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 Indigenous 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 Indigenous 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 Indigenous 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 Indigenous 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 Indigenous parents are still faced with a refusal of 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 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 Indigenous 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 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