Human Rights Watch Review: The People of the Kattawapiskak River

Continuing her much-lauded work exposing the injustices leveled against Canada’s First Nations, Alanis Obomsawin’s The People of the Kattawapiskak River screens as part of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival at TIFF Bell Lightbox and is especially timely considering Chief Theresa Spence’s recent hunger strike. The film details the state of emergency in the Attawapiskat First Nation community in northern Ontario, where available housing is non-existent and many families are left, quite literally, out in the cold as they squat in sheds and tents in the -40 degree weather. Obomsawin not only trains her camera on the larger fight with the Canadian government to allow the community to manage its own funds without third-party interference, but she also looks at the smaller stories but no less significent stories of the people who fight to hold on to their traditions and families amidst the depression, sickness and suicides that often result from not having enough money for groceries or access to drinkable water.

The People of the Kattawapiskak River expertly weaves the more red-tapey aspects of the First Nations fight with the government (one segment near the end is an elongated video of courtroom proceedings) with the way that these declarations from on high actually affect the men, women and children who are just trying to live their lives in the very isolated community. It’s especially interesting to hear the side of the residents who are given the message daily that they’re not worth consideration by the rest of Canada – media outlets focus on things like the community’s fancy ice rink as proof that their funding has been mismanaged without taking into consideration that it’s the only activity in town, helping combat depression and suicide. Seeing these grim realities so very close to home is eye-opening, to say the least.

Is The People of the Kattawapiskak River Essential Human Rights Watch Viewing?

Absolutely. Not only is it important to know your stuff when the subject of Chief Theresa Spence inevitably comes up in conversation, it’s also vital to know what’s going on in your own country – espeically when the reality of so terrible to behold.

The People of the Kattawapiskak River Screening Time

The People of the Kattawapiskak River Trailer


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Kristal Cooper

Kristal Cooper has been a film buff since the age of two when her parents began sneaking her into the drive-in every weekend. Since then, she's pursued that passion by working for the Toronto International Film Festival and the Canadian Film Centre as well as spending many a happy hour inside Toronto's wonderful theatres (she still mourns the loss of The Uptown). She is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture and feminist issues, and continues to slog away at her day job as a small cog in the giant machinery of the Toronto film community.

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