Anishinabe elders have long prophesied that aboriginals and Canadians will be able to move forward when they build the 8th fire of justice and harmony.
A new CBC documentary is using that as the jumping-off point for a four-part series titled, aptly, 8th Fire. It premiered on January 12 to accolades from the aboriginal community, with responses lighting up the Twittersphere and other social media outlets. The second episode will air on Friday January 19.
Hosted by Winnipeg-based CBC journalist Wab Kinew (Ojibways of Onigaming First Nation), 8th Fire takes the viewer on a journey through aboriginal country and demonstrates why it is time to build a new relationship between aboriginal and non-aboriginal peoples. Politicians may speak of resetting the relationship between the Canadian government and the country’s aboriginals, but this series shows how the status quo plays out on the ground.
The series is laced with interviews with aboriginal artists, writers, academics, service providers and activists, all sharing their deepest experiences, struggles and triumphs. Its opening episode, “Indigenous in the City,” revealed the multi-layered and often times complex inter-relationships between Canadians, aboriginal people and so-called urbanites—aboriginal people who call the city home.
With half of Canada’s aboriginal population living in cities, 8th Fire says it is “time to get to know your neighbors.” Episode 1 was written, produced and directed by Ryszard Hunka, with music composed and performed by Cris Derksen.
On a well-represented quest, host Kinew takes us to large cities like Montreal, Vancouver, Toronto, Winnipeg. Topics discussed range from racism, gangs, child poverty, residential schools, the Sixties’ scoop to homelessness—each anchored with a human-interest story.
Canadian rap group Winnipeg's Most opened up about their past, which includes trouble with the law and what it’s like living in the city and trying to escape becoming targets of stereotypes and misunderstanding.
Also profiled were cartoonist Steve Keewatin Sanderson, Plains Cree, of British Columbia; Lee Maracle, a writer from the Stó:l? Nation; Kent Monkman, Cree, a multimedia artist from Toronto, and Jordon Tootoo, Inuit, an NHL player with the Nashville Predators.
But this documentary isn’t just about aboriginal celebrities. There are also moving personal accounts, such as the one by Herb Varley, a resident of Vancouver’s notorious Downtown Eastside whose father struggles with his addiction to drugs.
Or Nakuset's story: Executive director of the Native Women's Shelter of Montreal, she was adopted at three by a Jewish family and ordered by her adopted family to tell others that she was Israeli and not of aboriginal ancestry.
A consistent message in the documentary is that because of a shared colonial history, one doesn’t have to look far to find these stories.
But is anybody listening? Many aboriginal people say they know the history of contact and its impacts. Why doesn’t the rest of Canada?
8th Fire posits that to bridge the cultural divide and rebuild the relationship, Canadians must listen and take an active role in creating a better relationship with aboriginal people. While it will take time for this to happen, if social media is any indication, people are talking.
Twitter was on fire. Before the documentary premiered there were hundreds of tweets with the hashtag #8THFireCBC—and that exploded city-by-city as the show aired in each province. Comments came from aboriginals and non-aboriginals, with @betasamosake tweeting, “This needs to be a weekly series,” and @MsWelbergen chiming in with, “Great Program! Looking forward to next week and the eventual DVDs to use in the classroom!”
“I think all Canadians should watch,” tweeted @CaraMcGregor.
For some it hit very close to home.
“Well 8th Fire was excellent, very well done and desperately needed in this country, but for me personally really hard to watch,” stated @chicosez.
The Aboriginal-Canadian relationship has been under the microscope lately, what with the Northern Gateway pipeline hearings, United Nations involvement in the country’s problem of missing and murdered aboriginal women, the housing debacle in Attawapiskat and the education crisis facing Pikangikum over its moldy school, among other issues. With aboriginal topics featuring so prominently in the news, the series lands at an opportune time.