The Current

Night Raiders: telling the story of residential schools through film

While the film Night Raiders may be a fictional story set in a future dystopian version of Canada, writer and director Danis Goulet says it's based off events that are very real. 

Director Danis Goulet wants to put a spotlight on Canada’s history through a story set in the future

Night Raiders is screening as part of the Toronto International Film Festival. (Elevation Pictures)

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While the film Night Raiders may be a fictional story set in a future dystopian version of Canada, writer and director Danis Goulet says it's based off events that are very real. 

"Everything is set in an imaginary future. But every single thing that happened in the film are based on the policies that have been inflicted upon Indigenous people," said Goulet, in an interview with Matt Galloway on The Current

Night Raiders is set after a war across North America, where the military has taken control of society. The government is taking children from their families and putting them in forced-education camps. 

The story follows a Cree mother named Niska and her daughter Waseese, and it's a story Danis Goulet says will really resonate with people. 

"In telling stories like this, it's simply to express our humanity and our empathy. And we loved our children just as much as everybody else did, and we owe it to them to make it better for the future," said Goulet. 

This year, Canadians were first reminded of the damage residential schools did, when the remains of 215 children were discovered at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C., using ground-penetrating radar. Similar findings were made in Cranbrook and the Southern Gulf Islands in the province and in Saskatchewan. More searches are being carried out across the country. 

Between the 1870s and the 1990s, Canada's federal government took more than 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children from their families and forced them to attend church-run residential schools designed to assimilate them by stripping them of their own languages and cultures. 

Abuse and neglect were rampant in the schools. The Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) Commission of Canada has found evidence that 4,100 children died of disease, malnourishment and more, but says the true total is likely much higher. 

Night Raiders is set in a future version of Canada where children are taken from their families and put into forced-education camps. (Elevation Pictures)

Goulet, who is Cree-Métis from northern Saskatchewan, said this story is important to tell, because she hopes it will get people thinking about the very real history of residential schools in Canada. 

"I would dare to believe that many Canadians are willing to look at the truth of what happened and admit that that is who we are, that that was done in the name of Canada, but that that is not who we want to be going forward," said Goulet. 

"To me, we are still in the truth-telling stage. We can't even get anywhere near reconciliation unless we're able to grapple with this truth."

Indigenous film

Denis Goulet won the Emerging Talent Award at TIFF for her work. Last year, Mohawk director Tracey Deer won the same award. Goulet says it's been exciting to watch that development. 

"We're finally coming to a place in Indigenous storytelling where we're seeing many more huge stories get made and platformed and celebrated," said Goulet. 

Goulet has been an advocate for more indigenous filmmaking. She said in the early 2000s, Indigenous filmmakers felt invisible. 

Danis Goulet won the 2021 Emerging Talent Award at TIFF for her work. (Danis Goulet)

"This many years later … it finally feels like we're seeing support for work to get made that we had never seen before," said Goulet. 

"I feel like we're in the middle of an explosion of work."

She believes Night Raiders had the highest budget of any Indigenous film made in Canada. She says Indigenous filmmakers now have access to more resources, and that's making a difference. 

The future

Denis Goulet says that because Night Raiders is based on reality, parts of it were very difficult and emotional to make. She said there were times she would have to pause filming so everyone could take a breath.

But setting the film in the future let them separate from the history of residential schools. 

Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers appears in this still from Danis Goulet's upcoming film Night Raiders. It is one of the films available on TIFF's digital platform for moviegoers across the country. (Elevation Pictures)

"If you are talking about something that doesn't yet exist, it allows you to go into the space with a certain kind of freedom, and that is protective for everybody," said Goulet.

She also hopes the film's fictional storyline will invite more people to see it. 

"It's about our strength and resilience and power as Indigenous people and also our right to have a future and to hope for a good future for our community," said Goulet. 

Night Raiders is screening as part of the Toronto International Film Festival. 

Written by Philip Drost. Produced by Julie Crysler.

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