Documentary explores life in aboriginal residential schools
When Nadia McLaren's documentary film Muffins for Granny was screened in Revelstoke on a professional development day by teachers in Revelstoke's School District 19, it was so well received that Ariel McDowell, Principal of Columbia Park Elementary, decided to take it public.
McLaren started teaching in Revelstoke in September of 2014 as an Aboriginal Support worker. McLaren, who is Ojibway and moved from Northern Ontario, is an Ontario College of the Arts and Design alum, a writer, visual artist, and filmmaker.
Muffins for Granny is a documentary made using home movie fragments and interviews with several elders, including her own grandmother, who survived residential schools. The movie is also filled with animated recreations of the elders’ stories, archival photos, traditional songs, and images of the Ontario landscape.
Residential schools originated in 1892, when the Canadian Government decreed all Aboriginal children between the ages of 6–18 would be taken from their families and placed in church run schools in an effort to annihilate their culture and language. This abysmal chapter of Canadian history is often glazed over. Few people know the last school didn't close until 1996.
Muffins for Granny is a complex documentary which explores survival, both of the individual and the culture, and the aftermath and the repercussions that reverberate today for many families and youth throughout Canadian communities, including Revelstoke. McLaren's beautiful and heart wrenching trailer, available on YouTube, exemplifies this.
McLaren's film has been described as raw, emotional, and honest.
“Muffins for Granny emphasizes the legacy of residential schools and their implications for kids nowadays,” McDowell says. “It would be great to raise the profile of aboriginal presence in Revelstoke. The history is all our history.
“The timing also worked well,” McDowell adds. “This winter the school district is renewing our Aboriginal Enhancement Agreement (AEA).”
The AEA in Revelstoke was created five years ago with the aim of supporting children with Aboriginal heritage as well as raising Aboriginal awareness to all children in the school systems. AEAs exist in most school districts and are described as “working agreements between the school district, all local aboriginal communities, and the Ministry of Education.”
With 117 students who identify as First Nations, Inuit or Metis in the Revelstoke school district, the AEAgoals encompass Aboriginal academic performance, the link between Aboriginal culture and languages, and Aboriginal student development and success. Additionally, the school curriculum is currently undergoing a major overhaul. Teaching Aboriginal history and culture is being integrated into all subjects.
“It's important to have Aboriginal programs and cultural pride in the school system,” McDowell says, “especially as Revelstoke has no gathering places or local land set aside for those of Aboriginal heritage. There are four nomadic tribes who utilized this area, but they were sent to reserves in other parts of their territories.”
Miriam Manley, manager of the Revelstoke Performing Arts Center is excited to see the production.
“I think it's wonderful,” Manley says, “The impact of a film shown to the teachers and staff of the school district was so great, it was decided it must be offered to a wider audience.”
McLaren could not be reached for an interview.
Interestingly, McLaren is not the first Revelstoke aboriginal education teacher to explore the topic of residential schools. Jannica Hoskins, who preceeded McLaren, co-produced the 2007 documentary The Fallen Feather about abuses in residential schools.
Muffins for Granny will be offering a free public screening on January 16, with doors opening at 7 pm. There will be a question and answer period with McLaren after the film. Additionally, for those interested in learning more about the AEP and seeing a showcase of Aboriginal programs in Revelstoke schools, there will be an open house January 20 from 4–6 p.m. at Revelstoke Secondary School.