Mashkawi-Manidoo Bimaadiziwin Spirit to Soar (English version)

In the wake of an inquest into the mysterious deaths of seven First Nations high school students in Thunder Bay, Ont., Tanya Talaga examines what — if anything — has changed since the youths died.

Available on CBC Gem

Mashkawi-Manidoo Bimaadiziwin Spirit to Soar (English version)

The Passionate Eye

Mashkawi-Manidoo Bimaadiziwin Spirit to Soar is coming to The Passionate Eye on CBC on Sept. 24 at 9 p.m. (9:30 NT).

An Anishinabemowin language version is available on CBC Gem.

In the wake of an inquest into the mysterious deaths of seven First Nations high school students in Thunder Bay, Ont., Anishinaabekwe journalist Tanya Talaga set out to create a documentary film examining what, if anything, has changed since the students died.

Four years later, Mashkawi-Manidoo Bimaadiziwin Spirit to Soar came into being. The film is a one-hour documentary inspired by Talaga’s book, Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death and Hard Truths in a Northern City, which was published to critical acclaim in Canada and is now taught in high schools, colleges and universities.

The film looks at how the idea for the book came to Talaga when she travelled to Thunder Bay as a newspaper journalist covering a federal election. While there, she learned the story of the seven students who had died between 2000 and 2011.

Talaga was stunned to discover the deaths were barely covered in the local and national press. She had no doubt that if it had happened in Toronto or Vancouver, the media would have covered the story, and police and the government would have paid attention.

However, the students were First Nations youth, so different standards seemed to apply.

Racism kills, especially when it presents as indifference.

Mashkawi-Manidoo Bimaadiziwin Spirit to Soar, co-directed by Talaga and Michelle Derosier, explores how the youth’s families and communities have struggled to carry on while pursuing justice for their loved ones and equity for First Nations people.

The film shows that each of the students had a family and community that loved them. Each death was an opportunity lost.

The film also illustrates how colonial oppression has caused deep systemic inequities to exist for First Nations people. The students came from communities without the basics: high schools, medical clinics staffed with doctors or nurses, and in some cases, clean running water.

Why has Canada, a country that prides itself on its human rights record, allowed two sets of standards for those who live within its borders? This fundamental question runs throughout the film.

Besides examining the lives and deaths of the seven students, the film also speaks to Talaga’s attempt to make sense of her role in the story. Why did it come to her? Sometimes, it seems, stories find you.

At its heart, Mashkawi-Manidoo Bimaadiziwin Spirit to Soar is about the strength and bravery First Nations youth have every day, when they walk out their door and head to high school in a country that has tried to erase them.

The film also shows the courage of the teachers, students and First Nations leaders who stepped up to provide Indigenous youth with a sense of pride and to help them understand who they are, that they matter and that this is their land — that they belong.

Mashkawi-Manidoo Bimaadiziwin Spirit to Soar proves that despite it all, First Nations people are still here and thriving, reclaiming what is rightfully theirs.