Jordan River Anderson, The Messenger
| 66 min
Selections and Awards
In her latest film, celebrated Abenaki director Alanis Obomsawin tells the story of Jordan River Anderson, and how as a result of his short life, thousands of First Nations and Inuit children today receive the same standard of social, health and education services as the rest of the Canadian population.
Because of Jordan’s Indian status, a dispute arose between the governments of Canada and Manitoba over who was responsible for his care, and Jordan did not receive the appropriate home-based assistance that would have allowed him to end his life in his own community.
Jordan’s Principle was passed into law by the House of Commons, and the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal issued a ruling guaranteeing the same standard of service, yet many First Nations and Inuit children were still denied access. It took sustained commitment and the issuance of several mandatory orders for justice to be done.
The very timely Jordan River Anderson, The Messenger completes, on an optimistic note, the film cycle devoted to the rights of Indigenous children and peoples that began with The People of the Kattawapiskak River.
It took one little boy, Jordan River Anderson, to ensure that thousands of First Nations and Inuit children can today receive the same standard of social, health and education services as the rest of the Canadian population. In Jordan River Anderson, The Messenger, Alanis Obomsawin’s latest film (her 52nd), the renowned documentary filmmaker chronicles the long legal fight against a health care system that operated on two disconnected levels, causing injustices and suffering—a situation that has since been significantly improved. The Abenaki filmmaker traces the parallels between the lives of two First Nations children, Jordan River Anderson and Noah Buffalo-Jackson.
A member of the Norway House Cree Nation of Manitoba, Jordan River Anderson had very serious health problems, for which he was being treated at a Winnipeg hospital. He could have ended his life in adapted housing close to his family, but because of his Indian status a dispute arose between the governments of Canada and Manitoba over who should pay the costs of his relocation to home-based care. Jordan died in hospital in 2005. Jordan’s Principle, which states that the first government agency to be contacted is the one responsible for this phase of a child’s care, was unanimously adopted by the House of Commons in 2007, and a ruling by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal resolved the issue of jurisdiction.
Many people and organizations worked hard for this outcome, but despite the judgment and the funding that was allocated for Jordan’s Principle, many First Nations and Inuit parents are still faced with a refusal of social, health and educational services. For example, when Carolyn Buffalo and Richard Jackson needed specialized transportation for their teenage son, Noah Buffalo-Jackson, who suffers from cerebral palsy, they had to pay for it themselves. Similarly, the First Nation of Wapakeka in Ontario appealed for assistance in combating a wave of suicides in their community, but received no help. “We hear a lot about universal health care in Canada,” says Aimée Craft, a law professor at the University of Ottawa who is interviewed in the film, “but why is it universal for everyone except First Nations children?”
Numerous binding government orders and the goodwill of several Canadian government officials, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, were required before First Nations and Inuit parents and children were finally able to enjoy appropriate support. “The law is a shield that protects this generation of children,” observes Cindy Blackstock, director general of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, and one of the protagonists of the documentary. “It restores their dignity, and allows them to grow up within their own families. Justice is possible.”
Filmed in centres of political power, in First Nations communities, and at public demonstrations, Jordan River Anderson, The Messenger provides a forum in which the voices of parents, caregivers, and their legal representatives can all be heard. Alanis Obomsawin’s latest documentary completes, on a note of optimism, the cycle of films devoted to the rights of children and Indigenous peoples that she began with The People of the Kattawapiskak River.
Director | Writer | Producer
Photo : Cosmos Image
Alanis Obomsawin, a member of the Abenaki Nation, is one of Canada’s most distinguished documentary filmmakers. As a prolific director with the National Film Board, she has created an extensive body or work focusing on the lives and concerns of Canada’s First Nations.
She began her professional career in 1960 as a singer in New York City. In 1967, producers Joe Koenig and Bob Verrall invited her to join the NFB as an adviser on a film about Indigenous peoples. She has not put down her camera since.
An activist as well as a filmmaker, Obomsawin is driven to provide a forum for the country’s First Peoples. Her entire filmography is a testament to that desire. Her documentaries have always sought to show the importance of roots and strong intergenerational bonds for the preservation of Indigenous cultures—from Christmas at Moose Factory (1971), in which she used children’s drawings to tell the story of a Cree village on the shore of James Bay, Ontario, to Jordan River Anderson, The Messenger (2019), her most recent film (her 52nd), which documents the long struggle to establish the right of Indigenous children to receive, in their own communities, the same high standard of health care as the rest of the Canadian population.
Obomsawin is a director who knows how to film conflict, as demonstrated by her four films about the Oka Crisis of 1990: Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance (1993), winner of 18 international awards; My Name Is Kahentiiosta (1995); Spudwrench: Kahnawake Man (1997); and Rocks at Whiskey Trench (2000).
Other films in this category are Incident at Restigouche (1984), an intense, gripping account of a raid by provincial police on a Mi’kmaq reserve in Quebec; Richard Cardinal: Cry from the Diary of a Métis Child (1986), a disturbing look at the suicide of an adolescent; and more recently, The People of the Kattawapiskak River, an in-depth investigation of the Cree housing crisis at James Bay, which won the award for best social/political documentary at the 2014 Canadian Screen Awards, as well as Hi-Ho Mistahey!, which had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2013 and was nominated for best feature documentary at the 2014 Canadian Screen Awards. In 2018, a more serene Obomsawin documentary, Our People Will Be Healed, won the APTN Award at the Montreal First Peoples’ Festival.
The people of the community of Odanak and their stories are at the heart of her widely acclaimed Waban-Aki: People from Where the Sun Rises (2006), and her short film Sigwan (2005). The village’s basket-makers inspired her to make a series of prints, which will be exhibited at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts from June 7 to August 25, 2019.
Alanis Obomsawin has received numerous awards and honours throughout her career. She was inducted into the Canadian Film and Television Hall of Fame in 2010, and in 2014 she received the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television Humanitarian Award, an honour given in recognition of exceptional contributions to the community and the public sector. In 2015, the Valdivia International Film Festival (Chile) recognized her body of work with its Lifetime Achievement Award, and she received an Honorary Life Member Award from the Directors’ Guild of Canada in 2018.
Obomsawin has received honorary doctorates from many universities, including Dalhousie University in 2016 and McGill University in 2017. In 2016, she also received two of the highest civilian honours conferred by the Province of Quebec when she was named a Grand Officer of the National Order of Quebec and awarded the Prix Albert-Tessier. In 2019, she became a Companion of the Order of Canada.
Photo : NFB
As executive producer of the English Quebec and Atlantic Studio, Annette Clarke leads a team committed to an ambitious story slate. Recent credits include How to Be at Home, a pandemic-themed animated short; Far Away From Far Away, a long-form interactive story for mobile devices; and Assholes: A Theory, a topical treatise on bad behaviour. Current projects include the feature doc Seguridad, a look at patriarchy inside post-revolutionary Cuba, and Dear Audrey, a beautiful and unusual love story.
Director and Writer
René Sioui Labelle
Tod Van Dyk
Original Music by
Michel Dubeau: Shakuachi, Kalima, Duclar, Bass Clarinet, Harmonic Flute
Lauren Bélec: Guitar, Piano, Pedal Steel, Percussion, Programming
Sound mix, Voice Recording and Music Premix
Graphic Design & Titles
Digital Editing Technicians
Assistant to Alanis Obomsawin
Senior Production Coordinator
Executive Director, Programming & Production
Michelle Van Beusekom
THE ANDERSON FAMILY, RYAN QUESKEKAPOW,
FIRST NATIONS CHILD AND FAMILY CARING SOCIETY OF CANADA,
CAROLYN BUFFALO AND RICHARD JACKSON (PERSONAL FAMILY PHOTOS),
WAPEKEKA FIRST NATION, NORWAY HOUSE CREE NATION,
HEALTH SCIENCES CENTRE WINNIPEG – CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL,
DR. MICHAEL KIRLEW,
GRAND CHIEF ALVIN FIDDLER,
THE FAMILIES OF JOLYNN WINTER AND CHANTEL FOX
© 2019 National Film Board of Canada
About the NFB
The NFB is Canada’s public producer and distributor of award-winning documentaries, auteur animation, interactive stories and participatory experiences, working with talented creators across the country. The NFB is taking action to combat systemic racism and become a more open and diverse organization, while working to strengthen Indigenous-led production and gender equity in film and digital media. NFB productions have won more than 7,000 awards, including 12 Oscars. To access this unique content, visit NFB.ca.