I recently had the opportunity to view “Cree Spoken Here,” a film about the Crees of James Bay and made by the Crees of James Bay. This film is one that every First Nation person should see. It documents the history dealing with the disintegration of the Cree language and culture. It was a good experience for me to see and understand what my people have gone through.
Our culture and our language have survived regardless of what the religious community and governments have tried to do in their quest to assimilate us into the mainstream. Without really blaming anyone in a harsh way, this film follows the trail of the religious people who came into the communities and had an affect on the language and culture. In some ways these people helped to preserve the language by putting it down in writing called syllabics. It also deals with the government’s programs of residential schools with first-hand accounts of the disastrous effects of these policies, which are described in interviews with our people who endured this treatment.
It was obvious to me that there was a great sensitivity and healing as part of this production. Neil Diamond, a director-writer of “Cree Spoken Here,” experienced first-hand what it was like in the residential school system. He and producer-director-writer Ernest Webb and executive producer Catherine Bainbridge, all of Rezolution Pictures based in Montreal, did a remarkable job in digging out the pain that these policies caused for First Nation people.
I can identify, as can many of our people with this film. My mother and my father went through the residential school program. It was difficult to watch the school pictures pop up in front of me showing the innocent young faces of Cree boys and girls who had been taken away from their parents, put in an unfamiliar setting and instructed not to speak their language. It was heartbreaking to hear the personal accounts from residential school survivors as they talked about feeling worthless and dirty as children.
I liked the way this film deals with the pain of the residential school system and its negative affect on our language, culture and traditions. The film works because it doesn’t stay stuck in this dark history but moves on to a story of hope and a rebirth of the language and culture through the dedication of some very strong Cree women. Through the commitment of people like the late Annie Whiskeychan and others the Cree language is making a comeback. The students at Wiinebekuu School in Waskaganish First Nation are speaking their Cree language today.
In viewing this film I was also made aware that we Crees are very special. Most of the First Nation languages have either disappeared or fallen away to a great degree, but up in the James Bay coast our language is alive and well. This is probably because we have always been isolated from the rest of the world. It also brought me to the conclusion and the understanding that those communities which have lost their language and their culture and their traditions are the ones that suffer most with all types of dysfunction.
It was good to see Elders George and Louisa Diamond of Waskaganish First Nation going about the ways of our people as part of their daily routine. I saw my own family and friends in the way they live. These two Elders give the film a grounding and allow us a glimpse into their lives.
The film will be broadcast for the second time on the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN), February 7, at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. “Cree Spoken Here” helps us all to understand some of the history of First Nation people and through that understanding it gives us a little more insight into just who we are. Meegwetch to Neil, Ernest and Catherine of Rezolution Pictures forgiving me a look at our people that makes me proud and hopeful. If you want more information on “Cree Spoken Here” you can contact Rezolution Pictures at 514-272-3077.