CM . . . .
Volume VI Number 6 . . . . November 12, 1999
First Nations: The Circle Unbroken, Videos 5-7.
Lorna Williams and Gary Marcuse (Series Directors). Gary Marcuse and Svend-Erik Eriksen
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 1998.
1 hr., 39 min. (Video 5), 1 hr., 6 min. (Video 6), 1 hr., 6 min. (Video 7), inc. Teacher's Guide (64
pp.), $129.95 (Set).
Order Number: C9198 064 (Video 5), C9198 065 (Video 6), C9198 066 (Video 7), 193C 9198
Native peoples-Canada-Video recording.
Native peoples-Canada-Social customs-Video recording.
Native peoples-Canada-Racial discrimination-Video recording.
Grade 4 and up / Ages 9 and up.
Review by Joanne Peters.
Designed to present classroom materials suitable for a range of audiences, the NFB co-production
series, First Nations: The Circle Unbroken, explores the themes of healing and renewal in First
Nations communities. Four video programs, all revised and shortened from their original
production format, in order to be suitable for classroom use, comprise Video 5. In "Qatuwas:
People Gathering Together," members of 30 West Coast First Nations tribes undertake to build
canoes and travel to a multi-clan gathering or Qatuwas. The end of the journey is Bella Bella,
where the largest canoe and cultural gathering in 100 years celebrates traditional culture and
sustains the process of transmitting it to the next generation. "O'Siem" is the story of Gene
Harry's spiritual quest to overcome the legacy of residential schooling and his subsequent descent
into substance abuse and crime. For Gene, healing comes through family, prayer, and service to
his community. Family ties of a very different nature are explored in Catherine Martin's personal
story, "Mi'kmaq Family: Migmaoei Otjiosog." With the birth of her child, Martin is compelled to
examine the traditions of her Mi'kmaq family, and, during a visit home for the annual St. Anne's
Feast Day at Chapel Island, she explores values which have endured, adapted, and evolved. The
impact of the residential school system is the focus of "The Mind of A Child," in which aboriginal
educator Lorna Williams, along with Israeli child psychologist, Reuven Feuerstein, explores how
children learn through cultural transmission. When children are cut off from their culture, as many
Natives were, their potential for learning can be stunted.
Video 6 contains three programs, all of which focus on natives of Canada's west coast. Two of
the programs, "Laxwesa Wa, Strength of the River: Fishing on the Fraser River" and "Laxwesa
Wa, Strength of the River: Fishing on the Coast," are companion pieces. Both highlight the
fundamental cultural role of salmon for tribes such as the Sto Lo, Nimpkish, and Heiltsuk. Fish is
not just food but a touchstone of existence. "Fishing on the Fraser River" focuses on the more
localized issues of a river fishery; "Fishing on The Coast" takes a broader perspective, examining
the impact of large-scale commercial fishery, in which "too many boats" compete for a limited
catch. The "local knowledge" of those who have fished for generations often conflicts with the
bureaucracy of Fisheries Canada. Native concepts of "ownership" also differ greatly from those of
western culture, and "Blockade: Who Owns the Land?" details the court case launched by the
Gitxsan ("people of the land") in order to gain recognition of their traditional rights to 58,000 sq.
km. of British Columbia. White culture sees land as "something you work", an exploitable
resource; First Nations people see the land as a sustainable partner in existence, not a commodity.
Similarly, land claims conflict is rooted in conflicting views of the validity of historical record:
oral vs. written. But, tradition does triumph ultimately, and the Supreme Court recognizes the
right of oral history in asserting land claims.
"Coppermine," the opening program of Video 7, tells the story of the decimation of the
Coronation Gulf Inlet during the 1930's, due to misguided federal policies. Despite the efforts of
well-meaning physicians, whole communities succumbed to tuberculosis because of the
government's unwillingness to acknowledge the vulnerability of the indigenous peoples to diseases
for which they had no immunity. And, in "For Angela," which is set in contemporary urban
Winnipeg, we see that there is no immunity to racism. Based on a true story, the program shows
the reaction of a mother of a young girl who is harassed by a group of white boys while she is on
her way to school. Rhonda Gordon finds and confronts her daughter's tormentors and forces them
to realize just how demeaned mother and daughter were by their taunts. But resolution is found in
ways that are unexpected by the viewer. The final program, "Lord of the Sky," concludes the
video with an animated film legend from west coast tribal culture. When a raven is killed by
accident, calamity ensues. As punishment, the sun's light is blocked, for the killer has disobeyed
the rule that one should "only take what you can use." However, as in so many similar myths, a
young native, who performs an act of kindness to an eaglet, is helped by the Lord of the Sky - an
eagle - who restores the sun to the people.
All video programs draw upon the storytelling tradition of Native culture. Although most are
documentaries, the personal dimension behind the stories is strong and powerful. The "Teacher's
Guide," which accompanies the three video set, provides useful background information (much of
which is not easily found in other information sources) and offers a series of questions to focus
students before, during, and after viewing the video, extension activities (offering suggestions for
further research and other learning activities), and, finally, an integration component, designed to
draw on the students' personal response and connection to the video materials.
The collection can be used in a variety of classroom settings and subject areas: Family Studies,
Native Studies, Social Studies, and Sociology could all use these as resource materials. Two more
videocassettes complete this series of currently released programs; Videos 1-4 contain 13
other programs which were released in 1993. Preview to determine which best suit collection
Joanne Peters is the teacher-librarian at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, MB.
To comment on this title or this review, send mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association.
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