Our People Will Be Healed, Alanis Obomsawin’s 50th film, reveals how a Cree community in Manitoba has been enriched through the power of education. The Helen Betty Osborne Ininiw Education Resource Centre in Norway House, north of Winnipeg, receives a level of funding that few other Indigenous institutions enjoy. Its teachers help their students to develop their abilities and their sense of pride. In addition to teaching academic subjects, the school reconnects students with their ancestral culture.
The fifth film in a cycle that began with The People of the Kattawapiskak River, Our People Will Be Healed adopts an optimistic tone without denying a dark past. It bears witness to the tragedies that have befallen the Plains Cree, such as being confined to reserves, forbidden to practise any cultural ceremonies, including the Sun Dance, and sent off to residential schools. But first and foremost, the film conveys a message of hope: that in an appropriate school environment, one that incorporates their people’s history, language and culture, Indigenous youth can realize their dreams.
Education is key to the future of any nation. Distinguished director Alanis Obomsawin visits a Cree community in Manitoba that’s putting this principle into practice in Our People Will Be Healed, her 50th film.
The community of Norway House lies 800 kilometres north of Winnipeg, on the shores of Playgreen Lake. The Helen Betty Osborne Ininiw Education Centre in Norway House has some 1,300 students, from nursery through to Grade 12. Modern and well-equipped, it receives a level of funding few other Indigenous schools enjoy.
In this school, where half of the teachers are Indigenous and many are local, the driving force is a commitment to various strategies that will help students develop their abilities and a sense of pride in themselves. Students who have learning difficulties are included in regular classrooms without being ostracized. For students who just can’t get out of bed on time, there is an alternative school pick-up arrangement. Gradually, the number of students who graduate is increasing. “We’re trying to have something for everyone,” says the school’s principal, Agnes Mowat.
The Helen Betty Osborne school also serves as a resource centre for personal development. Our People Will Be Healed is set against the background of a canoe trip, on which we meet the various travellers: Gordon, the expedition leader, a consultant on Cree language and culture; Virgil, a former street-gang member; Armand, who is on his eighth expedition with Gordon and dreams of bringing his son along some day too; and Darcy, who is fleeing the oppressive atmosphere of his home.
The newest addition to a film cycle
Our People Will Be Healed is Obomsawin’s fifth documentary in a cycle that began with The People of the Kattawapiskak River and continued with Hi-Ho Mistahey!, Trick or Treaty? and We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice. This latter film also has a connection to Norway House—the birthplace of Jordan River Anderson, who became the symbol of the First Nations’ fight to receive equal medical and social services, which is the subject of the doc. But where We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice focused on tragedy and injustice, Our People Will Be Healed focuses on hope and happiness, with education as the foundation of both.
Yet Our People Will Be Healed does not hide the past. Using archival images, the documentary also bears witness to the personal and collective traumas that have marked the Cree community, such as the prohibition of certain religious practices, the slaughter of the ponies, the residential schools, racism, and the murder of the teenaged girl after whom the Helen Betty Osborne school is named (15 years after her death, her killers have yet to stand trial). But underlying Our People Will Be Healed is the conviction that young people can realize their dreams—if they are given proper direction and good role models.
Our People Will Be Healed is also about the collective life of the community: boat races, a fiddle jamboree, a wedding, a Sun Dance ceremony, all of which are occasions for both celebrating and learning. “It’s about keeping people together… that’s where true happiness lies,” says one of the film’s protagonists. As reflected in its magnificent, luminous outdoor scenes, Our People Will Be Healed is an optimistic film: “The young people who have danced show me a little of my wish, that my people, our people, will be healed.”
Director / Writer
René Sioui Labelle
John Leo Woolsey
Original Music by
Flutes, Futujara, Bawu
Guitar, Piano, Percussion
Voice Recording & Music Pre-mix
Assistant Sound Editor
Graphic Design & Titles
Digital Editing Technicians
Technical Coordinator, Projects and Shooting Equipment
Senior Production Coordinators
Leslie Anne Poyntz
Michelle Van Beusekom