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Ghosts on Earth

By Archives December 4, 2007

Richard Desjardins and Robert Monderie’s latest activist documentary film Le Peuple Invisible brings the history of the Algonquin to life.
Both Abitibi-born, co-directors Desjardins and Monderie have worked on six films together and are known for using their filmmaking skills in aid of political activism. Their previous film l’Erreur boréale had strong political impact. They continue their partnership – one that started over 40 years ago in Abitibi – with Le Peuple Invisible.

The Partners

Richard Desjardins is a famous man in Quebec. The singer, songwriter, poet and director puts creativity in his every gesture. He narrates the film from beginning to end.
“[Using different media] has always been the case [for me]. My first musical debut was in 1974 and in 1976 I came out with my first film,” said Desjardins of his shift of focus from music to film.
He eventually joined filmmaking forces with Monderie, a cinematographer, who had worked on dozens of films prior to this one. Monderie certainly has the street cred when it comes to cinema and was involved mainly in the technically challenging aspects of the film.
When Monderie speaks about the issues explored in Le Peuple Invisible, his passion is palpable. “There are such things as ancestral rights to territory. The aboriginals must be consulted and accommodated before any considerable changes [are put into effect],” said Monderie. “Further west, the native population signed over many of those rights, but not here in Quebec, not the Algonquins.”
“Once these people develop and organize themselves more, they could be the cause for a great spoke in Quebec’s wheel,” said Monderie.
Added Desjardins, “The outcome depends a great deal on how the Algonquin’s federate [develops] – they need a good leader … Many are waiting for a generation of witnesses to turn over for the greatest amount of change with the new and unscathed.”

The film

Le Peuple Invisible begins with the historical retelling of the European settlers’ first venture to North America.
As white men landed on the shores of this beautiful territory, the Algonquin were pushed further and further North and relocated time and again in from their ancestral land.
For those living off that land, the subsequent exploitation by those who were essentially outsiders had dire consequences. It wasn’t easy, for example, to travel by canoe when the lakes became filled shore to shore with timber cut from the forest.
In many ways the film is somewhat of a weapon; not only does it educate the viewer about some of the horror stories of the aboriginal people’s history, it also serves as a warning to the government against ignoring the issue.
Both men then agree the public does not understand federal/provincial/native issues. Monderie said that the government’s dealings with aboriginal issues are not limited to the federal jurisdiction as has been often thought, but that “the problem is now provincial – and more so than ever.”
The film also illustrates Quebec’s history of “re-education” of the Algonquin at the hands of the Catholic church. It also looks into the creation of the reserves, how people were violently taken from their homes and communities and the abduction and abuse of their children.
The film passes through Parc La Vérendrye, the Temiscamingue area, where not only drugs and alcohol are a problem, but so are serious difficulties with reproduction within small communities. From Pikogan to Lac Simon and Lac Victoria, the documentary examines the major educational deficits within some of these areas’ schools and places where the child mortality rate is particularly high.
They also focused attention on the dangerously high suicide rate among natives in these communities.
The directors say the film designed to educate Quebec’s mainly white audience. Because both men recognize that education will be a major component of any eventual resolution.

Le Peuple Invisible plays at Cinema du Parc in English, and in French at Ex-Centris and cinema Beaubien.