Dr. Cindy Blackstock featured in Alanis Obomsawin’s latest documentary film, We Can’t Make The Same Mistake Twice

Cindy Blackstock

Professor Cindy Blackstock in 2014 (courtesy of the United Church)

On 21 October 2016, Dr. Cindy Blackstock will be one of the keynote speakers at the Re-Imagining Child Welfare Systems in Canada Symposium taking place at Osgoode Hall Law School.

As a former film producer and a current law student I am very interested in exploring the ways in which law and film can intersect. Alanis Obomsawin’s latest documentary film, “We Can’t Make The Same Mistake Twice” offers a rare glimpse inside of the legal process as we follow Dr. Blackstock as she fights for equality for children living on reserve in Canada. I believe that this film succeeds as both a visual teaching of legal procedure and as a compelling narrative about social injustice.

The film was shot from 2010 to 2016. The case was heard at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal from February 2013 to October 2014. This hearing was the long awaited result of a complaint filed by Regional Chief Lawrence Joseph, of the Assembly of First Nations, and Dr. Cindy Blackstock, the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, against Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) in February 2007. The “inequitable levels of child welfare funding provided to First Nations children and families on reserve” through the Canadian government’s First Nations Child and Family Services (FNCFS) formed the basis of the complaint.

It took 9 long years, and numerous appeals, before the Tribunal finally heard testimony and in January 2016, they found that “[INAC]’s design, management and control of the FNCFS Program, along with its corresponding funding formulas and the other related provincial/territorial agreements have resulted in denials of services and created various adverse impacts for many First Nations children and families living on reserves.”

The opening and closing scenes of the film are made up of footage of Dr. Blackstock speaking to the tribunal and to the press. These scenes serve the film well. They present not only her powerful oratorical skills; they also show her passion for this cause and her unwillingness to back down from the very long and drawn out process. Her fight for the equality of the rights for children on reserve is our way into the narrative; her journey is our journey.

The 84-year-old Indigenous filmmaker told the audience at the screening I attended that she comes from a long line of storytellers, maybe 11,000 years of story telling. This is a filmmaker who gently weaves her narrative between footage of courtroom procedure and personal stories resulting in an outstanding example of “showing” that which the tribunal testimony is “telling.”

In early foreshadowing we see Dr. Blackstock outside of the Federal Court of Appeal, explaining to children who are supporting this cause, that they might hear the word prejudicial and that the court might want to exclude testimony about residential schools. Later in the film we are shown that this testimony has been allowed and in a particularly emotional scene we see a Hereditary Chief of the Gwawaenuk First Nation speak about his experience in residential school. We are also transported to Pictou Landing in Nova Scotia, where we meet a family, Jeremy Meawasige, a First Nation teenager with multiple disabilities, and his mother, Maurina Beadle, who had to fight to be recognized under Jordan’s Principle.

Alanis Obomsawin is currently working on 2 more films, one of which is a follow up to this tribunal decision. In the question and answer period that followed the screening in Toronto Obomsawin said, “We’ve won. But what have we won?” Her next film hopes to answer that question.

We Can’t Make The Same Mistake Twice will screen in October at the Vancouver International Film Festival. Watch for it playing near you.

Click Here to Watch the Trailer (courtesy of the National Film Board)

NFB We Can't Make the Same Mistake Twice

Kerry Young is a second year law student at Osgoode Hall Law School.

3 Comments

  • Kerry Young
    October 1, 2016 - 1:57 pm | Permalink

    We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice screens at imagineNATIVE in Toronto on 22 October 2016: http://festival.zonefestival.com/?code=JMv0n6HGE&l=en&p=f&f=997

  • October 2, 2016 - 7:20 am | Permalink

    Thank you so much Kerry for bringing much needed attention to the nexus between documentary film making, the law and social justice. One small correction. The documentary follows the case from 2010-to 2016. The case was heard at Tribunal from February 2013-October 2014. People can learn more about the case and read the court documents at http://www.fnwitness.ca

  • Kerry Young
    October 13, 2016 - 10:06 am | Permalink

    Thank you Dr. Blackstock. We have made the corrections in the text.

  • Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *