How have Indigenous Peoples of the Great Lakes region experienced education?
A new documentary featuring students, staff and graduates of Western’s Faculty of Arts and Humanities collected the voices of Indigenous People from many backgrounds to answer that question.
The film N’Satung, which premieres Oct. 22 at the Forest City Film Festival, examines differences in the prevailing academic approach to education and the ways Indigenous Peoples understand the concepts of learning and knowledge.
Directed by former Western arts student Ogiima Keesis G’Nadjiwon, the documentary features Western graduate Summer Bressette, BA’01, BEd’13, and education professor Candace Brunette-Debassige. N’Satung was filmed by Greg de Souza, instructor of film studies and was produced by Laurence de Looze, professor of comparative literature in the department of languages and cultures. The film was underwritten primarily by a grant from the Indigenous Learning Fund pilot program through the Office of Indigenous Initiatives, and supported by Aara Suksi, associate professor of classical studies and director of the School for Advanced Studies in the Arts and Humanities; and PhD candidate Megan Sherritt, BA’02, MA’04, MA’17, PhD’22.
“It’s right between a documentary and an art film: I just wanted to put people’s stories to camera,” said G’Nadjiwon, who connected with Indigenous persons living on reserves and in urban centres to understand how education, including the intergenerational trauma caused by residential schools, has shaped their lives.
The word “education” holds complex meaning for Indigenous communities. For generations, they were taught that formal education was all that mattered. Education through the land and through community connections was not valued. This created distrust in formal education and a strong desire to return to ancestral ways of acquiring knowledge.
“When we think about what [the] word ‘K’nisitotam’na (do you understand?) means, it’s really talking about an embodied knowledge that comes from relationship to the land,” Bressette explains in the film.
Some common themes emerge from those interviewed in the documentary, including the importance of being immersed in nature and finding safety and security in the land around them, and the importance of storytelling, community and connecting with the knowledge of past generations.
De Looze, the documentary’s producer, said he hopes the film will work as a recruiting tool for Indigenous students curious about pursuing post-secondary careers in the creative arts.
“The most obvious product of this project will be the documentary film, but the making of the film should also strengthen relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, as well as between the university and Indigenous programs in the community,” he said.
“The project responds to a need for Indigenous students to explore creative ways to express their culture while also encouraging them to seek leadership roles in the arts and humanities.”
Filming of N’Satung began in 2020, but production was delayed by the pandemic. Many Indigenous reserves were closed to outside visitors to protect the health of their communities. The filmmakers took the time to shoot scenes of nature in the London region as well as along the Cape Croker Reserve on the Bruce Peninsula, home to director G’Nadjiwon.
In the spring of 2021, interviews began with members of the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded Nation and members of Indigenous nations around the London area.
N’Satung will premiere at the Forest City Film Festival in the Wolf Performance Hall on Saturday, Oct. 22 at 10:15 a.m. It will also be screened on campus at a later date.