A producer who saw the film Indian Horse told Edna Manitowabi that she was “the heart and soul of the movie.” The professor emeritus of Trent University’s Chanie Wenjack School for Indigenous Studies recently co-starred in the film based on the award-winning book by Richard Wagamese, which is receiving critical acclaim from many after its world premiere at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival.
The film tells the story of Saul Indian Horse, a northern Ojibway child separated from his family at a young age and placed in a residential school, finding his escape through the sport of hockey while there. Ms. Manitowabi plays the role of Naomi, Saul’s grandmother who plays an influential role in teaching the main character his language (Anishinaabemowin), the stories of his culture, and survival skills.
Since its debut, the film has received standing ovations and recognition from across the international film festival circuit in Canada. Indian Horse premiered on Orange Shirt Day at the Vancouver International Film Festival, and won the Audience Award for Narrative Feature at the Calgary International Film Festival.
Marrie Mumford, associate professor with Trent’s Chanie Wenjack School of Indigenous Studies, says that being part of this film was important to Ms. Manitowabi. As a survivor of residential schools, Ms. Manitowabi was passionate about being part of a film that used the power of story to teach others of the impact of residential schools on Indigenous people in Canada.
“She wanted to tell the story of residential schools for her children and grandchildren, as well as this generation and future generations,” said Ms. Mumford.
The film was also produced with the help of Shirley Williams, professor emeritus with Trent’s Chanie Wenjack School for Indigenous Studies, who provided her support as a cultural consultant during the Peterborough filming of Indian Horse. As part of the efforts of the director and producers to portray the story, and the film set in a culturally appropriate way, Ms. Williams was on set in Peterborough to help answer questions throughout the filming, as well as begin each day on set with an opening prayer.
Along with the support of 45 youth from the region’s First Nations communities, Ms. Mumford says that filming Indian Horse was a positive experience for many in the Peterborough area. She also hopes that, with the film’s success, the movie will have a positive impact on reconciliation efforts across the country.
“The power of film and stories is significant, and this film gives insight into what happened to our children and the impact it still has on Indigenous peoples today,” said Ms. Mumford. “I hope this will bring greater understanding of the impact as we move forward towards the truth of reconciliation.”