Documentary explores relationship between father and daughter as she donates a kidney

A new documentary chronicles the emotional journey a family takes as a daughter donates a kidney to her ailing father so he can return to his home community during his final days.

Transplant gave Kenneth Tait a chance to spend a few more months at home with family

Vanessa Tait (right) donated her kidney to her father Kenneth Tait so he could spend his last months in his home in O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation. (Shyan Johnson-Monkman)

A new documentary chronicles the emotional journey a family takes as a daughter donates a kidney to her ailing father so he can return to his home community during his final days.

The story of Vanessa and Kenneth Tait is featured in the 10-minute National Screen Institute documentary by Anishinaabe filmmaker Erica Marie Daniels called Gift to Give.

Kenneth Tait's kidneys failed in November 2017. He had to move from his home community of O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation, 776 kilometres north of Winnipeg, to the city for medical services. While in the city, Vanessa was his primary caregiver and personal advocate. 

The documentary shows some of the medical barriers they faced as First Nations patients.

"[The film] talks about our family's decision to go ahead and have me gift my dad my kidney," said Vanessa Tait. 

"He had a lot of chronic conditions. He had Parkinson's, he suffered a stroke, he's had a quadruple bypass surgery at this point, he has diabetes . . . and I know he was a high risk patient."

Vanessa Tait said there were no hemodialysis machines in O-Pipon-Na-Piwin, and that the machines would require a lot of water, something the First Nation does not have capacity for. 

Vanessa made the decision to donate one of her kidneys to her father, despite the chances of him not surviving for long after the transplant, so he could return to his home community and have time with his family.

"For a lot of First Nations families, being home is the best place to be," said Tait.

"There's more services here in the city. However, I just wanted him to go home. He wanted to go home. He was getting lonely. He missed his grandchildren. He missed, obviously, my mom again." 

The transplant surgery took place on July 16, 2020. Kenneth Tait died nine months later.

Vanessa's mother Janet said she is grateful to have had the extra time with her husband at home.

"It was his decision. He said 'take me home, I want to be home for a while. We accepted the decision to bring him for a while to spend time with his grandchildren," she said.

She said her daughter is her hero.

"I'm so proud of her that she was so brave to give her dad her kidney."

Bringing them closer

Daniels, from Peguis First Nation in Manitoba, produced the film through the NSI's Indigidocs program. She said it's not only about the trials of a First Nations family dealing with the health care system, but also a film about acceptance.

"It was an opportunity for us to document her experience going through the transplant, but also her connection with her father and how the transplant brought them closer," said Daniels. 

"And for her to give up such a huge piece of herself — she was hoping that by accepting her kidney, that he would accept her for who she truly is."

Tait says her dad was able to watch a draft of Gift to Give before he died in April. The family is pictured here gathering before the transplant surgery. (Shyan Johnson-Monkman)

In the film, Tait talks about her identity as a two-spirit woman and how she was fearful of being herself around her dad because of her sexuality.

She said when she came out as two-spirit, it caused a rift in the relationship and made it difficult for her to be her true self around him when he moved to Winnipeg.

"The documentary is definitely a form of medicine," said Tait.

"I know within the documentary it talks about me being two-spirited... So that part is definitely a lot of healing and understanding."

The film will be having an online premiere on July 22.


Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He has been an associate producer with CBC Indigenous since 2016. Follow him on Twitter: @Lenardmonkman1