Documentary about Aftermath of Seven Youth Inquest Premieres at Hot Docs
By Etanda Arden
Author and journalist Tanya Talaga’s work helped propel Thunder Bay into the national conversation in 2017, and now the documentary inspired by that work is set to premiere at Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival.
Following the inquest into the deaths of seven First Nations students in Thunder Bay, Talaga, the Toronto-based journalist and author of Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City joined forces with Thunder Bay filmmaker Michelle Derosier to embark on a new journey as writer, producer, and co-director of the documentary Spirit to Soar.
Poplar Hill First Nation student Reggie Bushie was in Grade 9 when he disappeared in Thunder Bay in the fall of 2007. The 15-year-old went to Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School. His body was found in the McIntyre River on November 1, 2007 (Photo credit: Wendell Collier/Spirit to Soar) [/caption]
“I really wanted to tell the story as to what was going on in Thunder Bay afterwards, and to do that in a sensitive manner,” Talaga says. “That’s basically the aim of the film: to show people what we’ve seen, and continue to see.” For the making of Spirit to Soar, Talaga headed back to the Thunder Bay area—the homeland of her grandmother, who is a member of Fort William First Nation—to talk with families, community leaders, and Indigenous youth.
“We were really grateful and honoured by all the people who sat with us. It was hard in every single interview. I think there were a lot of times when we would leave, and it was so emotional and we were all crying,” Talaga says. “And then there were times where we were just like, ‘yes, we are so powerful’ and there was so much love and honour and respect, you know? It was such a myriad of emotions. It was really an emotional film to make.”
Talaga also felt it was important to honour Indigenous worldviews in this documentary. “I think it shows Thunder Bay from a First Nations lens. One of the goals of the film was to make sure that water is seen as a character, to make sure that the land is seen as a strong character throughout the film,” Talaga says.
Co-director Michelle Derosier says colonial violence continues to have great impacts on Indigenous peoples everywhere. She believes that until there is no need to stand outside of courthouses, hold vigils and rallies, and participate in marches, Indigenous peoples telling these difficult stories will remain necessary. “We have to listen to the voices of the Indigenous youth,” she says. “We have to listen to the voices of the women and their stories, and their truth will tell us where we’re at as a country.”
Both Talaga and Derosior hope this film will inspire people to reflect and realize there is still work to be done.
To view the film as part of the Hot Docs festival, you can go to hotdocs.ca.