I have learned so much about the Native Indian culture in the past couple of weeks just from the films we have been watching in class. So much that I would have never even imagined to once have happened within Canada. So much brutality, unfairness, hurt…I found myself looking away, my jaw dropping and just gasping in absolute shock over some of the scenes that we have seen in these films. I was somewhat thankful for Smoke Signals to give us that little bit of comedic relief.
When thinking about which film I wanted to focus on for this blog assignment, I automatically picked Smoke Signals. And then, I thought more about what I could write about the film for this assignment and realized that Rhyme’s for Young Ghouls actually stood out to me more and made much more of an impact on me.
Rhyme’s for Young Ghouls (2013) is a Canadian film directed by Mi’gmaq director, Jeff Barnaby. In the supporting reading provided for this film, Sean Carlton describes the film as an “unflinching fictional account of Indigenous agency in the face of horrors of Canada’s Indian Residential Schools”. The film follows the life of a very strong and tough teenage girl, Aila. She was a very artistic individual who was forced to grow up a lot quicker than most children. With her father being in prison and her mother committing suicide at a young age, she grew up under the care of her Uncle who was a drug user/seller. She was able to keep herself out of the Residential School by paying a ‘truancy tax’ in which she was able to do so by running the family marijuana grow up.
Many people stereotype Native Indian people as alcoholics and drug users, people believe they intoxicate themselves to such lengths to be able to deal with the pain and use it as a way to “forget”. Barnaby in fact supports this stereotype within the film by having the characters portray these stereotypes.
This film is an excellent source to educate someone who knows nothing about Indian Reserves, Residential schools, or just Native Indian history and culture in general. Barnaby is known as “one of the most powerful and challenging voices of his generation”, being a part of Mi’gmaq himself. The fear and horror that is created through the film about Residential Schools really is an eye opener about how Indigenous people were treated and the difficulties they faced on a daily basis. As I had mentioned earlier, Aila’s way of staying out of St. Dymphna’s, the residential school, was by paying the ‘truancy tax’ which she was unable to continue paying when the money was stolen. This of course led to her being forced to attend St. Dymphna’s where she was completely stripped of her identity, her long hair, her clothes, and thrown into a dark cell.
Being the tough girl that she is, Aila of course does not go down without a fight. She, along with the help of others, plot to get herself out of the school and to get back the money that was stolen from her. While doing this, they try to hurt Popper, the Indian Agent, as a form of revenge for what he had done to Aila. It’s hard to believe that these schools were still around until the late 1990’s, not so long ago people were experiencing this torture and horrific treatment and people throughout Canada did not even know it was happening.
Another scene that was so powerful, yet difficult to watch was the scene when Popper tries to rape Aila and kill her father and the little boy that was always so quiet and hardly said anything shows up and shoots Popper in the head instantly killing him. It’s as if the only way to seek revenge on the man that caused such hurt and violence to him and his loved ones is to respond with violence. Not to say that violence is always the answer, but to my understanding, Natives are all very close and defend/fight for their people/loved ones.
Watching this film really educated me about Residential Schools. I can honestly say that I didn’t know ANY of this, to this extent especially, had happened. After watching the films we watched, I feel that some schools should educate students more about the history and colonization of Aboriginals. I remember learning about Indigenous people in school, but not THIS! Canadians should be educated on colonialism and the horrors of the past.