True Story explores Indigenous peoples’ relationship with Canada on History Channel

Tuesday, September 26th, 2023 2:45pm


Image Caption

One of the topics explored on "True Story Part Two" is the residential school era in Canada.


“Each of our knowledge keepers weighs in and tries to answer the question ‘Is true reconciliation possible?’ Of course, there’s varying answers because it’s very complex.” —"True Story Part Two" director Dinae Robinson"
By Crystal St.Pierre
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

True Story Part Two is a documentary airing on the History Channel Sept. 30 to commemorate National Truth and Reconciliation Day.

The film explores Indigenous history and the transition from Canada’s colonial history to a modern decolonized society and focuses on what some believe needs to be achieved through reconciliation, including learning and facing the past history between Indigenous people and settlers in Canada.

“I think it’s important for these stories to be shared, in particular in this format,” said Rebecca Gibson, writer and executive producer on the project, “so that everybody can hear the truth behind a lot of the things that they have no idea that’s happened in Canada.

“And it’s for everybody to watch so that you know. It’s like there’s a lot of ignorance that prevents reconciliation and accountability. So hopefully this helps to cut through some of that ignorance with some of the truth so that we can all be a part of the healing.”

Gibson is part of the Eagle Vision production team, which also includes Anishinaabekwe director Dinae Robinson, Jonathan Elliott as director of photography, and Lisa Meeches, Kyle Irving and Gibson as executive producers.

True Story Part Two delves into the impact of the Indian Act, residential school systems, the Sixties Scoop, Indigenous political movements, and the role of Indigenous veterans in Canada’s military.

The stories are shown both through the words of the individuals interviewed, but also through reenactments of these events.

“Most people don’t even have any idea that the Indian Act is a thing and that it still exists,” said Gibson, “let alone how it’s impacted people who are Indigenous in Canada. So, I think that that’s an exciting thing for people to take away, is to learn about all of that. To see how we move forward in the right way. Also, we have, you know, some stories that are really personal, because this is history that’s living history that people have experienced in their own lives.”

True Story Part One aired in 2022 and focused on the “pre-contact era”, director Robinson said, including up to the creation of the Indian Act.

“Part two picks up where we left off in part one, so the creation of the Indian Act in 1876, and we go up until present time,” said Robinson. “Of course, there’s so much stuff to talk about, but I feel like we were able to get some good pieces in there.”

Robinson began her career in film as an actress but was always interested in storytelling. Since she decided to move to the creative development side of filmmaking, she has worked on various television series and documentaries including Taken, 7th Gen and Reclaim(ed).

She holds a degree in Indigenous Studies from the University of Winnipeg and a minor in history and political science. She credits her grandmother’s experiences at residential school for her own keen interest in history.

“I’ve naturally always been keen to know how Indigenous people are treated in Canada; a lot of the racism that still exists, and a lot of the misconceptions that still exist,” explained Robinson.

“As a filmmaker I wanted to create a film that could help educate people, but also a film and true story. Both parts also highlight some of the triumphs of Indigenous people. So, it’s not all the bad things that happened, but we also talk about some of the good things that have happened.”

To create the documentary, the crew from Eagle Vision first set out to find individuals willing to speak to them on camera. They travelled across the country and spoke to 10 different knowledge keepers about the various topics that they felt highlighted the shift in the landscape of how Indigenous people have been treated since the inception of the Indian Act.

“We wanted to have regional representation from at least five places, and so we reached out to scholars and people that we’ve researched online and people that we knew from doing community work,” said Gibson.

“We wanted to get people who had a wealth of knowledge from their own point of view because, like we say all the time, we’re not sharing everyone’s stories, we’re sharing some of the stories from some people’s perspective.”

What Eagle Vision found were individuals whose stories were very “impactful in some way,” Gibson said, speaking to RCMP officers, scientists, sculptors, military veterans, professors and artists.

One of the topics covered is how generations of families have been affected by residential schools

“We really talk about the detrimental impact that it had on families, and also a couple of things that people might not be aware of, such as the food experimentation that happened on children,” said Robinson.

Another topic is Indigenous veterans and the hardships they faced fighting alongside Canadians.

“We have a knowledge keeper who is actually an Indigenous veteran, so he talks about how Indigenous people have basically been on the front lines since contact, you know, either fighting for the British or the French,” Robinson explained.

“We have always been involved in every war and continue to do so. You know there are Indigenous men and women still enlisting, but we also talk about that Indigenous people do not get the same acknowledgment as their non-Indigenous counterparts.”

Dr. Richard Vedan of Secwepemc First Nation recalls that prior to the first National Indigenous Veterans Day Nov. 8, Indigenous veterans were not allowed into legions or to participate in marches.

One speaker shares stories about the Native caravan against the federal White Paper, and what that legislation would have done if it had been allowed to become law.

Jay Soule speaks about being a Sixties Scoop survivor and his experience of being adopted outside of his culture and community in 1981. And how when he returned many years later to his roots, the community welcomed him home and how those experiences continue to shape who he is.

Phil Fontaine speaks about his trips to the Vatican to receive statement of regret from Pope Benedict XVI for the harms perpetrated against Indigenous people in residential schools.

“The overall theme has to do with the history of relationships, but also, at the end of the film, each of our knowledge keepers weighs in and tries to answer the question ‘Is true reconciliation possible?’,” Robinson said.

“Of course, there’s varying answers, because it’s very complex. It’s a very complex idea, and I think a lot of it requires a lot of action and it’s not action just by the Canadian government. It’s action by everybody.”

“There’s so much learning to be done. I mean, part of our philosophy, our dynamic, is we’re always learning every day and a lot of the folks at Eagle Vision feel that same way,” Gibson said.

“Every day is an opportunity to learn. So even though Dinae knows a lot of this stuff and I know a little of these histories, we learned so much. And we hope that people will, at least, learn something from this that they can take away and think about or maybe share.”

Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.