one of six First Nations on Manitoulin Island.

Before the films are screened however, the festival will commence with an event titled Blanket of Stars: A Tribute To Resilience.

About 50 residential school survivors, who are being brought to Manitoulin Island from across the country, will be wrapped in star blankets.

These survivors, described by festival organizers as residential school warriors, will walk across the island’s famous swing bridge in Little Current, the largest town on the island. The warriors will be met by Indigenous dancers and drummers. The procession is expected to begin around 10:15 a.m. on July 11.

“Having them all in one place will be quite meaningful,” said Phyllis Ellis, the festival’s executive director.

The walk represents a welcoming home for the survivors. And the bridge they will walk on, which connects communities on the island, represents a bridging of the past and present, while keeping in mind the long road survivors have travelled.

The festival’s founder, Dr. Shirley Cheechoo, is a residential school survivor herself.

After the ceremonial walk, the warriors will gather at the Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre where they will share their life experiences in various workshops. These presentations fit in with the theme for this year’s festival, which is resilience.

Besides resilience, talks at the workshops will focus on history and the path forward. The goal is to spark discussion that not only honours the past and embraces the present, but also looks toward a future that includes reconciliation and respect.

The day will include a symbolic passing of the torch to Indigenous youth. This represents the Seven Generation Principle, a concept that urges those alive today to be thinking about and doing their best to preserve a good life for the seven generations to come.

The Weengushk International Film Festival is considered northern Ontario’s premier Indigenous film festival.

Yet it is still considered small. This year’s event will include four feature films and eight short films. There will also be various workshops and a gala awards event.

“It’s not the largest festival,” Ellis said. “But I think it’s been very important for the communities to hear Indigenous voices and stories from their own perspective.”

Besides the six First Nations on Manitoulin Island, Ellis said the festival’s outreach program targets various other First Nations throughout the northern parts of the province, including Indigenous communities near Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, Timmins and Thunder Bay.

The opening night film for this year’s festival is a documentary called Sugarcane, directed by Julian Brave NoiseCat and Emily Kassie.

Sugarcane, about the abuses at a residential school, had its world premiere this past January at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival in Utah and won the grand jury award for directing.

Another film that will be screened at the festival is Lakota Nation vs United States, which is produced by actor and activist Mark Ruffalo.

This documentary is about the 1876 U.S. government seizure of the Black Hills, a mountain range in the states of South Dakota and Wyoming. The film includes details of the ensuing fight of the Lakota people to reclaim the Black Hills.

The festival will also include musical performances from Indigenous artists Aysanabee, Adrian Sutherland and Nishina Esquega. The Poets: A Tragically Hip Tribute will also perform.​

All information about the festival is available at https://www.weengushkfilmfestival.ca/

Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.