Growing up in Brantford, Ont., I was close to the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nations Reserve. I heard about being able to buy cheap cigarettes there, as well as stories of drunk Indigenous youth coming into the city, getting drunk and stealing a car to get back home. Those cars would be found, burned out, on the reserve. So yes, I had preconceived notions about who Indigenous peoples were.
But that was before I delved into Canadian and American history and educated myself. My beliefs have changed. But what about other everyday Canadians? Has the fact it’s 2018 changed the way most think of Indigenous peoples?
That’s the focus of First Contact, APTN’s three-night broadcast event—Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 7 p.m. ET—that explores Indigenous culture through the eyes of six Canadians. Narrated by George Stroumboulopoulos, First Contact follows the six on a 28-day adventure to Winnipeg, Nunavut, Alberta, Northern Ontario and the coast of B.C. to visit Indigenous communities to challenge their preconceived notions and prejudices. Animiki See Digital Productions, Nüman Films and Indios Productions have created something necessary and special with First Contact, an important, educational program that is the perfect companion piece to 1491: The Untold Story of the Americas before Columbus, which aired late last year on APTN.
As expected, the six go into the experience with the same thoughts I once had. (Check out the trailer below for a peek.)
But being immersed in Indigenous cultures for close to a month leads to some startling revelations and heartrending moments. It’s pretty tough, though, to watch the first few minutes of Episode 1, as the six arrive in Winnipeg’s notorious North End, where Michael Redhead Champagne (an award-winning community organizer, public speaker and Shamattawa Cree Nation member) welcomes them.
It doesn’t take long for participants like Ashley to utter the word “drunk” and Dallas to wonder aloud why money, education and housing are given to First Nations people and nothing is done with it. Ross goes one step further, describing run-down, burned out homes on reservations and defending residential schools as a system designed to help. It’s pretty embarrassing to watch but also representative of stories and assumptions made.
Day 1 immerses the six in the midst of Winnipeg’s 90,000 Indigenous population. One half of the group is trucked out to a well-to-do neighbourhood to live with an Indigenous family for 24 hours, shaking up their expectations that a reservation stay was in the cards. It’s over dinner that they discuss Indian status, assimilation and colonization. It’s a frank, honest and enriching conversation for all. Credit goes to the six participants for asking questions and to the First Nations people for answering. It all goes a long way to an understanding on both sides, and for viewers too.
First Contact airs Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 7 p.m. ET on APTN.
Image courtesy of APTN.