Indigenous

New documentary shows lengths taken to find missing family members

In This River, Katherena Vermette trains an intimate and personal lens on the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women, and shows the lengths families will go to bring their loved ones home.

Efforts of Winnipeg volunteer group Drag the Red highlighted in This River

This River is a film that shares the story of Drag the Red, a Winnipeg volunteer group that searches the Red River.

In This River, Katherena Vermette trains an intimate and personal lens on the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women, and shows the lengths families will go to bring their loved ones home. 

In 1991, Vermette's brother went missing from Winnipeg, and six months later his body was found just north of Grand Beach, Man. In the documentary, Vermette's story of loss is woven into the current issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women. 

"I wasn't comfortable sharing [my] story without bringing it into a contemporary context, because unfortunately it's not an uncommon experience," says Vermette, a Winnipeg-based Métis author and filmmaker. 

"We weren't looking to do a factual representation of what's going on, we wanted to talk very intimately about the experience of having a missing person in your family."

And that's why Drag the Red, and particularly the story of Kyle Kematch, was important to include in the film, she said.

In 2010, Kematch's sister, Amber Guiboche, went missing — which drives him to continue to conduct searches of the Red River.

The film follows Kematch, along with his friend Calvin Alexander, as they search the river, giving the audience a glimpse into what a river search looks like.

After spending eight days on the water with Kematch, the film crew came to understand how emotional a river search can be.
Kyle Kematch is from Winnipeg volunteer group Drag the Red. He searches the Red River for clues to cases of missing people.

"Every time those hooks go in the water, you're taken back to why," said Alicia Smith, the film's producer. "There's a real gravity, there's real weight to it."

"We were all struck by how incredibly emotional it is, every time the hooks go in the water you don't know what you're going to find," said Vermette.

Not an uncommon story

At the top of the film, Vermette says, "everyone knows someone who didn't come home" — a statement that is now proving to be true.

"I screened the film to a classroom this summer … and three students in the class were Indigenous. They all had a story," said Vermette. "You don't have to go far to find connections to these stories."

Vermette points out that every major city in Canada, aside from Regina, is built along a river or waterway. And more often than not, missing people turn up in the water.

Photo essay to launch 

In addition to the film, the NFB will soon be launching an Instagram photo essay on community-based search and rescue teams in Winnipeg.

The project will include portraits of volunteers, including their answer to the simple question: what brings you here?

"I'm blown away by the beauty and grace I see in the work in the community, amidst all this other stuff," said Smith. 

She hopes the photo essay will highlight the hard work of community-based search and rescue teams, including Drag the Red and the Bear Clan. 

The film is receiving a lot of praise, and recently won the the Coup de coeur du jury award at the 2016 Montreal First Peoples' Festival.

The national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women was launched this week and will unfold over the next two years.

Still from NFB film, This River, which tells the story of Drag the Red, a Winnipeg volunteer-based group that searches the Red River.

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