My Grandfather, My Role Model
by Cara Mumford
I am Métis. In my family, we call ourselves Chippewa Cree because of the group that we travelled with after the North West Resistance. My grandfather’s family originally signed Treaty 4 but was later discharged from Treaty because of their participation in the Resistance. The Canadian government wasn’t particularly fond of Indigenous people standing up for their rights. Some things are slow to change.
When I first heard the court decision recognizing the rights of Métis and Non-Status as “Indians” under the constitution, I went through a rapid succession of thoughts and emotions in mere seconds. First was pure heart-swelling pride: I wish my Grandpa Lou was here to see this! A Métis elder in Medicine Hat who instilled in me a love of the land and a deep connection to horses, he was a fierce defender of the rights of the underdog. In the factory where he worked, he was the man that women turned to when they were being sexually harassed because he was the only man they knew who would do something about it. And when he was arrested as a union organizer at a strike, it was those women who marched down to the police station to free him. He was so proud when he won his hunting and fishing rights, and he would have been even more proud to be recognized as Indian.
Even though we are from diverse nations and the government has repeatedly tried to disconnect us from our ancestry, we are all connected. As Black Elk said, “In the old days when we were a strong and happy people, all our power came to us from the sacred hoop of the nation, and so long as the hoop was unbroken the people flourished.” But the nation’s hoop has been broken and scattered.
Every child taken from their family, every woman stolen from her community affects us all. Did you know that there are more Native children in state care now than during the time of residential schools? Did you know that while the “official” number of missing and murdered Aboriginal women is 600, the unofficial number is closer to 2000? Our communities know when our women are missing. We need our women and children for our communities to survive, to mend the sacred hoop.
All too recently, a First Nations woman was attacked in Thunder Bay, left for dead by two men who told her that she “deserved to lose her treaty rights.” When I read about that, I couldn’t breathe. I have to do something, I thought. But what?
You see, my grandfather didn’t just instil in me his love of horses and the land; I also inherited his passion for justice. My Grandpa Lou. Louis. Named for Riel.
And so I am reminded of Riel’s words: “My people will sleep for one hundred years, but when they awake, it will be the artists who give them their spirit back.” Reminded of who I am. Métis. A Métis artist.
I began studying film in 2006 and I knew early on that I needed to make a film to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Montreal Massacre, a day that made a deep impact on me. Through that event my eyes were opened to the real danger that women in Canada face on a daily basis. Just because I had been safe, didn’t mean other women were. It hit home in a way it hadn’t before… I was a second year science student when those women studying engineering were killed… it could easily have been me.
I worked on that film with spoken word artist Evalyn Parry, who taught me an invaluable lesson on empowerment. I had become depressed after doing the research for the film. I knew things hadn’t improved for women as much as mainstream media would like us to believe; it seemed like things were actually getting bleaker every year. But Evalyn wouldn’t let me wallow there and ended her spoken word piece with an empowering list of 14 reasons why you should be proud you are a woman. One of these reasons was: “You are enough.” That really resonated with me.
Another line that Evalyn wrote which haunted with me was, “Women’s bodies farmed out, used up, disappeared.” It was a specific reference to the Pickton farm and the missing and murdered women from Vancouver’s East End. Métis dancer Charity Anne Doucette represented those women in that film. That was when I started to think about creating a film to focus on the missing and murdered Aboriginal women, the Sisters in Spirit. That was the genesis of “When It Rains.”
Thoughts of Charity inevitably lead me to thoughts of our mutual friend—Charity’s soul sister—Marsha Ellen Meidow, who worked on the front lines with at risk girls in Calgary. Marsha and I were planning a series of writing workshops for girls at risk, encouraging them to tell their stories. The majority of the girls were Aboriginal and we had visions of creating a grassroots Aboriginal version of the Vagina Monologues, connecting with like-minded writing groups in cities across Canada. Marsha died suddenly from a brain aneurysm shortly after that inspiration, which devastated me, so that project never happened, but maybe there’s a way to make it happen after all.
The films I create are intended to draw attention to issues of violence against women, partly in an attempt to shift perspectives and create dialogue, but my primary goal is to empower the women themselves. I believe that Idle No More is an excellent example of how to do both. On the one hand, it is educating people, all people, about the issues. On the other hand, the Round Dance Revolution reminds us the power of our drums. As much as they are a reminder to others that we’re still here, they are also a reminder to ourselves.
I believe the political goals of Idle No More are of primary importance to the health of this country and this planet, but I believe the long-term success of Idle No More will be seen in a resurgence of Indigenous knowledges, cultures, languages and pride. And I believe that women will continue to lead the way.
Our women are vital to healthy communities. Our nation is strong only when our women are strong. And between Chief Theresa Spence and the four women who started Idle No More—Sheelah McLean, Nina Wilson, Sylvia McAdam & Jessica Gordon—our nation is strong indeed. And do not mistake diversity with divisiveness. Regardless of our different approaches, our goal is the same: to mend the sacred hoop.
There is a Chinese proverb: “When sleeping women wake, mountains move.” I don’t know about you, but I can hear the Rocky Mountains rumbling.
Cara Mumford is a Metis filmmaker and screenwriter from Alberta, currently living in Peterborough, whose short films have screened regularly at the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival in Toronto, and toured throughout Australia and internationally with the World of Women Film Festival. Her short screenplay, “Ask Alice,” won Best Short Script at the Los Angeles Women’s International Film Festival and her poetry dance film, “December 6,” continues to be screened every year at Montreal Massacre memorials across Canada. In 2012, Cara was commissioned by imagineNATIVE to create “When It Rains,” a one-minute film for their Stolen Sisters Digital Initiative.