Filmmaker Lisa Meeches gives back to the storytelling circle


Award-winning filmmaker Lisa Meeches is the president of one of the leading Aboriginal-owned production companies in Canada, heads up the board of directors for the Manito Ahbee Festival in Winnipeg and still finds the time to mentor new storytellers.  But for someone who worked exclusively with the Aboriginal community, she is now breaking one of her own rules and is working with peoples of all cultures.

One of the Lisa's latest productions is called We Were Children. It is a docudrama co-produced by Eagle Vision Inc., eOne Television and the National Film Board of Canada. The film examines the experiences of two Indian Residential School survivors.

Former CBC reporter Sheila North Wilson was asked to translate the script from English to Cree. This is Sheila's experience in her own words:


One of the words I had a hard time translating from English into Cree.

Most of the lines were for two particular children: A four-year-old girl who played the young Lyna Hart, one of the main characters in We Were Children, and a teenage boy who played an alter boy. I was simply to translate the words so the actors could use them on set. I was also invited on set to coach the kids too.

I was pretty excited to be asked in the first place, but as soon as I got the script and began trying to formulate the English words into Cree, my excitement turned to grief.

Emotional grief. Gradual grief.

It became heavier and heavier with every word -- especially when I came across words like "savage," "dirty," and "evil ways."

Since there are no Cree words for these, I had to dig deep into their meaning and come up with descriptive terms. For example, for "savage" I wrote, "muh-cha-tis" -- the literal Cree translation being, "someone who is not living right, or someone living an evil existence."
two girls 220 for article.jpgBut before I could even teach the actors to say words like "savage," I had to figure out a way to say them, so I tried to imagine how I would speak to my late grandparents. I called my parents for help, but even they had a hard time defining the concepts behind some of the words.

When I finally finished translating the lines and coached the actors how to say them, hearing them back was interesting. The impact of the words really hit me when I got home and thought about what I heard. Powerful, painful words to hear, especially in your own language.           
Weeks went by and I thought I was done with We Were Children, but then I was asked to coach the actors in post-production, so I did.
Once that was done I was asked to take the whole script, translate it all into Cree, and then voice it. This is where the work got extremely heavy for me. The few lines that I had a hard time with before were now magnified into nearly 40 pages of script. Again I struggled with some of the words, but thanks to my parents and siblings, I got through it.  
Where I hit the wall and felt the most stress was translating Prime Minister Stephen Harper's apology into Cree. 'To kill the Indian in the child' was by far the hardest part of the speech to say, the phrase just hit the deepest part of my emotions. It made me realize how close our people came to being wiped out.

Sitting in the sound booth by myself and formulating the ideas in my head brought back images and feelings for Residential School victims like my mother and aunts. I felt so sorry for them, it broke my heart to imagine how they must have felt.
I broke down, cried silently. It took every ounce of strength I had to gain my composure and finish the words. The producer, the sound guy, and my sister were sitting on the other side of the glass, unaware of how hard that day actually was for me. Their hugs immediately after helped, but the pain of the words affected me for weeks. Physical pain formed on my hands, my arms, and shoulders. It wasn't until I prayed over and over again did the pain finally leave.

We Were Children is an important project and I'm very proud that I was a involved in a very small way.

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