By Kerry Baisley, ODNW
Last month a number of us explored the making of Cedar Rattles with Giihlgiigaa, Todd Devries. Todd spoke about being a “Sixties Scoop” child who was adopted and sent outside his family and community.
As a support to that conversation we mentioned the 2017 NFB film, “Birth of a Family.” In this film three sisters and a brother meet for the first time after they were adopted as infants. They were all apprehended and removed from their young Dene mother during the infamous Sixties Scoop. The children were sent to different families across North America. This is their first time being together as a family.
The film is 1 hr 19 mins. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend viewing it so you may learn about the experiences of those lives were affected by these actions.
I am frequently asked “what can we do about Reconciliation?” Over time I have developed a four “step” response. Those steps are, Learning History”, “Listening to Experiences”, “Building Relationships” and finally “Being a Good Ancestor”, which is the title of our series.
The third step, Building Relationships, can involve a step outside your comfort zone. What can it look like? In this email I wanted to share how I try to explore and expand my relationships and knowledge of Indigenous issues and authors using this film as a stepping stone.
The music at the beginning and end of the film Birth of a Family caught my attention. Looking through the credits I discovered the song was “I Pity the Country?” by Willie Dunn.
There is a lot of history packed into this song of 2 mins 55 seconds.
It was published in 1978, 45 years ago, and yet it is brand new to me.
A simple internet search for Wille Dunn found the following in the Canadian Encyclopedia:
William Lawrence “Willie” Dunn (a.k.a. Roha’tiio, meaning “his voice is beautiful”) musician, filmmaker (born 14 August 1941 in Montreal, QC; died 5 August 2013 in Ottawa, ON). Willie Dunn was a folk musician of Mi’kmaq–Scottish origin. He was also a leading member of the Indian Film Crew, an all-Indigenous film production unit established by the National Film Board in 1968.
Dunn served in the army 1960–63 and received the UN Congo medal. He then joined the Newport, Rhode Island, folk music festival. He developed his own quietly powerful style, singing protest songs from an Indigenous perspective. He drew comparisons to Gordon Lightfoot, Pete Seeger, Leonard Cohen and Buffy Sainte-Marie. He made six albums in Canada, the US and Germany, and worked in the Company of Young Canadians with Ernie Benedict at the National Film Board.
At the NFB, Dunn made The Ballad of Crowfoot (1968), the first NFB film directed by an Indigenous person, about Siksika chief Isapo-muxika (Crowfoot); These Are My People (1969), the first NFB film made by an all-Indigenous crew; and The Other Side of the Ledger: An Indian View of the Hudson’s Bay Company (1972).
Dunn also wrote and performed music for film, theatre and radio and published several poems and song texts. His music is featured in Alanis Obamsawin’s documentary Incident at Restigouche (1984). In 2005, he was inducted into the Aboriginal Walk of Honour in Edmonton and received a lifetime achievement award at the Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards (now the Indigenous Music Awards).
You can watch the 10 Minute NFB film Ballad of Crowfoot below.
Released in 1968 and often referred to as Canada’s first music video, The Ballad of Crowfoot was directed by Willie Dunn. The film is a powerful look at colonial betrayals, told through a striking montage of archival images and a ballad composed by Dunn himself about the legendary 19th-century Siksika (Blackfoot) chief who negotiated Treaty 7 on behalf of the Blackfoot Confederacy. The IFC’s inaugural release, Crowfoot was the first Indigenous-directed film to be made at the NFB.
Reconciliation is a process of restoring right relations, and as you can see in this short journey of discovery, there is so much to learn and to share about the history and abilities of Indigenous, Metis and Inuit Peoples.
Part of your Reconciliation journey could be the act of sharing what you have learned with others. Another piece could be the act of engaging with others when there is discussion of issues such as land claims, housing developments, cultural appropriation. We can learn about these things, we are not experts, but we can share what we have learned and discovered. Those small actions can advance the work of Reconciliation.
You can learn more about the year-long series, Being a Good Ancestor, and participate in one of the upcoming program using the button below.