Trying to De-Marginalize Their Cultures

At times often contradictory, the question of how best to preserve Indian and Inuit culture is one of Canada’s hardest answered dilemmas. The cultures seem at odds with modernity, and constantly stunted and scared by its seemingly adversarial effects. Yet, at the same time, without modernity’s institutional enclaves, their culture seems to be falling by the wayside. Forgotten.
To the point of cruel irony, the way we’ve included the Natives in our country, by giving them “special treatment” and the way we’ve acclaimed the Inuit to be “true Canadians” does not seem to be helping the matter any bit.
Next Monday two films at Cinema Politica touch upon unique topics regarding Inuit and Indian affairs. The films contain the throes of a relationship gone awry; one seems like the tumorous symptoms of a long fought struggle, and the other is a triumph against all odds that within, perhaps, lies a solution.
The former is In Defense of our Treaties by Martha Stiegman. It’s about the Bear River First Nation. The Department of Fisheries wants Bear River to give up their Treaty rights in exchange for an all access pass into the world of commercial fishing.
Clinging on to the old way of fishing – to provide for one’s basic needs – has certainly lost all luster and is quickly becoming a relic of the past. Not only do few fishermen continue to attempt a simple fishing operation, there are few fish left for those who chose to fend for themselves.
The film follows the solemn lives of the few lonely men who scrape the bottom of the ocean’s barrel for dogfish. The economics of their operations fail miserably. Their modest hull and motor fishing boats have been undermined by nets and pot traps responsible for the diminished supply of fish on Canada’s East Coast.
The film leaves a small wake in its trial. The portrayal of the Bear River experience is treated in a stoically matter-of-fact way. It seems a bit overwhelmed by the lack of enthusiasm and optimism in this small community – perhaps appropriately so. The film stagnates and has no development or resolution; it just lets the subject matter rust away – perhaps appropriately so as well.
The other film of the evening is Kiviaq vs. Canada. David Ward, or Kiviaq, is fighting for Inuit rights in Canada. Inuits have a different status in Canada than the Indians. In fact, they are not given special status. They pay taxes like Canadians but as Kiviaq argues, they are treated as second-class citizens.
His quest for a re-negotiation of Inuit rights is based on his own experience. He was taken from his home at a young age and transposed into an Edmontonian family, complete with the name David Ward. Stigmatized by his appearance and demeanour, Kiviaq fought hard to be accepted by the white people. This battle hardened him with pride, much of which he holds for his people. Kiviaq did amazing things when given the chance. He was the first Inuit to play on the Edmonton Eskimos, he was a great boxer, he passed the bar exam and he became part of city council. If he can do it, than “so can any Inuit” he believes – they just need to be given a fair chance – and they’re not getting it.
Now Kiviaq is in his seventies and fighting cancer, all while fighting for Inuit rights with the Canadian government.
The film is well put together and insightful. Director Zacharius Kanuk (The Fast Runner) follows Kiviaq with a child-like admiration that bridges well Kiviaq’s accomplishments and quest with the audience and lends its main character an inspirational aura.
The two films contrast each other. One clings to the past yet seems victimized by modern times. The other uses modern times in the attempt to help a population cling to the past while embracing all we can achieve in modern society.

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