Big Thinking at Congress 2023
Climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time, but it cannot be separated from issues of racial justice and Indigenous futures. In this Big Thinking lecture, discover the importance of Indigenous relationships with the land through the lens of Alanis Obomsawin, renowned Abenaki filmmaker, singer, artist and activist.
Throughout her career, Obomsawin has amplified the voices of Indigenous peoples from across Canada who face the generational effects of colonization, displacement, and assimilation, but who continue to fight to assert their rights, cultures, histories, and knowledges. In many of Obomsawin’s films, such as Incident at Restigouche, Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance, and The People of the Kattawapiskak River, art and activism overlap to document stories of resilience, hope, and the urgent need to do what is right.
Join Alanis Obomsawin in a discussion on what might be possible when we reckon with and re-imagine climate mitigation strategies through the lens of racial justice and Indigenous resurgence.
[00:00:35] Andrea Davis: Welcome. I am Andrea Davis, Academic Convenor of Congress 2023. On behalf of the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences and York University, I'm delighted to welcome to you the second Big Thinking lecture at the 92nd Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences.
[00:00:57] Today's lecture is entitled “Seeds of the Future: Climate Justice, Racial Justice and Indigenous resurgence. Today, filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin will reflect on Indigenous relationships with the land through the body of her work encouraging us to consider the possibilities that emerge when we consider the climate catastrophe and other crisis of our times through the lens of Indigenous knowledges.
[00:01:32] She'll be joined in discussion by co-moderators Eve Tuck and Susan Blight. Today's lecture will take place in English and American Sign Language. We have also included French simultaneous interpretation and closed captioning in English and French.
[00:01:52] An ASL interpreter and closed captioning will appear on the screen on stage and the zoom screen for those of you joining virtually. To access simultaneously interpretation make sure you downloaded the Sennheiser Mobile Connect application on your phone, open the application and click on the blue QR code at the top of the screen.
[00:02:20] You'll then need to scan the QR code provided, there is actually provided just outside the room. If there's anyone who needs translation from English to French and hasn’t scanned the code just raise your hands and someone will assist you. For those of you joining us virtually, you can click on the “closed captioning” button to enable captions. To use simultaneous interpretation click on the “interpretation” button and select French as the language you would like to listen to.
[00:02:59] We begin this afternoon by marking the violent histories of where we are making note of and reminding ourselves of the on going conflicts and contradictions of this land, this water, this air. This acknowledgment is particular to Tkaronto. If you are joining us virtually please take responsibility to acknowledge the traditional territory you are on and the current treaty holders.
[00:03:33] York University recognizes many Indigenous Nations have long standing relationships with the territories upon which York's campuses are located that proceed the establishment of York University. York University acknowledges its presence on the traditional territory of many Indigenous Nations. The area known as Tkaronto has been care taken by the Anishinabek Nation, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, and the Huron-Wendat. It is now home to many First Nation, Inuit and Métis communities.
[00:04:07] We acknowledge the current treaty holders, the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation. This territory is subject of the Dish with One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant, an agreement to peaceably share and care for the Great Lakes region.
[00:04:27] Tkaronto's intersecting communities are comprised of those native to this land, Indigenous peoples from other territories as well as white settlers and those people who have come here by force or otherwise as a result of slavery, colonialism, imperialism and ongoing wars.
[00:04:48] As the descendant of Africans enslaved in Jamaica who were taken from their ancestral lands against their will, I am committed to what Tiffany King calls “a notion of mutual care,” and I recognize that a future for Black peoples is not possible without a future for Indigenous peoples by whose leave I live, walk on, and share this land.
[00:05:14] I acknowledge finally that these Americas are built on violence and erasure, and we bring these histories with us when we enter any room, any virtual space, and we must bring them always into view. With this knowledge of history, we enter here again this afternoon in the hope of making a different world.
[00:05:44] The Big Thinking series at Congress brings together scholars and public figures and artists to address some of the most pressing questions of our time. For Congress 2023, the series amplifies the theme of Reckonings and Re-Imaginings with conversations that honour Indigenous and Black knowledges and cultures, and centre diverse voices and perspectives.
[00:06:12] You can participate in the conversation on social media using the hashtag #Congressh, that is Congress with an h at the end. On behalf of the Federation and York University, I thank the series sponsors: the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, and Universities Canada for supporting this event.
[00:06:39] Today, we have 21 very special visitors. 21 High School students from four of York's surrounding Jane-Finch community with us today. Can you give them a special welcome?
[00:07:02] One of those students, Amina Ahmed, a grade 11 student from Westview Centennial Secondary School is going to share something she wrote especially for you and for this lecture, a poem titled "change." She will be followed by Ted Hewitt, President of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council who will introduce today's speaker. Thank you all so much for joining us. Please welcome Amina Ahmed.
[00:07:52] -> [00:09:45] [Amina Ahmed’s poem]
“Change”—6 letters, 1 syllable but it has the future in its plans.
The change we need cannot be created by a thought but with the actions of our hands.
Living in yesterday won’t help us progress.
But if we take a step forward, we will learn for the best.
What do we want the world to be tomorrow?
The common answer would be “a better place.”
But if we as a society move at this pace
That dream will never be chased—just a vison to be erased.
We are Indigenous and Black.
It’s time to come together
In ways rulers cannot measure.
We must apply pressure.
We refuse to be the lesser.
Break cycles, re-image, re-imagine, and re-arrange.
Unite us as we wash away our hearts of hate.
Let us follow where our true hearts navigate.
Love will lead the march of the great.
As we hold hands with brothers and sisters,
The world we knew to be so bitter
Suddenly, has a taste which isn’t familiar.
“Could this be peace?”
“Could this be order?”
“Could this be the better place we’ve always cried out for?”
Tomorrow is not guaranteed to anyone.
But the tomorrow we may have the honour to see
Can be changed into the tomorrow we want to be.
[00:10:11] Ted Hewitt: Thank you and good afternoon everyone. I am Ted Hewitt, President of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and it is my great honour to introduce today's Big Thinking speaker, Alanis Obomsawin.
[00:10:32] Madame. Ms. Obomsawin is a member of the Abenaki Nation and one of Canada's most distinguished filmmakers. She is a director and producer at the National Film Board of Canada where she has worked since 1967. Ms. Obomsawin’s latest film is Wabano: The Light Of Day which provides an intimate look at the first Indigenous Wellness Centre built by and for Indigenous people in Canada.
[00:11:01] This is her 56th film in a legendary career that spans 56 years, which is nothing short of remarkable. Ms. Obomsawin has devoted her career to chronicling the lives and concerns of First Nations peoples and exploring issues of importance to us all.
[00:11:23] I look forward to learning more about her inspiring work and thoughts on climate change and how this pressing issue should not be separated from questions of racial justice and the future for Indigenous people.
[00:11:40] Following her presentation, Ms. Obomsawin will be joined by two co-moderators, Eve Tuck, Professor of Indigenous Studies and Critical Race Studies at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, and Susan Blight, PhD candidate in Social Justice Education, also from the same institution.
[00:12:02] Now please join me in welcoming our distinguished guest, Alanis Obomsawin.
[00:12:24] Alanis Obomsawin: We are in the afternoon, yes? Good afternoon and thank you for being here. My name is Alanis Obomsawin. I am an Abenaki woman, I come from Odanak in the province of Quebec. It's a community or a reservation.
[00:12:47] I work at the National Film Board of Canada as a film director and producer. I have been working there for 56 years. I am now 90 years old.
[00:13:09] And I continue telling stories about our people. The Abenakis are part of the Algonquin Nation. They lived by the rivers and by the side of the Atlantic Ocean. Their territory were all of New England, the Maritime Provinces and the southern part of Quebec.
[00:13:38] It was proven that the presence of the Abenaki were in Maine, New Brunswick and Quebec provinces for more than 11,000 years. “Wabanaki” - people from where the sun rises. The Delawares, they believed that they were the grandfathers of all the other Abenaki nations because they were the first nations to receive the raise from the morning sun over the sea.
[00:14:17] This was the east, where life begins. Our people travel all over our territory and they also cultivated the land. They watched the sky, the stars and the moon. Our grandmother, who could predict the weather, the time to plant the seeds and the time to gather the gifts from the earth of all the foods.
[00:14:52] Our people believe there are 13 moons in one year to guide us in our ways of living and in cooperation with nature and the animal world. In the eastern township on the pinnacle mountain, one can still see large stones placed in a circle for a ceremony. My dear brothers and sisters, we are the people of this land. Our tradition tells us that we must honour our ancestors who fought so hard for many generations to protect the land and our traditions.
[00:15:45] It is us who constantly think of the future generations. Their quality of life, the health of their spirit and the health of their children so they can be protected as they deserve.
[00:16:05] I would like to rock children and sing for them […] so that they may have dreams full of magic. We always want to make sure that the children are protected. I didn’t mean that, that's not part of the script.
[00:16:34] My dear sisters and brothers, you must know that your life is sacred. You must take care when times are difficult, take time to […], to breathe nice and long. Bring a feeling of love in your heart. Once there, you will feel like sharing the feeling with others. Your eyes will fill with kindness and feelings to smile and other humans will want to be near you.
[00:17:17] It takes a lot of courage and many generous people to make sure that all the voices are heard. The National Film Board of Canada has done this for 84 years. CBC for 87 years and Canada Council for 66 years.
[00:17:39] As I travel around the world I notice that Canada is at the front when it concerns First Nations People, Inuit and Métis People. I am so lucky to have lived so long so I may see the difference. And, to realize that, in general, Canadians want to see justice done for our people. I want to say thank you to all the people who have helped me in the hard times of my life.
[00:18:16] I am Abenaki, my father was a guide in the bush for hunting and fishing. My mother and my father had inherited some knowledge to cure certain sickness with herbal medicine. Life in Odanak was different, we did not have running water or electricity. I remember […] Jesse saying to me “Lock the door the anthropologist is coming.” Later on when I was older, I would say to myself that discipline has been created to discover everything about us.
[00:19:09] In the early 40s, we live in Trois-Rivières, that is when I discovered I was poor. My life in those days was not good. I was beaten up many times, especially when the history of Canada was the subject in the classroom. My father had tuberculosis and, my mother became more Catholic than the Pope.
[00:19:42] She would drag me to church many times a week and I developed an affection for St. Joseph. Sometimes, I would run into the church after a beating. I would just stand there in front of St. Joseph's statue. I would not ask for anything, I would just stand there with St. Joseph the carpenter.
[00:20:27] One day in grade four, Ms. Roe gave us some homework for the weekend to learn a story from the book “Histoire sainte”. Monday morning, there were 32 students lined up. The teacher began to ask every child to recite the story. It did not take long for the teacher to realize that the children had not studied at all.
[00:20:59] The teacher was getting very angry. She was now yelling at the kids. Finally, it was my turn. I recited the story as if I was reading it. Her reaction was this: why you little savages? Get out of my class, I don't want to see you here anymore. Go back where you came from.
[00:21:27] So I picked up all my books and I walked home. My parents asked me why I was home so early. I explained that I had been thrown out of school. They said you must have done something terrible. When my father heard what had happened he took me to the inspector.
[00:21:50] I had to go back to school. My father said that the teacher had insulted me in front of the children; she would have to excuse herself in front of the students. I went back to school and she apologized.
[00:22:09] Over time, I wondered to myself what was the message? Was it that I should not be allowed to learn? When I became older, I realized that the reason why there was so much hate towards our people was that it came from the books that were being used to teach the history of Canada.
[00:22:36] That is when I said to myself, if the children could hear another story, they would be different towards us. I was right. In the 50s and 60s, I visited many residential schools, many different school and prison. I sang in concert hall, I wrote songs in my language, in French and in English.
[00:23:06] Now we are going somewhere, somewhere where there is respect, where there is love and it feels good to be alive. Thank you.
[00:24:41] Eve Tuck: Good afternoon. My name is Eve Tuck and I am here with Susan Blight who is truly one of my favourite people on the planet. Susan is an artist, a gorgeous writer, an extraordinary writer. Susan makes visual art and makes gigantic land and water-based interventions in order to name the kinds of relationships that we might have to the lands and waters and peoples and more than human persons who live in Anishinaabe and Ojibwe lands and waters.
[00:25:36] Susan is the chair, the department chair of the Department of Indigenous visual culture at OCAD University and is part of the Ogimaa Mikana collective which is part of how I first learned about you and your work, Susan. And, when I was invited by Dr. Andrea Davis to be in conversation with you today, Alanis, I thought “You should ask Susan Blight and not me” and so I was thrilled when Susan was also available to come and be in conversation today.
[00:26:26] Susan is Ojibwe from Couchiching First Nation in Treaty 3 and lives and works here in Tkaronto.
[00:26:40] Susan Blight: Well, I'm grateful to be here with two of my heroes, I would say. So grateful for the invitation to be on the stage with two Indigenous women that I admire very much. And also have the honour of introducing Eve so we all know each other and know where we come from, I think that's important.
[00:27:03] I began to know Eve through the community here in Toronto, in Tkaronto specifically I think it started in academic circles and I think that’s part of what Eve contributes to the world. The work that Eve does in the world does very important interventions into scholarship and research and the harms that have been perpetrated against Indigenous peoples through those things.
[00:27:32] Eve has written some of the most seminal texts in the decolonial thought and Indigenous studies I would say. But not only that, it's not just words that Eve produces but opportunities for people to be heard. And so, she also does participatory action research and works with youth in communities and is also, I think, a role model and advocate for young scholars to make more voices known and heard and create avenues for those voices to be heard.
[00:28:09] She's also a very accomplished person and associate professor in critical race and Indigenous studies as well as the Canada Research Chair in Indigenous methodologies with youth and communities. She's the Director of The Tkaronto Circle Lab which does really important work with youth in the city at the University of Toronto and is brand new and has created this amazing online platform where you can search for research so everybody should check that out.
[00:28:40] And most importantly Eve is Unangax̂ from the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island in Alaska and I’m just grateful to be here with her. So thank you for the opportunity and thank you Alanis for that beautiful talk. Where should we start Eve?
[00:29:01] Eve Tuck: Well, I have an idea of a place to begin. And it’s at a moment in the talk you just shared with us that was kind of a funny moment. But how sometimes in our story telling a funny moment has a lot more story beneath it. And I think it was when your sister said to you lock the door the anthropologist is coming. Tell us more about that.
[00:29:32] Alanis Obomsawin: Yeah, it’s because, and you know what I'm talking about is a long time ago. Don't forget I'm 90. It's because there were anthropologists, ethnologists coming into the reserve, I would imagine everywhere, and once they got inside your house, it was forever questions, questions. And a lot of people were hiding from them so my Aunt Jessie she said “oh, man.” And like we had just a […] road, the main road was an earth road and you could see him coming from far. “Lock the door, I don't want them to come in here.”
[00:30:16] And some of them were very nice and I think they really liked the people but it was difficult for a lot of people to constantly answer so many questions and sometimes measuring the head and all those things that were difficult to live by.
[00:30:37] Eve Tuck: And I bet that there are some anthropologists in the room. And many of the disciplines that those of us who work in the university have inherited the traditions or the practices that many of us, across many disciplines, have inherited include that racist pseudoscience history of head measuring, of asking questions, of getting into a room and making it feel like a trap.
[00:31:12] Alanis Obomsawin: Also there were sometimes big mistakes made. For instance like all the nations across the country and I'm sure in other parts of the world, what I find are people so avant-garde and so smart by creating sounds what we call syllabic songs. There’s not a word, there are sounds of different letters in the alphabet that were created for specific reasons.
[00:31:53] For instance there are war songs, many nations had war songs. There were no words but this particular sound was created for war time. For instance if they decided they are going to go to war against another tribe or whatever, at a certain moon, at a certain time, people would start preparing themselves and they would sing this syllabic song. And what’s so clever is there’s no words – oh my goodness - there are no words to tell you what to think about or what to talk about.
[00:32:37] It is sound that was created to a tune. You know that it is a war song so when you have 200 people singing the same war song, you are free to think of whatever. There's no line that says I'm going to church today or going to war tomorrow. It's the sound for you to concentrate, what the war? A war you might feel terrible because the last time there was a war I lost my husband, I lost my child.
[00:33:18] And you have many 500 people singing this same sound and the freedom of each person, each person goes into its own war, what does that mean? What is that experience? What is it going to be? And the sadness, you know it is difficult. And people, if you were to tape the song, let's say, at 2 o’clock, they start singing. And you continue and they repeat.
[00:33:48] And at 3:00, if you were to listen to the tape it will be very different from two to three. Because of the condition and the concentration that the people go into. The sound of the voice changes. It's like a wave in the sea. I always say that. Because if you're thinking of something so terrible that you lost, so your voice, although you're singing the exact same sound, changes. Becomes very sad, very worried so that the sound of the people is different and although they’re repeating the same song maybe 40 times.
[00:34:41] And I find this so, it’s more than wisdom. It's the freedom and the sacredness of why a certain chance is composed and what it means to the people. And what I come back to, I was even upset myself because there was an anthropologist who called this: “nonsense song”. And it became known as “nonsense song”. What an insult to our people. It's anything but nonsense, and there are mistakes sometimes, a judgment or an analysis of a way of being that is so sometimes a big mistake and that one I was very upset when I realized that over the years.
[00:35:36] Eve Tuck: It sounds like you're describing a song, a repetition of words that in real time, because it's being taken up by so many people who are fully present and fully listening and being with one another, it's taking on different meanings in real time and its repetition is able to shift in its meeting and move and be so expansive in the kinds of connection and emotion and sense making, world making that it's doing. And so, to have somebody miss all of the deep theorizing and the deep analysis that’s happening and to name it something so disrespectful is really a heart break to know that that song was called that.
[00:36:36] And so thank you for telling us about a different way to look at even the ways that anthropologists are marking what we do as Indigenous peoples. It makes me think about what you were talking about at the end of your talk about thinking about if the children could hear a different story and also this line that you said just about a third of the way through that we always want to make sure that the children are protected. And knowing more about this kind of song or this kind of meaning making through song that's possible gives me more of an understanding of what you might mean when saying there are, that you went to visit the residential schools and the prisons and were doing that work in order to offer a different story, sing a different song.
[00:37:41] Alanis Obomsawin: Yes at that time, I did quite a few schools in the prairies in the three provinces. And we, you know I’m talking 1960 when we supposed to have become citizens of our country. And you know many things happened then, it was everybody was celebrating, you could go to pow wows almost every weekend because all of a sudden you were allowed. Previously not allowed for pow wows, not allowed for ceremonies. Everything was done underground from our people, hiding. And you could go to jail for having ceremonies, for having pow wows.
[00:38:22] So then, 1960, they say - they used to say “Native People” not Indigenous at that time – Native People are gonna become citizens of the country. Whereas previously, let’s say if you were students - many of you are students here - to go to university in those days before 1960, you would have to let go of your status. If you are an Indian, let go of the rights of the land and become a Canadian citizen. So you had to deny who you were to be accepted at the university level. You realize that? That’s incredible, but that's the way it was.
[00:39:10] And so all those, and it's funny, I made a film about Senator Murray Sinclair called “Honour to Senator Murray Sinclair” and if you have a chance, you should look at this film because every word he says you learn something. It's just an incredible document to talk about teaching, it’s just really incredible.
[00:39:43] And I also learned when he received this award - we filmed when he received it. That all these times as we think we receive the rights to vote and to be a Canadian citizens in 1960, but it's not quite true. And he says it in the document that in 1885 I think it was, McDonald the Prime Minister said: oh, we should give Indians the right to vote because if we want them to be citizens, which they did, so it didn't take long that from 1885 to 1891 a lot of our people outvoted some Ministers that they could not stand.
[00:40:34] So as a result, McDonald thought this was terrible, that they had to take away the right to vote from our people. Now we're in 1891 so from 1885 to 1891 they voted. And then, to take away the rights to vote, they did it by saying what does the word "person" mean? Any individual is a person except Indians. Indians are not persons. Therefore, they cannot vote because they're not human. Can you imagine that?
[00:41:16] So in 1891, the rights to vote was taken away and then it came back in 1960. So this history is very important for you people to understand how come we are where we are. What’s happened to our people. How are we treated. And teachers have a lot of power. Everything I do in film I always think of teachers to give them tools to really have the mean to tell it like it is.
[00:41:54] And as you go to school as you learn, surely there’s always a teacher that marked you, you feel oh, my god if it hadn’t been for this teacher I wouldn't be where I am because they are right there teaching you at the very beginning. You're a young person so the power is enormous. So you can imagine that before when you were using these books that was written by the brothers of the Catholic Church, the history of Canada in the classroom, teachers are teaching this to children and these books were written, designed to really create so much hate towards our people.
[00:42:41] So here you are in a classroom you’re learning to hate, you are learning to feel that we are not as smart as you and that automatically Indigenous people were not bright, didn't understand anything. So this was what created so much hate for so many generations of our people. Very badly treated at the school level to the point that I went through this stuff myself. I decided that I would do anything and everything to make the change. And guess what, I won.
[00:43:37] Susan Blight: Yes, you did. And we do, too. You talked about the miseducation that can happen from people, anthropologists writing books and things like that. That kind of harm still occurs when folks make documentaries about people's communities that they don't understand or are willfully wanting to misrepresent. As Indigenous peoples we don't see human beings or nonhuman beings or land as subject in the same way that some forms of western documentary do see human beings as subject.
[00:44:22] So, I'm wondering about your relationship to the people that you are making films about or for the folks that are in your films, the children that are in your films. What is your relationship to those people?
[00:44:41] Alanis Obomsawin: There is so much love there that I'd do anything, especially for children and for our people. And I mean when you love this much, you move mountains.
[00:45:01] When a man loves a woman or when a woman loves a man, it's unbelievable what they can do, we say they move mountains. I move mountains because I love our people so much and our children, I'll do anything and I love all children not just ours. All your children. I care and I tell you this is the love of my whole life.
[00:45:29] And nothing can stop me and I go on. I enjoy every minute. I still do touring in classroom a lot of times. If I come to a town or a country, I always ask to meet with children. And children and if you have the time to listen to your children instead to always say don't do this, don't go there, don't say that. Don't, don't, don't. Start listening to children. You'll be surprised what you're going to learn, they’re very special people.
[00:46:17] Susan Blight: Something that you mentioned in your talk hit me like, I felt it in my chest, when you talked about rocking a child and comforting them. And something that we deal with in universities is, I guess, a momentum of sorts towards wanting to reconcile and to do some of the work that is called for in the TRC calls to action and one of the things that I feel like we have to keep reminding people in universities and institutions is that that work is about children.
[00:46:56] That work is about children, that work is about adults who need their inner child to be healed. That work is about our grandparents as children and so I think about that in relation to your films and to land and health of the land as well and the relationship of children to land. And so I'm wondering if you want to speak a little bit about how you see the health of the earth, our Mother, and the relationship of that to children and rocking them and comforting them.
[00:47:40] Alanis Obomsawin: I think most people don't know their own qualities and most people don't think it's important to allow a child to have a place and to speak and to have an idea or a way of thinking that is different than adults’.
[00:48:04] I think people have a lot of good things about themselves. What is frightening to me is when I hear propaganda of hate of any kind. Stay away from hate, and it's easy to do it. You just say to yourself I got hate here, I got love here, which one am I going to pick? If you pick love, if you feel it, sometimes I just, for no reason I just say to myself, oh, I love, I love, I love. I felt so good. And I feel it and this is the way I want to feel. I never want to feel oh, I hate this, I hate that. I can't stand this. Now I don't go there.
[00:49:11] You can invite love in your heart yourself. It's very, very, very simple. You just say today I want to feel good. I want love, I want to feel love. You're going to feel it. It's going to come to you. And it's going to make you a beautiful person.
[00:49:34] Because if you love, this is a good feeling and if you love somebody or something or your country, or whatever, you’d do anything for it. If you start criticizing all the time and putting down people, putting yourself down, it's bloody boring and it’s not nice. So think of me and just think how much I love you. [Laughter] It's really special.
[00:50:18] Eve Tuck: It's wonderful to have so many of the next generation of scholars joining us today. I'm so glad that Dr. Davis has worked in order to make sure that we have students from High Schools in the York region participating in today's session in all of congress. And it has been a highlight of our last weeks and our family as we've been getting ready for today to rewatch, to revisit, to visit again with many of your films, many of your works, and I hope that those of you here today feel inspired to revisit and read again your works Alanis.
[00:51:11] I want to just ask you to speak specifically to that word, those words “climate change” that are in the title today because I think having the frame of climate change as I was revisiting and rewatching your works it made me understand a through line of your work in a way that I hadn't understood it. And, of course, haven't gotten the chance to rewatch all 56 but --
[00:51:39] Alanis Obomsawin: All 56, it’s easy, all you have to do is write on your machine and if you […], you mention my name and get a good seat.
[00:51:55] Eve Tuck: It's really wonderful. But, I think that oftentimes climate change, even in those of us who are the most hopeful scientists and social scientists are sometimes stumped by the enormity of addressing climate change. And it feels like we need to be some other kind of scholar or maybe we should have started earlier in order to try to address climate change in our work but in so many ways our work is overdetermined by the necessity to address climate change.
[00:52:31] And so what I have been so inspired by is how you in this decades spanning career have been, piece by piece, addressing climate change in the way that you're telling the stories that you tell in the people that you meet and the way that you loved them so hard in these films. So the invitation is to let us know what you would like for us to know about work that we might do in order to address it.
[00:53:06] Alanis Obomsawin: There’s a thing that I made that is called “Our People Will Be Healed”. I don't know if you saw this one.
[00:53:11] Susan Blight: Yes, I did.
[00:53:12] Alanis Obomsawin: We filmed, this is in Manitoba, Norway House, Manitoba. We filmed 500 children playing. About 30 schools that go to the same kind of rules and it’s provincial, it's not federal and it’s just amazing. And the music is obligatory, you have to, it's part of the courses. It was […] To see so many children, so young and to older, first of all to read music - I don't know how to read music, I never learned. But I made music and I composed music but I can't read it. And I was watching those kids, I was just so, I couldn't believe it.
[00:54:06] I thought what a wonderful chance to grow up and learn this beautiful subject and music and be part of creation and oh, it's such an example, this school. I’ll give you an example I was interviewing the principal of the school. She said to me: oh, well we have in this school from kindergarten to grade 12 all in the same school. And she says, you know we were doing very well and getting to grade 10, 11 then starts to go down. And by the time we're in grade 12, there’s hardly anybody that's graduating.
[00:54:50] So she said to me: we saw that we had a big problem and we start analyzing this and we said teenagers, young people, they never want to get up in the morning, so we have a problem. So they wrote to the parents and they said 8:30 was the last bus, now we're gonna have another bus, 9:30. We prefer the kids come to school even if they are late. We prefer to have them in late than not have them at all. And since then, since they’ve decided that they had -- I don't know maybe two buses, you should see this film, I interviewed quite a few teenagers and some young children.
[00:55:37] There’s one young man he said oh, I love my school so much, if I could, I would take it to Winnipeg because I had to go to university and change school. And it’s just the love of the students wanting to be in school. If you watch this film, you’ll know what I'm talking about. And I think it's an example not just for ourselves but for all learning places.
[00:56:00] It’s the soul, the attitude, the generosity of the people in charge. Admitting that they're not necessarily right by saying we locked the door, you lose notes and you can't come to school. And to have a different system and a different way of dealing with education it’s just so rich. It's very special. If you have a chance, watch this film.
[00:56:34] It really teachers you many things. Not only you, when I was a young person, I was told your language is Satan's language. I heard that so many times. And other people besides me would be punished if they spoke the language. The difference is, now, in a lot of the universities they’re teaching some of these languages in High School, the encouragement to learn our language by Canadians in general is there.
[00:57:09] The respect that we are having now, I would say 20 years ago I would say forget it, it didn't exist. The reconciliation has done an incredible job in hearing the stories of all the people who went to residential school. For the longest time, people who went through that stuff were so ashamed of it and so hurt by it, they did not want, sometimes they wouldn't even tell what happened to themselves. They didn't want to tell their story because they felt they would be receiving hate from it and what the reconciliation did is like all the people who told their story, nobody hates them for it, it’s the contrary.
[00:57:55] There’s a lot of affection and a lot of caring and a lot of respect for the people and that alone just that, those feelings alone have changed the life of thousands of our people. So it's a different time. I think I'm so rich because I'm 90 and I can see the difference: our people are more respected than ever. Everywhere I go there is an interest, before if we said the word “treaty”, oh, treaty. What is that? You know, It doesn't exist any more. Don’t talk about treaty. Well I made a film it’s called “Trick or Treaty”, you should look at it.
[00:58:41] Eve Tuck: Yea you should, you should look at it. And thank you Alanis Obomsawin, for your extraordinary offerings today around how to make change happen in the world, how to love children and take care of children and protect children. And thank you for being such a big thinker and a beautiful guest today. Thank you.
[00:59:28] Andrea Davis: Thank you so much to our speaker, Alanis Obomsawin for that incredible offering, very moving and to our brilliant co-moderators Eve Tuck and Susan Blight. On behalf of the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences and York University, thank you to the Big Thinking Series sponsors who’ve supported this event: the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council; the Canada Foundation for Innovation; and Universities Canada.
[01:00:01] If you would like to revisit the presentation, the video will be available on the Congress virtual platform in the coming days, where you can view it until June 30, 2023. Today’s lecture is the second of the Big Thinking events at Congress 2023, I trust you have been as moved as I have been as we have continued to reflect on the theme of Reckonings and Re-imaginings.
[01:00:28] The third big thinking lecture, Thinking across differences: Queer, Two-Spirit and critical disability perspectives – sorry - will bring together SA Smyth, Therí Pickens and Alex Wilson in a conversation moderated by Sean Hillier.
[01:00:51] This lecture will take place tomorrow, at the same time, and in the same place or virtually. Please continue today's conversation in your associations in the social tent and on your campuses. If you are Indigenous, Black or racialized and need a space to reflect, we have gathering spaces for Indigenous scholars in the Centre for Indigenous Student Services and the Centre for Indigenous Knowledges and Languages in York Lanes; for Black scholars in the Harriet Tubman Institute also in York Lanes; and for Black, Indigenous, People of Colour scholars in the Centre for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean on the 8th floor of the Kaneff Tower.
[01:01:35] And if you have not seen “Our People Will Be Healed” and would like to see that film, it is being screened today from 2:00 to 4:00 in the Price Family Cinema just beside this theatre. And that will be facilitated by Alex Wilson, who is on the Congress Planning Committee with Q&A and conversation moderated by Ruth Green, my colleague.
[01:02:08] We’re also asking you to fill out a short survey on your experience at today's Big Thinking lecture using your mobile device you can scan the QR code, I think might be on the screen, or outside posted at the door. Just share your feedback. Thank you all for joining us today. Please enjoy the rest of your day and your remaining sessions. Merci. Miigewetch.