It’s never a pleasant thing, turning the lights on in a dark place to see the mess that has been building up around you. All communities have their struggles and when governments and citizens alike only partly acknowledge these issues, how can anything become clean again? It takes a brave soul to want to turn that mirror onto ourselves and discuss what we see. Nobody likes talking about the issues, particularly the violence that plagues our national population. We don’t need a bureaucratic inquiry telling us what the issues are. For many of us, the issues lie close to home. What we do need are members of our own community encouraging us to address the issues for ourselves. Through their newest film Apikiwiyak, writer Maria Campbell and director Shane Belcourt hope to do just that.
“The word Apikiwiyak means we’re coming home.” Explains Maria Campbell, an accomplish Metis author known for her 1973 memoir, Half-Breed. “We’re coming home through ceremony. I really believe that’s where our answers are for us. Not necessarily coming back to the reserve or coming back to a community but it’s coming home inside of ourselves and coming to terms with the history and the violence that the last few generations have been born into. It almost paralyzed us.”
This summer, a report was released by the RCMP that illustrated the alarming statistics surrounding missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada. In the last thirty years, 164 young girls and women have gone missing and a staggering 1,017 have been the victims of homicide. Of these cases, 225 of them are unsolved and will likely remain unsolved. The report states that the victimization rate for Aboriginal women is three times higher than that of non-Aboriginal women. Keep in mind; these stats are only representing known cases in the last thirty years.
“We were living and being subjected to violence going back to the late 1500’s.” Maria Campbell adds. “Generation after generation had all kinds of things imposed on us and we started to believe that those things are normal. Even if in our hearts we know it’s not. It’s really hard to try and fight with everything that’s around you that makes us believe that this is a normal way for us to live.”
From the late Sixties, Maria Campbell has made a career in writing and in film, by representing native women and their struggles. On her love for filmmaking and storytelling she said, “Those are tools to be able to do our work. Anyway that you can get the message out there to the people is important. There’s a new generation of people making films and I think that’s exciting.”
One such filmmaker is Shane Belcourt. A Metis, Belcourt is a Toronto resident whose films have been a mainstay at imagineNATIVE film festival since his feature Tkaronto debuted in 2007. Apikiwiyak will be screened this October as part of imagineNATIVE’s 15th anniversary celebration. Belcourt, perhaps more than anyone, understands the importance of celebrating Indigenous cinema.
“When an Italian neo-realist made an Italian neo-realist film it was made by an Italian. When an Indigenous film is made, now it’s made by an Indigenous person and that authenticity of voice has been the number one change that’s happened in the big spectrum of Indigenous cinema in the world.”
With this authentic voice, real stories are being told. In the instance of Apikiwiyak, it is a story of remorse and reality.
“It’s about trying to create a hard look at the issues that surround the abuse and disappearance of Aboriginal women that hopefully opens up a discussion.” Says Shane Belcourt. “I don’t want to be like ‘This is the issue. The 101 course.’ But we’ve got people in Toronto who have no idea about this issue or these statistics. So I responded to what Maria was writing.”
Through Maria Campbell’s words, Shane hopes the audience will enter into “a circle of potential healing. Almost like a ceremony of storytelling.” Though heavy in its subject matter, Apikiwiyak is meant to be encouraging.
“This isn’t an issue of victim blaming but it is an issue of the reality that a lot of the abuse that comes to Aboriginal women is coming from the homes of Aboriginal people.” Says Belcourt. “We can’t save the world but maybe we can start a dialogue.”
From her writing desk in Saskatoon, Maria Campbell offers much needed encouragement. “I don’t believe we have to separate ourselves from anything to go back and pick up and reclaim what’s ours. Our culture changes all the time, the earth has changed. This summer is not like last summer but it is still summer. It’s just a different kind of summer. Same thing with our traditions and our spirituality, it’s there. It never left us.”
If Harper refuses to see that these acts of crime are connected with and represent a larger socio-political issue then so be it. We can still decide how it is we deal with our own personal battles and that is where our reconciliation will come from.
“I’m an optimist.” Says Campbell, “I wouldn’t be able to do my work if I wasn’t an optimist. We have to do the work individually ourselves and then work with each other as a community. No amount of money is going to make the violence stop. No inquiry is going to make the violence stop. It has to begin with us. When I go to that hill to fast or when I go to that sweat lodge and I ask my Creator to help me to be able to raise my children in a good way and be a good person.
Good, that’s an English word. It doesn’t really articulate what it is I’m trying to say.”
When the boundaries of language won’t suffice, the boundless possibilities of cinema will. That is where films like Apikiwiyak come from. Tickets go on sale October 1st. For more information see http://imaginenative.org.