Storytelling is a powerful vehicle that, when in the right hands, has the ability to drive inclusion and transcend empathy.
With more Indigenous filmmakers commanding the Canadian screen, Kanesatake’s very own Sonia Bonspille Boileau is acutely conscious of all the legwork that went into this newly perceived influx of talent.
“I’m finally able to tell stories that 15 – and even 10 years ago – I was being refused to produce,” said Boileau. “There’s been a huge shift in recent years and it came from the constant efforts of people who pushed and pushed to demand that space be made for them.”
The award-winning filmmaker said that the mindset change she observed from the public and project funders was not only welcomed – it was encouraged.
“Today there’s an interest and even an infatuation where the public are discovering things that they previously didn’t know,” expressed Boileau. “The reality is that for several decades, up until very recently, our stories were 99 per cent of the time told by non-Indigenous people – so we didn’t even have our perspective in the media world.”
The rightful chance for Onkwehón:we to tell their own stories represented an opportunity for Boileau to tackle realities that far too often are left in the dark.
In recent years, the Kanehsata’kehró:non explored themes such as contemporary Indigenous identity (The Oka Legacy), socio-economic issues in communities (Le Dep), and, most recently, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (Rustic Oracle).Another project in its early stages is Pour Toi Flora, a drama miniseries written and directed by Boileau, which will be broadcast on Radio-Canada’s channel ICI TÉLÉ, as well as APTN.
Taking a look at the devastating legacy of residential schools in Quebec, the series follows the story of two Anishinabeg trying to come to terms with their harmful past in the church-operated, government-funded system.
“When I started writing this story four years ago, I would still hear some Quebecers tell me that there were never any residential schools in Quebec,” explained Boileau, whose own grandfather is a survivor. “I couldn’t help but put myself in the mind of a survivor who would hear this; how painful it must be to be told this and to be completely ignored.”
Standing in both the Kanien’kéha and the franco-Québecois world, Boileau set out to undertake the tremendous task of bringing this truth to the screens of people in the province.
“We clearly have this difficulty in Quebec because, sadly, we’re so used to playing the victim in the English colonization, that we’ve become unable to admit that we, too, have done this to another group,” said the filmmaker. “I wrote this story to show that this existed here and these people are still alive. Now, what do we do about it? And how do we move forward together?”
The series, which will first appear in Anishinaabemowin with French-subtitles, and then in French, is a prospect for Quebec French-speakers to contend with the province’s history.
In addition to this, the series provides a new avenue for Quebecers to become acquainted with the work of local Indigenous talent, something which Boileau states is still a work in progress for the province.
“We’re a bit behind in Quebec when it comes to making space for others,” she noted. “We’re so afraid to lose the Quebecois culture that we don’t leave space for other cultures and perspectives in our arts – this is something I find really sad and unfortunate.”
Although that may be the case, the shift in attitude observed over the last decade continues to be a source of motivation for Boileau.
The self-described optimist said that stories like Pour Toi Flora are not only a catalyst for her to reconnect with her identity, but also an occasion for her audience to gain the perspective needed to connect with one another.
“It would be beautiful if instead of seeing other cultures as a threat, we saw them as a wealth,” expressed Boileau. “What I think the series will do, above creating a sort of awakening or sensitization, is that it will create empathy. This is a story I wanted to tell to Quebecers.”
Laurence Brisson Dubreuil, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door