Jordan River Anderson, The Messenger @ TIFF

Here in Canada we like to look down our noses at our neighbours to the south. Jeer at them. Say that they are in such a mess. Our egos and pride swells when the rest of the world also sings our praises. How friendly we are. What a good country we are compared to the one we share a border with. All this goes to our head and clouds our memories and perspective.

What I mean to say is we are not great. Not great to immigrants. Especially shocking since this is a country built on immigrants. We are all immigrants here. All except for the First Nations and indigenous peoples. They were here first. This is their land. We just came in and like guests who would not leave, took over. Wiped out whole tribes. Committed genocide. Separated kids from their families (Sound familiar? Still feel good about being Canadian?) and sent them to brutal residential schools. Our pride has clouded our collective memory of our treatment of the indigenous people.

That horrible treatment continues today. With the shocking number of indigenous women who have disappeared over the last decade or so. The lack of government action to get to the bottom of this. Our general mistreatment of indigenous populations has led to high rates of alcoholism, mental illness and suicide. They are a population in distress. We need to do more.

This documentary, directed by Alanis Obornsalwin (amazingly her 53rd film!!). sheds light on the fact that our universal health care does not seem to extend to indigenous people. Another crime we are committing against them.

Over the course of the 66 minutes of the film as a Canadian I swung from feelings of horror to downright distress. I was shocked (I don’t know why as our treatment of indigenous people has always been shameful) to find out that health care in this country means for everyone except indigenous. Sure, they get the bare minimum, but if a child is born needing more than your typical health care then they are not afforded what all other Canadian children are. Just because they are indigenous?!? Heartbreaking!

Jordan River Anderson was one such child. Jordan was born in 2000 with a rare muscle disorder known as Carey-Fineman-Ziter syndrome. His family lived in Manitoba and from the time he was born until the time he tragically died at the age of five, the government of Manitoba and the Canadian federal government fought over who was responsible for the cost. At the expense of his health and his family’s well-being. This would never have been the case if he was white or not indigenous. Shameful!

Activists jumped at the chance to show how inhumane this was. Finally, in 2007, Jordan’s Principle was put into law. It stated that First Nations children would be guaranteed the same level of care as every other Canadian citizen. That they would have equal access to health, educational and social services like everyone else. I cannot believe this had to be put into writing. That it was not a given. That, yet again, First Nations were being treated as second (or third or fourth) class citizens. Unbelievable!

Even though this became a law, it was not a reality. Not for at least 10 more years, anyway. It was only in around 2017 that this equality came into practice. Embarrassing!

This story is told through footage of meetings, interviews with Jordan’s family and activists who fought for Jordan’s Principle and government officials. The strength and generousity of the Messenger family is astonishing. They fought for others as their son would never benefit from the law. While it is still not perfect it is now at least possible for First Nations children to receive health care when needed.

Watching this I could not help but wonder in how many other ways are indigenous people being mistreated, disrespected, abused, and ignored? We need more Alanis Obornsawins. People who care and use their voices to shed light on these types of situations. She is not only a filmmaker, but an activist.

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