In this layered short film, filmmaker Janine Windolph takes her young sons fishing with their kokum (grandmother), a residential school survivor who retains a deep knowledge and memory of the land. The act of reconnecting with their homeland is a cultural and familial healing journey for the boys, who are growing up in the city. It’s also a powerful form of resistance for the women.
Filmmaker, educator, and community worker Janine Windolph left her Cree community in La Ronge, Saskatchewan, as a child, and for many years wasn’t sure she would ever return to the land that held her family’s stories and memories. However, the birth of her two sons led to a powerful desire to reconnect with her homeland and give the boys access to traditional knowledge, kinship, and ways of life, which are rooted in being on the land. In this layered short film, Janine and her mother, a residential school survivor, take the city-raised boys fishing—a healing process that offers teachings about themselves, their culture and their history. Through the act of connecting themselves and the children to the land, the women embody resistance, demonstrating how a seemingly simple act can be a form of decolonization and food sovereignty for current and future generations.
A mother takes her young city-raised sons fishing with their kokum (grandmother)—a powerful form of resistance that rebuilds their connection to their homeland, and to one another.
Tell us about yourself and where you come from.
I am a mother of two sons; my late daughter passed away during pregnancy. The more I learn of my family history, the more diverse I realize my identity is. I was born in La Ronge, Saskatchewan, and raised there till I was 11. After that I lived in Red Deer, Alberta; Saskatoon, Saskatchewan; and later Regina, Saskatchewan. My paternal family ties are here in La Ronge and are Woodland Cree. Moving around to different cities gave me culture shock, but I adapted more when I was a teenager. My maternal family ties are in Waswanipi, Quebec, where my Atikamekw grandmother, Caroline, is from. It was through her and my German grandfather that the family line came to Saskatchewan. I teach my children that they are strong because they have such a diverse family history. My boys were born and raised in Regina, Saskatchewan, the land of Treaty Four, where we were adopted into the Plains Cree culture through my dad.
Your body of work includes films, academic publications, and community work. What are the themes and connections that tie all of this work together?
The main themes are family, community, and kinship. Storytelling in different mediums is key to further dialogue, to support healing through understanding and to highlight the value of kinship through family, community, and as people. Many of the films I have created are both personal and community stories. When presentation is complemented with talking circles, it can be a powerful way of encouraging dialogue and building relationships.
My interest in this project is a new area for me—exploring food sovereignty. It was a key part of my childhood. I was used to having fresh fish, moose, muskrat, and various foraged plants. This is key to how I understood the cultural teachings of my family. When I moved to the city, my diet quickly shifted to processed food and I ate more beef, chicken and ham while slowly losing my connection to the foods of my childhood. In recent years, I became a vegetarian, as it became clear that processed food was impacting my health. As an adult, I learned more about the history of Indigenous peoples, and it became clear to me that the first wave of genocide was the destruction of food sources, such as the bison. Over the years, the land has been getting sick from mining and other forms of contamination such as the recent Husky Oil spill in the North Saskatchewan River. This led to my concern that my sons would not get a chance to live and learn from the land through our food like I once did. I challenged my boys: if they would become providers, like their family before them, I would eat what they provided. This in itself sparked the inspiration for this film.
You worked with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and your films have documented the true history of residential schools in Canada. What does the term reconciliation mean to you?
I learned that reconciliation means many things to many different people. For me, participating as a statement gatherer for the TRC was a way to help others share their truths, and to have that truth acknowledged. After years of listening to hundreds of statements, I realized that there are different ideas of what reconciliation can look like in action.
For me, it began with my own healing journey, breaking the intergenerational cycles that were created out of the residential school legacy. In the second phase I focused on my family, starting a dialogue to help address the disruptions and fragmented relationships that were a result of those destructive cycles. The third phase was initiating and supporting dialogue within my community, and sharing my own healing journey with others. I take my time, focusing on those who are willing to build relationships with each other while addressing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action. This was the process that led to the municipal and provincial designation of the Regina Indian Industrial School Cemetery as a heritage site. The last step, and most difficult, is to change the policies that allow harm to the Earth, and to empower the stewards of the land, the Indigenous peoples, to lead in its healing journey, welcoming others to play a role in the revitalization of the land.
Why was it important to you to reconnect with the place that you come from after you had children?
After acknowledging the hard truths about how my family and I had been impacted by the residential school legacy, I was able to look past the pain, shame, anger and hurt to see the beauty, the resilience, and the strength of my family. Many of my family still live on the land, as stewards of the land, to the best of their abilities. When I changed how I looked at my past, I realized that my children would never know the place that shaped my upbringing, and wouldn’t know little Janine, who I was learning to love again. I really wanted them to see the land that I grew up on, my playground as a child.
Why was it important for you to have your mother in this film?
My mother is my matriarch who has been there not only for me but also for the community of Regina and now La Ronge once again. She taught me to be strong, to adapt, to share, and to love. Through her healing journey, she showed me strength and resilience. I want my boys to know that she is their matriarch too. That she is here to teach what she knows and to guide us through life. Since she has returned to living off the land again, she is happy. This film was a way to honour her and the teachings she shares with my boys and with me.
What led you to the title Stories Are in Our Bones for this film?
My mom always told me that my kokum Caroline would say, “Stories are in our bones.” She said you can tell a lot about a person when they pass, from the bones that are left behind. You can tell what they ate, where they got injured, and even where they come from. Over the years, I learned that the memories of our ancestors are in our DNA and can be accessed, but we forgot how to do that. I realized the more I connect to the land, the food and the cultural activities, the more connected I felt to my ancestors. Fishing is one of the activities that all sides of my family have done and still do. Even myself, I used to fish as a kid in La Ronge. When my son Corwyn wanted to learn, it made me realize that this would be important for both sons to learn.
La Ronge, northern Saskatchewan
Treaty 6 Territory
Written and Directed by
With the participation of
Director of photography
Sound design and music
Location sound recording
Cultural awareness training
Narration sound recording
Recording & re-recording
Jhaik Windy Hair
Filmed in part on location and with the permission of the Government of Saskatchewan Ministry of Parks, Culture, and Sport at Lac La Ronge Provincial Park.
Studio operations manager
Executive director for English program
Michelle Van Beusekom
Produced by the National Film Board of Canada