In a four-part docuseries Telling Our Story, narrated by Kaniehtiio Horn, Abenaki director Kim O'Bomsawin highlights cultural stories and history of 11 First Peoples, with the series travelling to more than 30 communities (airing on National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, Sept. 30, on CBC at 8:00 p.m. ET).
The docuseries, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), is separated into four categories: Territory, Identity, Spirituality, and Rebuilding.
While O'Bomsawin has 500 years of history to correct, with the information largely having largely been told from a one-sided view, Telling Our Story celebrates the culture beauty of First Nations and Inuit communities, while also discussing the the traumatic consequences of colonization.
'There's this trust that needs to be built'
As O'Bomsawin explained, the people behind Telling Our Story "knocked on every possible door" to get financing for the series, but the real starting point for the content came from a strong commitment to make this a collaborative process.
"It all started with a big meeting with elders and knowledge keepers of the 11 First Peoples ... to just reassure us that we were going on the right track," O'Bomsawin told Yahoo Canada. "Then we hired a bunch of field researchers from the 11 First Peoples, so 12 total, that were not professionals in that area at all, but they were the professionals that we needed, because only they knew the best stories that were hidden inside all of our communities."
For all the participants in the series, a promise was made with them to provide access to all the material from the docuseries.
"There's still a lot of people who are unsure and we've been through a lot," O'Bomsawin said. "There's this trust that needs to be built."
"There were lots of places I went for the first time in my career. So I felt like I needed to do this extra work to convince people that I was there with good intentions. So by hiring fixers and local translators, local field researchers, I think that's how we managed to get to those very important people that have the most to say, that are recognized by their own community."
'We're not just about trauma and being victims of a colonial system'
Throughout Telling Our Story O'Bomsawin includes a mix of people speaking directly to the camera and beautiful, sweeping images of the landscape in these communities.
"I really want people to understand that special connection that we have with the land and what it means to us," O'Bomsawin said. "We say that the land is not something we can possess, it's something that we share and benefit from, and that we are part of."
"The land is like a character in itself, a protagonist in itself, and ... we were able to have the financial means ... that we could put some cinema into television. ... Our traditional lands are so pretty, so beautiful, and our people [are] too. So it was super important that the cinematography would be there."
In terms of what O'Bomsawin hopes the audience takes from Telling Our Story, an understanding that history is not one-sided is at the core of the goal for the docuseries.
"It's not to remove a part of the history, it's just to add a piece to what we learn in school that's not being told," O'Bomsawin said. "But the real thing that I want people to realize is Telling Our Story is really a celebration about who we are as First Peoples."
"It's about telling the world how cool we are. How beautiful our culture is, our language is. ... We're not just about trauma and being victims of a colonial system. Off course that exists and it's in the series, but I made the point of showing that we're reclaiming our place and that we're beyond all these traumatic events and we're much more than that."