Edmonton

Alberta Plains Cree actor Tristen Marty stars in film about residential school

Tristen Marty is a supporting actor in the film Indian Horse, an adaptation of Richard Wagamese’s award-winning novel. The film is set in 1950s Ontario, where eight-year-old Saul Indian Horse is taken from his Ojibway family and forced into a residential school.

'For people that don't know what happened in residential schools, this is the movie to see,' actor says

Tristen Marty, 20, was cast as a supporting actor in Indian Horse, a film about a young boy coping with the lasting pains of the residential school system. (CBC)

Plains Cree actor Tristen Marty would always think about his grandfather before acting out a scene on the set of his new movie.

Marty's grandfather was taken from his home as a young boy and forced into a residential school. Stripped of his language, culture and traditions in the school, he struggles to tell his family what he went through.

Now, Marty is hoping to tell his grandfather's story — and many others like it — on the big screen.

The 20-year-old Frog Lake, Alta. resident is a supporting actor in the film Indian Horse, an adaptation of Richard Wagamese's award-winning novel. The film is set in 1950s Ontario, where eight-year-old Saul Indian Horse is taken from his Ojibway family and forced into a residential school.

The ghosts of the residential school system "are always present, and threaten to derail [Saul's] promising career" as a professional hockey player, the film's synopsis says. 

Marty has a supporting role as Buddy Blackwolf in the film, which was filmed in Sudbury, Ont. and premiered this month in Toronto.

"It's breathtaking to be in this film," Marty said. "It can help get the message out there. For people that don't know what happened in residential schools, this is the movie to see."

Marty (centre) plays Buddy Blackwolf in Indian Horse. (Supplied/Indian Horse)

Depicting a difficult past

Marty's grandfather turned to alcohol and frequently left his family to cope with the abuse he suffered in residential school, said Marty's mother, Charity Marty.

Before the movie began filming, Marty sat down with his grandfather to hear some parts of his story including details of sexual abuse, cutting off his hair and the many beatings he received at the school.

After hearing his story, Marty's trying to do his grandfather's suffering justice.

"I don't know if I can say it the way he can say it," he said. "He's having a hard time coming through with it, telling us about it."

Charity Marty said her children have accepted what happened and use their passion for acting as a "way to heal" from the intergenerational strains brought on her family as a result of the residential school system.

Cree actor 'an inspiration' to youth on reserve

Tristen Marty and his three siblings grew up splitting their time between Edmonton and in a log house on the banks of Frog Lake, a Cree reserve east of Edmonton with a population of 1,000.

Acting is a family affair, Charity Marty said. Tristen's two brothers, Ricky and Samuel, are also actors and have roles in upcoming films or television series coming out next year. Their sister, Casadaya, works with her brothers on their script-reading behind the scenes and helps them stay in character.

Ricky, Tristen and Samuel are known to their community as the Marty Brothers and their mother says they are a soruce of inspiration for the youth of Frog Lake.

Many members outside of Marty's immediate family, including some of the local band leadership, will be attending Indian Horse's Edmonton debut on Oct. 1, Charity Marty said. 

"The saying goes if you live in a reserve, you can't get anywhere," she said. "We've proved that to be very wrong and we've actually succeeded from the heart of Frog Lake."

anna.desmarais@cbc.ca

@anna_desmarais

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