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FLEFF Intern Voices

The Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival from the interns' point of view

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Posted by Meagan McGinnes at 3:07PM   |  4 comments

Shelly Niro is a Mohawk/Canadian director for the film Kissed by Lightning. Jolene Rickard, head of the American Indian Program at Cornell University, is facilitating this discussion entitled: Indigeneity/ Film/Art/Collaboration. 

Thinking of the first indigenous peoples, it complicates the theory of diversity, making this understanding and recognition messy. Canada's dominant "other" population is indigenous people, unlike the US where the dominant "other" population is African Americans. Dr. Rickard said, "The work for filling out that broader context is being filled out more through the Canadian context rather than in the United States."

According to Rickard, Niro’s film, Kissed by Lightning, sparks an important discussion through a "reflection of a life we are unfamiliar with." The narrative feature is about a Mohawk painter dealing with grief and remembering her husband through his stories while on her way to New York

Niro began her career in film in 1991. Niro wanted to create a film to fill the lack of humor within native issues and native situations, and also to fill the lack of women on film. The film was screened in 1992, in a retirement home on a reserve—with the lights on. Yet, this was a community setting filled with people who cared about the issue, about the discussion. It was a local space filled with people who wanted to challenge commonly accepted ideas and think deeper about indigenous issues, creating its own microtopia. 

Shelly’s latest work was finished in October of last year. It is about the trauma caused by residential schools, a practice continued until 1990 in Canada. According to Dr. Rickard, the ideas behind these schools were to "save the human being, but try to erase the Indian within that human being." People were coerced into these residential traumas because of extreme poverty. These cultures, prior to this extreme discrimination, valued sustainability. These schools were not meant to respect this culture or teach these children, but moreso train them for jobs as maids, etc. Yet as Rickard pointed out, Niro’s films usually have a theme of resilience.

"You can expose the dark side, but you need to have some sort of reconciliation at the end or you will be giving in to the dark side,” Niro said.

Niro said she hopes her films can empower generations, especially younger generations, on these issues by breaking the one-size-fits-all perception of native people. She said there is more complexity than this package image.

“If you are not delivering that package to the dominant culture, you are not Indian,” Niro said. 

Importantly noted, there was an apology issued by the Canadian government to those who had to go through the residential process. Another essential point I believe Dr. Rickard made was that at least there is recognition and discussion of this discrimination in Canada. In the US, there is not a public dialogue about these issues.

How will you spark this discussion? What do you hope to take away from this film? 

Kissed by Lightning will be playing at 7 p.m. tonight at Cinemapolis. 



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