You will forgive me, I hope, if I seem not my old self. It’s been a most unusual and trying time for me and others in my circle these past few weeks. A few painful but crucial changes were called for.
Changes for the greater good I can only hope.
First, a career shift. Then, a revelation, of sorts, in a timeless, dark, steam-filled, womblike place. Punctuated by a furious series of emotional peaks and valleys brought on by sights seen, stories heard, experiences felt and lessons hopefully learned.
I should elaborate.
I was taken aback, intrigued, honoured and, not to mention, extremely flattered to be asked, in passing it seemed at the time, to “direct” a film set in Winnipeg.
Without pause I accepted.
The story began one Sunday in the summer of 1995. A shotgun blast rang out and snuffed out the life of a 13-year-old Native boy. Three Native kids in a van fled the scene. Joseph “Beeper” Spence lay dead on a residential street corner in Winnipeg’s North End.
The North End is home to a large portion of Winnipeg’s 60,000-plus Native population. It is literally and figuratively, as well as a terrible cliche, on the wrong side of the tracks. For generations this community has endured the plagues of unemployment, apathy, poverty, racism, alcoholism, despair and all of the very bitter fruits these breed. There are, and have long been, pitifully few opportunities for Natives in this part of Winnipeg.
Yes, of course, it all began with the arrival of settlers who, by deceit and the blessing of a government bent on destroying and, if not possible, the complete assimilation of a thriving culture, exiled whole communities to areas they would never have considered settling themselves. Then claiming… no… stealing the lifeblood from its true heirs.
History has a way of creeping up on the present and it’s an old story that’s been told better than I can by many others so we’ll leave it at that.
After all, this is today and and that is what people know and remember, and more importantly feel. They have few choices, you see.
Many here choose what they see as the shortest, easiest route to a better life. As my newfound friend Clayton put it, “Easy money and friends” in the gangs. The Indian Posse, The Deuce or the Manitoba Warriors. He needn’t have mentioned Power, Respect, Acceptance, Protection.
Beeper may or may have not been a member of the 1,400-strong Indian Posse. Many more claim he was than not. Whatever choice he made he did so under duress and we can’t blame him if he chose to be in the gang. Most of his friends, if not already in, dreamed of being Indian Posse. If Beeper was Posse it is because he saw hope and all it offered there, and paid for it. Hope here exists in precious few places.
You will catch a glimpse of it in a child’s eyes filled with a profound sadness. A smile evoked by even the most trivial of occurences reveals it. It is fleeting and very powerful.
Hope also lives in the people’s past, in their ancient ceremonies, in their spirituality. It reveals itself even when the search for it has been abandoned. It is gentle, patient and seductive. Magic occurs if you accept it and are accepted by it. It comes to us unsevered through our ancient, timeless beliefs, memories and traditions.
For an ever-growing number of people, hope lies in the future and in education. The path to it is filled with hardship, sacrifice, pitfalls, and more often than not, failure. It requires strength, pride, belief, support, intelligence and strong ambition. But it comes with no guarantees.
Nothing in life, real life, comes with a guarantee. We come. We see. We conquer. Or not.
All we can hope for is hope itself.