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“Holy Angels”

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“Holy Angels”

One residential school survivor’s tale of resilience and her love of her culture

In the fall of 2018, as Canadians have heard the Government of Canada discuss reconciliation efforts with Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples for the past several years, film director Jay Cardinal Villeneuve says that decisions like the government’s purchase of the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion and unsettled land disputes may send Aboriginal Peoples a different message.

Although the history of Aboriginal residential schools may only just be beginning to be incorporated into the Canadian school curriculum, its effects on survivors will last forever. While some people may scoff and tell survivors of the residential school system to “get over it,” it is obvious that they do not understand the gravity of the abuse and cultural genocide that took place inside those walls.

Indeed, it is high time for Aboriginal Peoples to start telling their stories and for Canadians to listen to them. In his powerful 14-minute short film Holy Angels, Villeneuve chronicles Lena Wandering Spirit’s experience as a survivor of the Holy Angels Residential School in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta. Wandering Spirit describes how she was ripped from her home and family at the age of seven, to be taken to a foreign place devoid of love, care, and warmth. Although Holy Angels Residential School has since been demolished, Villeneuve has chosen to film a young girl in a residential school, to symbolize Wandering Spirit’s childhood.

Throughout the film, Wandering Spirit speaks of the trauma she experienced at Holy Angels Residential School, and the viewer is able to see her resiliency as a strong Aboriginal woman, as she has reclaimed her Aboriginal culture. Though the aim of residential schools was to strip Aboriginal Peoples of their cultures, Wandering Spirit is able to reflect on her heritage, and the pride and joy with which she shares it is unmistakable.

As Wandering Spirit says in the film: “What is wrong with my culture? Nothing.” Cultural diversity is something which is to be celebrated. And isn’t that the Canada everyone wants? Diversity is strength, after all.

Holy Angels will be playing at the Edmonton International Film Festival (EIFF) on Sunday, Sept. 30 along with three other short films from 4:00-5:15 at Studio A: Programme 4.


Photography courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada.