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Arts & Culture ᐊᔨᐦᑐᐧᐃᓐ

Laissez-nous raconter sheds light on Indigenous realities

BY Patrick Quinn Dec 16, 2022

Exciting new initiatives are providing platforms for Indigenous peoples to share their realities. A new four-part Radio-Canada/CBC documentary series Laissez-nous raconter (Telling Our Story) is one ambitious project developed over the past four years. 

Having travelled 26,000 km over 75 days of filming, Abenaki director Kim O’Bomsawin said the series gives the talking stick to 100 protagonists from 30 First Nations and Inuit communities across Quebec. The script is based on extensive interviews and field research gathered by a team from each of the province’s 11 First Peoples.

“It was very important for me that the content reflected what was important to the people,” O’Bomsawin told the Nation. “Researchers went inside their own communities looking for the best knowledge keepers or those who had the legitimacy to speak on behalf of their people. That’s what makes the documentary so authentic.”

Notable voices such as Innu surgeon Stanley Vollant, former Cree Grand Chief Matthew Mukash and Wendake actor Brad Gros-Louis discuss their respective culture’s history and worldviews with warmth and humour while sharing ancestral knowledge.

Although it addresses painful subjects, O’Bomsawin was adamant in saying that the series isn’t victimizing. Instead, it’s an opportunity to dissolve prejudices and demonstrate the richness of Indigenous values and wisdom through intimate storytelling.

“My main purpose was to celebrate our cultures, show people our strength and to tell the world that we’re not only here surviving but regaining our power,” explained O’Bomsawin. “I’ve been doing this almost 15 years and still every day of shooting I learned something new – it was a real privilege.”

With stunning images and engaging editing, the series weaves segments around themes such as identity and spirituality that illustrate similarities and differences between cultures. For instance, viewers learn Inuit techniques for building a perfect igloo followed by Abenaki secrets of basket-making.

The first episode analyzes the profound connection that Indigenous peoples have with the land, from traditional harvesting methods to the impacts of dams in Eeyou Istchee. Quentin Condo, aka Mi’kmaq rapper Q052, shared his techniques for clam digging in Gesgapegiag and composed the climactic slam poem that is recited by youth at the summit of Mount Royal. 

“It gave me a sense of hope seeing youth from each Nation addressing all of these issues for us as a unit,” said Condo. “I worked with the kids to deliver the slam and get the angles I wanted – my son did the Mi’kmaq part. Being at the historic point of the Great Peace signing in 1701 and having all the Nations there was powerful.” 

In the second episode, Condo demonstrates a traditional Mi’kmaq cooking technique with a hollowed-out log that he had heard about from Elders’ stories but had never witnessed it because the cultural practice had long been suppressed. Now he tries to pass it on to others as an act of reclamation. 

“It was completely lost in our community for very many years,” explained Condo. “Even my grandparents didn’t remember how to do it. I believe it’s our responsibility when it comes to the perpetuation of the culture.”

In the same vein, members of diverse communities shared their favourite words and expressions in their mother tongue. After discussing the healing power of preserving his endangered Wolastoqiyik language, Jeremy Dutcher delivers a memorable performance in a forest accompanied only by piano and archival recordings from a century ago. 

“When we have our young people rooted in our way, they can take on any challenge because they know who they are,” Dutcher states on-screen. “I was given a gift from my knowledge keepers. You damn well better know your language, your songs, because they’re going to protect and connect you, to the ancestors, the land, all of it.”

Laissez-nous raconter ends on a hopeful note, exploring how Indigenous knowledge can illuminate solutions for issues like the climate crisis. The series showcases the spirit of sharing inherent to Indigenous cultures with a willingness to nurture understanding.

“We strongly believe we have those answers within us,” asserted O’Bomsawin. “More than this, there’s a curiosity among the young generations of non-Indigenous people. The timing is perfect for a documentary that isn’t there to accuse but just show what we’ve been through, what we are and what we will continue to be.”

Produced by Francine Allaire for Terre Innue based on a concept from the late Réginald Vollant and Ian Boyd, the series benefits from an extraordinary team of primarily Indigenous talent, including Innu poet Marie-Andrée Gill and Atikamekw artist Eruoma Awashish. Allaire and O’Bomsawin previously worked together on the award-winning podcast series Telling Our Twisted Histories.

Likewise, the travelling exhibition Voies Parallèles, which was presented at Montreal’s First Peoples Festival last August and recently opened in Repentigny, is similarly solution-focused and rooted in a successful podcast series. The artistic installation aims for inclusivity in sharing traditions and culture of the Atikamekw Nation.

Voies Parallèles was a podcast that was born a few days after Joyce Echaquan’s death,” explained project leader Laurence Depelteau-McEvoy. “That was very shocking for everybody and mind opening for others. We collaborated with several Indigenous people from different generations and communities to share their unique realities.”

Depelteau-McEvoy said that the exhibition’s visitors have been profoundly touched by the testimonies and believes there’s a growing urgency to elevate traditional values. Along with the exhibition, Repentigny’s Centre d’art Diane-Dufresne is planning a series of meetings with Indigenous leaders and various cultural mediation activities. 

“Our people are ready to be heard and they feel people are ready to hear the truth,” said O’Bomsawin. “There’s also going to be an international version so my biggest hope is that other First People, in Canada or Africa or wherever, will see we can tell our own stories.”

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Patrick Quinn lives in Montreal with his wife and two small children. With a passion for words and social justice, he enjoys sharing Eeyou Istchee's stories and playing music.