I first saw the documentary After the Last River via a private link on my laptop while curled up on my couch on a Sunday night in June.
I was impressed, fascinated, horrified, and moved to tears. An awful, unfamiliar feeling in the core of my being—which I later learned was settler’s guilt—kept me awake until the wee hours. I finally nodded off when I channeled that guilt into gratitude: thanks to my new role at Wildlands League, I have an excellent opportunity to make a difference with at least one of the many interconnected issues presented in the film.
A few years ago, an Indigenous friend had done his best to explain to me the many reasons for the Idle No More movement, but I didn’t really get it until I saw After the Last River. I’d assumed that the truth was somewhere in the middle of what the government (via mainstream media) and the protesters were saying. I didn’t want to believe that systemic, institutionalized racism was still, in this day and age, rearing its ugly head in the Canada I know and love, with such devastating effects on Indigenous culture, health, and ability to make decisions with free, prior, and informed consent. I didn’t realize how much all Canadians still needed to learn from Indigenous Peoples, such as viewing water as life and thinking seven generations ahead. It saddens me to think that these critically important perspectives are, effectively, endangered by myriad policies that seem designed to ensure that Indigenous communities and cultures fail.
Even now, I know that I could only truly understand the issues by living in an Indigenous community, earning people’s trust and hearing several generations’ worth of stories with an open mind. I’m thankful to Vicki Lean and her team for doing that important work for me—for all of us who haven’t had that experience—and sharing it in a film that will inspire change in all who see it.
Of the many accolades the film has received, I think Adrian Mack said it best: this film “should be evaluated by anyone with a Canadian passport.” In 88 minutes, I learned more than I had in my entire ninth grade Canadian history class. Since its award-winning world premiere at Vancouver’s DOXA documentary film festival in May, After the Last River has been screened in Attawapiskat, Peawanuck, Sudbury, Thunder Bay, Montreal, and Ottawa, and opened the Planet in Focus environmental film festival in Toronto on October 22nd. More screenings are planned at other film festivals across Canada—including the Regent Park Film Festival in Toronto on November 19th—and in Indigenous communities in Ontario’s North.
Several members of the Attawapiskat First Nation traveled to Toronto for the Planet in Focus screening, including Rosie Koostachin, who first guided Lean in the community when she began filming over five years ago. In the Q&A after the screening, Koostachin shared some tragic news from Attawapiskat and asked the 300+ of us in the theatre for a moment of silence. While we shared the community’s grief, I’m sure I’m not the only Torontonian who also took that moment to give thanks for my many privileges, and reflected on ways I could help bridge the gap.
I am proud to help promote this film and to be analyzing the impacts of mining on Indigenous communities’ traditional food sources. Outside of my role at Wildlands League, I am also striving to learn more about reconciliation and support First Nations’ efforts to protect their traditional territories from environmentally risky developments.
These may seem like relatively small gestures, but they are achievable, and I know that each one will have ripple effects. All of us, and all the issues we face, are interconnected. That’s just one of many messages I took home from After the Last River.