A new documentary on CBC Gem shot in northern Ontario tells a compelling story about surviving residential school.
The film, directed by Sarain Fox of Batchawana First Nation, focuses on her Auntie, Mary Bell.
“My Auntie Mary is just such a force. And I always loved listening to her tell stories about her life. And growing up, she kind of was just this like superpower,” she told CBC Morning North host Markus Schwabe.
“And because she was such a good friend to my mom, there really was just like a heroic quality, matriarchal quality about her. So I’ve always wanted to just capture that. But to be honest, my Auntie Mary called me out because she watches all of my content and she started to say to me, ‘when are you going to do my story?’ And she was absolutely right.”
The film, called Inendi — which means ‘she is absent’ in Anishinaabemowin — details the eight years her Auntie spent at the Spanish residential school in Spanish, Ont.
“She was victim to the policies of the Canadian government that wanted to eliminate Indigenous people, our culture. And they did that by attacking children. So my Auntie survived that. I like to say that she’s a survivor. And beyond that, she’s still surviving. And in her eldest years, thriving,” Fox said.
Telling her Auntie’s story was very difficult at times.
“One of the stories that was really hard for me [was when she] ran away and was taken directly back to the school. The RCMP … the people who should be taking care of you … they just delivered her right back to the school even after she told them what was happening to her, which was, extreme forms of abuse,” she said.
“And her punishment was to not have food for a week. And if we think of that now, to just not feed a child for a week in itself, it is beyond measure.”
Fox says there were many stories that didn’t get told in the making of this documentary, but there is one overarching message that she feels is important.
“My Auntie can tell the most heartbreaking story (and) the next moment will be filled with a story about also something that brought her joy. Protecting her brothers was so important to her and she never lost this feeling of admiration for her mother and for the home she left behind,” Fox said.
“I think it was really important to remind people that she wasn’t coming from a broken home. She wasn’t coming from a negative place. She was loved and cared for. And she had a beautiful place to be before she was taken to the school. And that’s a narrative that’s often really left out.”
Morning North8:08New documentary about surviving residential school in northern Ontario