Documentary chronicles threats to Indigenous health

London audiences will get an early look at a powerful new documentary by Western Indigenous Health researcher Chantelle Richmond and Emmy Award-winning Ojibway filmmaker James M. Fortier, in advance of a wider release this fall. The pre-screening of the film, Gifts from the Elders, is scheduled for 6:45 p.m. Monday, June 10 in Wolf Performance Hall, London Central Library, 251 Dundas St.

The documentary is the result of a research project initiated in 2008 after discussions with Anishinabe elders along the north shore of Lake Superior revealed considerable concern about the effects of industrial development in their traditional territories on their health and wellbeing and their ability to share and practice their Indigenous knowledge with younger generations.

These early discussions led Richmond to develop a large study designed to connect Anishinabe youth and elders find useful ways to use Indigenous knowledge as a basis for protecting their environments and improving community health. The project was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Gifts from the Elders follows five Anishinabe youth on a summer research project with their elders, whose stories guide them on a journey back to proceeding generations that lived a healthy lifestyle off of the land. Their stories chronicle the devastating impact of environmental and cultural dispossession on the culture and health of their people. As their summer comes to an end, the youth emerge with “gifts” of knowledge and teachings from their elders, inspiring a renewed determination to forge a hopeful and healthy future for the next generation.

“This film shows how researchers and the community  can work together,” Richmond said. “We hope our project may inspire other Indigenous communities to engage in participatory research projects such as this to build local capacity, preserve Indigenous knowledge, and voice their concerns about the environmental and health changes they see in their communities.”

Richmond, a professor in Western’s Department of Geography, focuses primarily on the current health and social inequalities endured by Indigenous Canadians, and the contributions of environmental change to these realities. She is director of The Indigenous Health Lab and co-director of the Indigenous Health and Well-Being Initiative and is cross-appointed to Western’s First Nations Studies program and Department of Family Medicine.