Catherine Chimley – “Brave New River” Commentary

On Monday, November 11, I attended the showing of Nicolas Renaud’s film Brave New River. This experience provided a unique perspective for me as it emphasized the stories of indigenous peoples in a manner that is not often shown. Renaud began by describing the nature of colonization in Canada and his ideas of the true definitions for reconciliation and decolonization. Renaud described true decolonization of Canada as a deconstruction of the mindset that allowed colonization to occur, rather than the allowing of indigenous peoples to live in groups on reservations. As well, Renaud explained his idea that true reconciliation between Native North Americans and the Canadian government cannot occur until truthful documentation of the horrors inflicted upon indigenous groups is shared openly and a formal apology is issued. Next, Renaud explored efforts to achieve this reconciliation through partnerships between the government and indigenous artists – specifically the choice to allow artists to search through government archives for footage of Native North Americans to create a new narrative collage based upon information hidden or idealized by the government of the time. To demonstrate this, Renaud showed the short film “Nimmiklaage” created in 2015 by Michelle Latimer. The striking visuals of indigenous women and music as well as images of nature had a strong impression on my own understanding of the experience of women in indigenous cultures. Could these women be exoticized on multiple levels – both as indigenous and as women? In Latimer’s images, I also saw an interesting connection between the meaning of the title “she dances for her people” and the association of the female body with the rhythm and cycles of nature. Renaud expressed similar connections in his analysis following the film, describing the idea of nature as a spectacle or dance much like the cultural acts of indigenous groups.

Renaud then showed examples of his own work, including a short clip that he also showed in our Humanities plenary session entitled “Le Vivier.” In this clip, which Renaud described as a “performance haiku,” Renaud’s mouth is shown in a circular lens as he holds water and a fish inside his mouth. He described this choice as demonstrative of the “human connection to the world.” I was also struck by the connections between this visual image and experiences of indigenous peoples. By connecting the universal human experience of the physical body to nature, Renaud forces the audience to consider the relationship between indigenous people and nature in a new way. As well, the effort to hold the fish without swallowing is a metaphoric representation of the delicate balance of humans and nature. This theme of the interconnections between humans and nature continued with the showing of Renaud’s 2013 documentary film Brave New River. A quote from the film’s beginning expresses one of its central themes that “You cannot transform nature without transforming culture.” Through the film, Renaud addresses the issue of a hydroelectric dam that was built on a river within the lands belonging to an indigenous tribe. My understanding of the importance of nature to Canadian indigenous people was increased through the film, with the beautiful images of nature as well as the connections between the people interviewed in the documentary and the nature in which they live. The erasure that these people felt after the change to their homeland was particularly striking, as well as the lack of respect for their connection to the land. Despite the struggles of indigenous people portrayed in the film, Renaud also successfully depicts the efforts of the hydroelectric company to respect the rights of the Cree. Hydroelectricity is a green energy source that protects the environment from damages created by other energy creation methods. The hydroelectric company is shown in a neutral light by Renaud – including depictions of their efforts to preserve the natural course of the river, simulation of spring flooding for continuity, the creation of a company-funded trail for the Cree to reach their traplines, and artificial breeding of sturgeon to remediate fish loss due to the drop in water levels.

Overall, my experience listening to Renaud and watching his films helped to enlighten me to the struggles faced by indigenous peoples and their culture. Despite the cultural assumption that an end to active repression of indigenous peoples is sufficient, my view was changed by Renaud’s words and depictions of indigenous life. I intend to make an effort to be more considerate of indigenous lifestyles, roles, and concerns in future, and I feel that I am more able to comprehend their lives with the knowledge given within Renaud’s documentary and other film work. The film showing began with recognition that Davidson sits on the stolen land of the Catawba indigenous tribe – a fact that I had never heard before Renaud’s visit. Who does the land on which my neighborhood was built rightfully belong to? What happened to them? It was striking and shameful to me that I had never asked these questions before Renaud’s presentation forced me to consider them, however, I am glad that I experienced this event and am able to use this knowledge in future.

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