The Washing of Tears.
Written and directed by Hugh Brody.
Grades 11 and up / Ages 16 and up.
THE MOWACHAHT INDIANS have lived at Yuquot, on the southern tip of Nootka Island, B.C., for over four thousand years. British explorer Captain Cook visited the island in 1778. He was followed by fur traders who renamed the native village Friendly Cove. Spanish adventurers later visited the island and planned to use it for the centre of a new empire of the north west.
The theme of The Washing of Tears is the near loss of the traditional native way of life after the arrival of Europeans in North America, and the recent rebirth of native culture. The video combines interviews with natives about their loss with breath-taking shots of the ocean, footage of whales sounding, and old photos of native whalers. There is no clear explanation for the problems (illness, depression, alcoholism) that some natives now face despite the renaissance of native culture.
The lengthy scenes of natives speaking about their problems are frankly boring. They cover ground that newspapers, magazines, and other videos have been discussing for years, and do not add anything to the larger population's understanding of native issues.
The Washing of Tears stresses the importance of native culture and traditions to the peoples of the west coast. Scenes of natives dancing and discussing their culture illustrate this point. The implication is that without the renewed interest in native traditions, the Mowachaht would be lost in the modern world, in the hustle and bustle of towns and cities. Even with their culture to support them, however, there is a sense that they have suffered a great loss.
The direction is weak, however. Scenes change quickly without any explanation. For example, at one point the viewer is suddenly in New York, and only gradually realizes that the Friendly Cove natives have left Canada -- though there is no clear reason for this, until one sees them examining artifacts in a museum, artifacts that presumably came from the west coast.
The tape would have benefitted greatly from an introduction. Since there is none, the frustrated viewer must make assumptions and guesses. Without the brief cover notes, The Washing of Tears would appear to be a haphazard look at one small group of North American natives and how Europeans changed their society. In all the video adds little to our understanding of Canada's natives, their culture, or their problems.
Recommended with reservations.
Tom Chambers is a professor at Canadore College in North Bay Ontario.
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