Earlier this year, the CBC took a lot of heat for broadcasting the series Canada: The Story of Us. The program and its producers were criticized for leaving out the stories of people who populated the land before the Europeans sailed over: Indigenous peoples. So when APTN announced it would broadcast 1491: The Untold Story of the Americas Before Columbus, I expected that gap to be filled in.
Debuting Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET on APTN East and HD, 7 p.m. MT on APTN West and 7 p.m. CT on APTN North, the eight-part project has the research material to support it: Charles C. Mann’s best-selling book, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. The production includes dozens of Indigenous Canadians, including being written by Barbara Hager (Cree/Métis) and Marie Clements (Métis), directed by Hager and Lisa Jackson (Anishinaabe), and most of the 35 historians, archaeologists and cultural experts interviewed have Indigenous ancestry, including composer Russell Wallace (Lil’wat), production designer Teresa Weston, costume designer Carmen Thompson (Nuu-chah-nulth), director of photography Bob Aschmann and narrator Dr. Evan Adams (Tla’amin).
So, does 1491: The Untold Story of the Americas Before Columbus measure up? Absolutely. Right from the get-go, narrator Adams sets the tone, stating Indigenous peoples and their ancestors are not only responsible for discovering new lands themselves, but established trade routes across two continents, created stunning artwork, mapped the land and the stars, became architects, scientists inventors and philosophers.
Produced by Animiki See Digital Production of Winnipeg and Aarrow Productions of Victoria, Episode 1, “Origins,” begins—naturally—at the beginning with where the First Nations people came from. The belief I was taught in school was North America was populated via an ancient land bridge between modern-day Russia and Alaska called Beringia and that’s covered in Episode 1, with archaeological evidence suggesting something surprising.
Following the initial arrival, tens of millions of Indigenous peoples were eventually spread out between the Arctic and tip of South America, with countless nations using distinct languages to communicate. Each society has its own creation story. The Anishinaabe tale tells of a great flood, animals and birds clinging to trees and a muskrat that grasped a paw full of dirt, placed it on the back of a turtle, establishing North America as Turtle Island. As for the Mayans, they believe the world began with air and water and animals on land. The gods created the earth and populated it with animals and birds. However, with no one to worship them, the gods created man from maize dough. Every story, like each society, is unique.
1491: The Untold Story of the Americas Before Columbus is a crash-course in First Nations history that should be taught and broadcast in Canadian schools. I took history all through high school and didn’t learn anything close to what was revealed to me in the first hour of this new series. 1491 boasts 20 dramatic scenes and an Indigenous cast that provide context and blows away long-held theories that prior to European contact, Indigenous peoples were largely nomadic, did not alter the natural landscape and were not as advanced as other civilizations in the world at the time.
1491: The Untold Story of the Americas Before Columbus airs Wednesdays at 7 p.m. ET on APTN East and HD, 7 p.m. MT on APTN West and 7 p.m. CT on APTN North.
Images courtesy of Kim Cameron and Barbara Hager.