Alanis Obomsawin’s latest documentary, We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice, breathes new life into the near decade-long process to reclaim the dignity, equality, and rights of indigenous children across Canada.
The central figure is Dr. Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada (FNCFCSC).
“For many First Nations children, the clearest memory of their childhood was the day when they were taken away,” she says in the film.
The thrust of the documentary, produced by the National Film Board of Canada, examines the progress of the discrimination claim made by the FNCFCSC and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) in 2007. The claim is made against the Canadian government and its welfare policies concerning its treatment of indigenous children—as seen since the first days of residential schools, and the later child welfare policy known as the “Sixties Scoop,” which took indigenous children away from their homes, placing them with non-indigenous families, and many other actions.
But to say this is the sole focus would take away from the many subtle victories that reveal themselves throughout Obomsawin’s film. Victories seen, for example, through the focus on the power of language.
Throughout her documentary, Obomsawin seems to question how much has changed between indigenous peoples and the government since the last residential school finally shut down in the late 1990s.
The answers are not comforting. Obomsawin makes this clear through the stutters and disquieting pauses on the faces of those speaking to defend the Canadian government’s actions. All of this stands against a moment at the very beginning of the film where, after briefly focusing on Ottawa’s castle-like Parliment—conjuring the heyday of colonialism—the documentary takes shape by focusing on three bilingual and essential words engraved within the architectural structure: “égalité,” “dignity,” and, lastly, “rights.”
The documentary is long—two hours and 45 minutes—and focuses on large portions of the tribunal itself. It creates a feeling of the frustration felt by Dr. Blackstock, and the FNCFCSC, AFN, and all other parties and individuals working for reform. And, at this time when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has formally come to an end, the film makes viewers witnesses to the continued ways in which inequalities, and most especially, systemic racism born out of Canadian residential schools, still exist today.
*This film is being shown as part of Reconcilliation in Focus, a broader series hosted by the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Arts.
The University of Alberta and Metro Cinema acknowledge their relationship with Treaty 6 territory and specifically wish to acknowledge the Papaschase First Nation on whose unceded land our institutions occupy