Statement from Co-Producer Chantelle Richmond.
As a child, I grew up in the town of Marathon, Ontario – about 20 minutes from Pic River First Nation, where my Mother was born and raised. Some of my fondest memories come from time spent with my cousins, either at my Granny’s house, or at the mouth of the Pic River where we spent many of our summer days. In the mid 1980’s Pic River’s water was contaminated by the Hemlo Gold Mine. Pic River went on bottled water for several years. I can remember the day my Uncle Roy turned on the tap and drank a full glass of water. The water had finally been declared as safe to drink. As a young girl, the water issue didn’t mean a lot to me – I knew that when we were on reserve, we did not drink the water. I didn’t question how or why it was that water quality was so different between the town and the reserve.
Years later, as a University student, I would recall the water issue as a formative learning lesson about how inequality impacts health. In my classes, I was learning about concepts like ‘environmental racism’ and ‘environmental justice’ and other forms of environmental dispossession that were happening to black and other marginalized communities. These, and many other communities, were the target of environmental contamination not because they were unlucky, but because they were considered less equal.
I soon realized that what my professors were talking about was very familiar to what I knew to be true of Pic River and its experiences with water contamination. Strangely enough, my professors never talked about these issues as they were experienced by First Nation communities, and it made me doubt what I knew to be true. But I knew these things WERE happening – I knew about the mercury contamination at Grassy Narrows, about PCB contamination at Akwesasne, about the experience of my own community, and I wondered why there was a tendency to frame these Indian issues as historic, as ‘things of the past.’ I grew frustrated as I knew these issues were happening in contemporary times. I realized that, by telling these stories, I could help create more understanding about First Nations’ vulnerabilities to environmental change.
This Film, and the larger research project it falls under, is my personal attempt to utilise my academic training to bring the stories of Anishinabe communities to the wider public. I hope this work can provide inspiration for other young Indigenous peoples, and their communities, to see the great value of their own experiences and of the important impact they can have by sharing them too.
Statement from Director James M. Fortier
I remember as a child growing up in suburban Chicago looking at old pictures of my grandmother and great-grandmother, who were from the Long Lake and Pic River First Nations in Ontario, and wondering what their lives must have been like, and of the stories they could tell if only these pictures could speak. That fascination and curiosity stayed with me as I grew up so far away from the world they once lived in. In fact, it eventually led me, in a round about way, to the making of this film.
My childhood fascination with the mysterious, silent stories of old family photos culminated in my profession and art as a documentary filmmaker. Through my films, and particularly this film, I not only get to bring those once hidden stories to life, but I also continue to explore the Ojibway culture and heritage that I did not experience for the first 30 years of my life. I am very grateful for this and feel truly honored to be a part of Chantelle’s project as her co-poducer and the director of “Gifts from the Elders.”
There are two main things I hope people will take away after watching the film. First and foremost, I hope these stories will compel people to re-examine and renew their relationship to the land, and that includes Non-Natives as well as Anishinaabe people. I truly believe that the entire global community is at a crossroad, and our actions now regarding our relationship with the land, the air, and the waters, will determine the survivability of future generations.
Secondly, I want viewers to come away with an understanding and reaffirmation of the importance of “story” in our lives, especially for Anishnaabe and other First Nation peoples. I recently read it described this way: “Culture is ultimately lost when we stop telling the stories of who we are, where we have been, how we arrived here, what we once knew, what we wish we knew; when we stop our retelling of the past, our imaging of the future, and the long, long task of inventing an identity every single second of our lives.”
Culture is lost when we neglect our stories, when our elders “fall to sleep” (as predicted in the Anishinaabe prophecies), and when the next generation fails to “wake” the elders and bring those stories back to life. Culture is lost when we loose the power and craft of storytelling.
“Story is the most powerful force in the world. Story is culture, and like culture it is constantly moving. It is a river where no gallon of water is the same gallon it was one second ago. Yet it is still the same river. It exists as truth. As a whole. Even if the whole is in constant change. In fact, because of that constant change.”
These words, so beautifully expressed by the Ohlone author Deborah Miranda, underscore the necessity to tell our own stories, and the awesome responsibility that we have as filmmakers working in our First Nation and Native American communities to pass on the stories, knowledge, and experiences of our elders and communities with honor, respect, love, and truth. I take this responsibility very seriously so chi miigwetch to all our elders and youth for trusting in me to be a part of this amazing journey.