ANALYSIS | The case for aboriginal reconciliation

A CBC website and documentary series tells the story of Canada and cultural reconciliation through the voices of native filmmakers.

8th Fire: a website and documentary series by native filmmakers

Time for a change of thinking? (CBC)

The shorthand version of 8th Fire is this: Now is the time to build a new relationship between natives and "nons". It's to everyone's advantage.

Aboriginal people end up with more opportunity and well-being. The rest of Canada gets access to the resources that are on or need to cross our lands, and the prospect of living in a truly egalitarian country.

What is 8th Fire?

More than a year in the making, 8th Fire is a cross-cultural web and broadcast project, showcasing the work of native storytellers and filmmakers from across Canada.

The website, 8th Fire: Aboriginal Peoples, Canada and the way forward, currently features 18 short films by aboriginal filmmakers and more are being added every day.

A four-part television series of the same name begins Jan. 12 on CBC TV's Doc Zone, and continues on four consecutive Thursdays at 9 p.m. (9:30 NT).

Close students of our country's history will notice this is much the same equation that underpinned the treaty-making process in earlier times. Let's cross our fingers and hope that this time, things go along a bit better.  

We tell this story of Canada and the way forward by examining the lives of a whole slew of interesting characters, some aboriginal, some not.

We meet Winnipeg's Most, a rap group who've come from the depths of poverty to where they are being followed by kids of all nationalities; the Membertou band in Sydney, N.S., who've gone from cigarette shacks to million-dollar IT contracts with helicopter maker Lockheed-Martin; and even the white parents in Val d'Or, Quebec, who are signing up their children for an aboriginal daycare.

Why? Well, you'll just have to tune in to find out. Point is, they are all bringing the aboriginal experience and the Canadian one closer together.  

My involvement with 8th Fire began about a year ago when I was invited, as one of about a dozen aboriginal people, to make a presentation to the producers of the show (which at that time was called, you guessed it, Reconciliation).

Wab Kinew

The host of 8th Fire, Wab Kinew is a Winnipeg-based CBC journalist, originally from the Onigaming First Nation in northern Ontario.

He is also a musician and rapper.

In some ways, this meeting was a microcosm of what 8th Fire itself would become: engaged native people helping to shed light on some important issues to a mainly non-native audience.

As a journalist, I showed the piece I had worked on in that's received the most viewer response of any story I've ever done, one I did for the launch of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

In this video, I chronicled my father's residential school experience, traced its impact on my family and examined how we all reconciled with each other.

The big lesson I had learned, and that I shared with the producers, is that Canadians WILL empathize with aboriginal people if we let them walk a mile in our moccasins.

If we tell the stories well, they will overcome barriers of race, income or geography.

Shannen's story

In 8th Fire — the term comes from an aboriginal prophecy says that after seven generations of conflict, non-natives and natives will come together to build a harmonious relationship — we're telling the stories that we feel will help make reconciliation possible.

Regaining cultural confidence: A scene from episode one of 8th Fire. (CBC)

I was personally on the verge of tears when I was narrating the section on Shannen Koostachin, the young girl from Attawapiskat who rose to national fame a few years back for her fight to get her community a school.

Like far too many young aboriginals, her life was cut short by tragedy — she died in a car accident at 15. I hazard a guess that most parents will feel the same way I did when they watch the piece, especially now that we know more about the dire situation in her home community.  

My confidence in my fellow Canadians has also been bolstered by watching my colleagues at the CBC work on this series. Throughout, there has been a strong desire to "get it right", and to do so with great respect.

There has been a buy-in at all levels and that's been a pleasure to watch. Even though we all have to reconcile different budgets and report to different bosses, there seems to be a recognition that "reconciliation" is important to Canada, and that it is the kind of story the public broadcaster needs to tell.  

Native hip-hop, a new wave of expression (CBC)

Obviously, being an aboriginal person, I've got a fair amount of skin in this game.

If aboriginal people do better in Canada, I do better, as a rising tide lifts all boats.

But this is about more than just improving my lot in life. It's personal.

As a child I encountered racism at school and at the hockey rinks. I did my best to survive these incidents and counteract them when I could.

My parents helped me put on a pow-wow demonstration at my predominantly non-aboriginal elementary school.

What's more, as the product of an interracial marriage, "reconciliation" has also been important for my own well-being. After all, if native people and non-native people can never get along, does that mean there's some sort of conflict inherent in my DNA?

While I may not be totally reconciled with that dual nature, I am glad to report that after working on 8th Fire this past year, my aboriginal side and my non-aboriginal side are getting along better than ever.

The view in Attawapiskat, the northern Ontario reserve whose chief declared a state of emergency over housing and sanitation.