Filmmakers Adrienne and Brad Leitch flank Cree Elder Ellen Cook as the trio takes questions during the film screening.
Morden’s Kenmor Theatre was nearly full as a local group hosted an Aboriginal Film Event to kick off a series on reconciliation.
Two documentaries were shown from filmmaker Brad Leitch.
For Love of a River: Two stories of Loss & Longing is a production of the Interchurch Council on Hydropower. It told the stories the Kitchekeesik family of Split Lake, Manitoba, the area to be flooded by the $8.7 billion Keeyask hydro dam currently under construction. It also shares the story of Ellen Cook, who grew up in the shadow of the Grand Rapids Dam.
The Misipawistik Cree Nation member talked about the issues that come from flooded lands, the loss of habitat, undrinkable water, and communities abandoned.
This was Cook’s second time in Morden. She spoke to local high school students after another documentary was launched called “The Other End of the Line” several years ago.
“It’s great to get the word out,” she said. “It’s making people aware that hydro development does affect indigenous people. They continue to suffer the effects of decisions that are made without taking into consideration how it’s going to affect the indigenous people.”
The effects are ongoing. Residents of Split Lake are being told they won’t be able to eat the fish for 20 years after the Keeyask Dam is built because of elevated mercury levels.
There are still northern communities down river from dams that can’t drink the water, and have to pay to truck it in, even though they’re surrounded by water.
“Even though hydro has improved their ways since the 1960s, they still continue to flood land and they still continue to affect people that are living in the area,” she said.
The crowd also viewed Reserve 107: Reconciliation on the Prairies.
This film shared the story of Laird, Saskatchewan, a community that found out their land belonged to the Young Chippewayan First Nation. It was surveyed and granted in the 1800s, before it was parceled off and sold to settlers.
The Mennonite and Lutheran neighbours established a relationship with the Young Chippewayan Band and are now working together to right old wrongs.
Organizing committee member Kevin Drudge said they were pleased the Kenmor Theatre was so full for their first event.
“We were thrilled with the turnout,” he said. “We didn’t have any idea how it would appeal.”
Drudge said their goal was simply to get the information out there.
“I think both films had their own emotional impact for sure,” he said. “It leaves a person speechless sometimes, you’re not sure how to respond because the issues are complex and not easily resolved.”
“I think our hope as an organizing group was to at least raise awareness of some issues,” he added.
Also in attendance was filmmaker Brad Leitch who said it was a unique opportunity to see the two films that share a common thread of connection to land and water, presented in the same evening.
“I was taken back into the moments that I had with these people, both during the making of these films and after the film, and knowing what it meant for them to see their stories played back from them,” he said.
And while he loves to share the message, it’s the people on the film that he thinks about the most.
“To me what’s really important is the people that are in this film and see their stories played back, that (they) get honoured,” he said.
Leitch said it was a good medium for telling the story. “One of the beautiful things about film is it can take us into a world we’re not familiar with,” he said. “It can take us into a community we’ve never been to. It can take us into the lives of stories we’ve never heard.”
Leitch said both stories are not about division, but about coming together.
“These stories do connect us. The land connects us. The water connects us,” he said. “They’re really fundamental things.”
Making the films had an impact on Leitch as well.
“I would say Reserve 107 was an incredibly personal project,” he said. “It was an early career film that will shape my approach to how I’ll make films in the future, the kinds of films I make and why I make them.”
The next event in the series will be on April 22 at the Covenant Mennonite Church in Winkler as they host David Scott from Swan Lake First Nation. Scott will share about locations of particular significance to his people in Southern Manitoba.