Generations of First Nations Peoples across Canada are still trying to come to terms with experiences they and their families had in residential schools.
A new film called We Were Children is a visual narrative of residential school survivors’ experiences. At the heart of the film are the real-life experiences of two survivors, Glen Anaquod and Lyna Hart, from Muscowpetung First Nation, Saskatchewan and Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation, Manitoba, respectively.
The stories are re-enacted using school-age actors, giving the viewer the poignant perspective of seeing the stories unfold through a child’s eye.
We Were Children will be broadcast on Aboriginal People’s Television Network (APTN) on March 19.
Lisa Meeches, from Long Plain First Nation in Manitoba, is the executive producer of the film. I caught up with her to discuss the new film and ask about the production process.
Sheldon McRae: What inspired you to produce We Were Children?
Lisa Meeches: Initially, we pitched it to conventional broadcasters. Some of the responses we received were like, “This didn’t happen, this is too much.” I realized the story had to be told.
SM: How long was the film in development?
LM: We Were Children was in development for almost seven years. It was a challenge finding a broadcaster to air the film because of the intensity of the subject matter. I was fortunate enough to have APTN work through it with us and massage it.
SM: Why did you pick the two survivors in the film to share their stories?
LM: We selected Glen and Lyna because of where they and their families were at in their healing journeys. Lyna and Glen took on a huge responsibility sharing their testimonies, and knowing their families were supportive was very important.
SM: How was it coaching the Cree language to the cast?
LM: It’s fun teaching young people, especially when it comes to language. It’s new words and sounds for them, and they had a good time. They picked up on it immediately; it was like they were meant to speak Cree.
SM: What type of impact on the audience were you intending by using the format of interviews combined with dramatization?
LM: That this really happened to Lyna and Glen, like the thousands of other survivors. All of the stories had commonalities, whether from the East Coast, West Coast or North. Strangers can’t make up similar stories.
There’s two parts when producing a film like We Were Children: the interviews and dramatic re-enactments. It’s quite an extensive and well thought out process. When you film the dramatic re-enactments it’s a year or two later, and they were shot over a year. They were exactly what the survivors told us.
SM: You had an Elder on set for smudging the cast and crew. Was this a decision based on the subject matter, or is this a practice you implement during your productions?
LM: We started with a pipe ceremony every day. You want to make sure when you are dealing with this kind of subject matter, you have to be that much more aware of the spiritual assurance. This film opened up a lot of things. We knew there were many children who didn’t make it home from these schools. We had to consider them, feed their spirits and acknowledge them.
I implement smudging whether my films cover an Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal topic.
We Were Children premieres March 19 at 9 p.m. Central Standard Time on APTN North.
A schedule of APTN’s presentations can be found on APTN.ca.