Waseskun is the logical follow-up to Steve Patry’s De prisons en prisons, nominated for a Jutra Award for Best Documentary in 2015. It was while shooting this film that Patry first heard about the Waseskun Healing Center, a rehabilitation facility for Indigenous male offenders of all ages and from all communities. Incorporating spirituality and traditional medicine in its therapeutic process, Waseskun’s philosophy is that healing does not come from erasing one’s past, but by regaining one’s cultural identity and traditional values.
Granted unprecedented access to the centre, Patry focused his lens on the daily lives of those who reside at this unique facility. With empathy, but free of naïveté, Patry chronicles the difficult journey of men who have survived hellish family and social situations and now struggle to be reintegrated into society. Waseskun offers an uncensored look at the complex process of rebuilding men at war with themselves.
In Cree, waseskun is the word used to describe the moments just after a storm when the dark clouds begin to part, blue skies appear, and the first rays of sunlight pierce through. But since 1999, waseskun has also been the name of an inspiring place.
Located in the town of Saint-Alphonse-Rodriguez in the Lanaudière region of Quebec, Waseskun is a healing centre affiliated with the Correctional Service of Canada—and the only one of its kind serving eastern Canada. This non-profit Indigenous organization may border a dense green forest, but it looks nothing like your typical prison. There are no high-security fences or security guards, for that matter. Though it may look somewhat like a vacation resort, it is a rehabilitation facility for Indigenous male offenders from different Native communities. And behind the tranquil façade hides a difficult daily struggle to break free from a lifelong cycle of violence and abuse.
Waseskun is the logical follow-up to Steve Patry’s De prisons en prisons, nominated for a Jutra Award for Best Documentary in 2015. In fact, it was while shooting this film that Patry first heard about this remarkable healing centre. Granted unprecedented access to the facility, Patry turned his lens on the inmates, capturing their day-to-day experiences on film. Playing out like a series of paintings, each scene captures a different aspect of life at the centre: the emotionally charged support group sessions, the lively hockey games, the gym workouts, and the no-holds-barred one-on-one meetings with therapists. Together, the scenes offer an uncensored glimpse at the complex process of rebuilding men who are at war with themselves.
Most men at the centre are self-described “rageaholics” who were raised without love and who have always been prone to physical violence. “The wounded wound others,” says one of the therapists. In this temporary community, age means nothing. Young men barely out of their teens interact with grandfathers who are battling their demons for the sake of their grandchildren. There is no tolerance for violence, or for hierarchy and judgment, either. The slightest breach of the centre’s strict code of conduct results in immediate expulsion. Instead, there’s a spirit of solidarity that’s amplified by the apparent lack of any authority figures on-site. Far from the defeatist attitude that’s normally rampant in the prison system, at Waseskun, a deep belief in people’s ability to change governs all decisions.
Regular purification sessions, healing rituals, and woodworking activities are all part of daily life at Waseskun, whose philosophy incorporates traditional medicine and spirituality in its therapeutic process. The totem by the front entrance was hand-crafted by one of the inmates, symbolizing the centre’s unique approach. At Waseskun, healing does not come from erasing one’s past, but by regaining one’s cultural identity and traditional values. Inmates are not sent to Waseskun: they must specifically request a transfer there from their prison institution. They must also demonstrate a clear willingness and motivation to change.
In Canada, Indigenous inmates make up more than 23% of the prison population, despite the fact that they represent only 4.3% of the population. Patry moves beyond these shocking statistics to capture the uniqueness of Waseskun through the inmates’ most intimate, trying, and even amusing moments. Without naïveté, he empathetically chronicles the painful journey of men who have survived hellish family and social situations and now struggle to be reintegrated into society.
The heart of the storm may be behind these men, but their battle is far from over. They know that this fight cannot take place only at Waseskun; it will have to continue when they make the difficult transition back to their communities—the very place where much of their worst suffering occurred.
Researched, Written and Directed by
With the participation of
Technical Coordinator – Shooting Equipment
Technical Support ‒ Editing
Translation and Subtitles
Natasha Kanapé Fontaine
Serge Nakauchi Pelletier
Special thanks to
Many thanks from the crew to the Waseskun community, for their trust, openness and warm welcome.
Larissa Estevam Christoforo
A National Film Board of Canada production