Nations at War is about the conflicts Indigenous groups have had between each other and outside forces throughout North American history, but the goal of the program—returning for Season 2 on APTN this Saturday—isn’t to celebrate the violence. Rather, it’s to show how damaging it is.
“I want people to realize that war is the least effective and worst option to resolve any issue,” says Tim Johnson. “It is almost always instigated by someone who is looking for an easy path to success or is really desperate.” Created by Johnson, the first season of Nations at War outlined how a continent of nations became dominated by three. The sophomore go-round of 13 instalments examines the impact of migration and the arrival of newcomers on those nations.
Nations at War is the kind of program that should be part of Canadian school curriculum. I learned more about how First Nations groups were pushed out of their land by Europeans in one 22-minute episode than I did a whole course of Canadian history in high school. Narrated by David Lyle—and featuring experts like Simon Fraser Professor of Archaeology, Dr. Eldon Yellowhorn—reenactments, stock footage, breathtaking CGI and stunning music, Nations at War gallops at a breakneck, exhilarating pace. I headed to Google several times during a screener of Episode 11, “Broken Promises,” for more information.
“I’ve always been interested in history,” says producer and Métis filmmaker Jason Friesen (Health Nutz). “Tim is very enthusiastic and a knowledgeable person about history. It got the wheels turning for me, creatively, and we all need to know more about our history.”
Johnson did an incredible amount of reading in preparation for Nations at War. Growing up in Halifax, his junior high history classes recalled the Mi’kmaq peoples of the Maritimes. For him, Canadian history meant Indigenous Peoples, followed by the invasion of the English and the French. When it came to creating Nations at War, it was all about telling the human story, and the more obscure or interesting the better.
“Jason and I sat down with my bullet-point list and said, ‘OK, why is this story good?'” recalls Johnson. “Jason is Métis, so one of the things he said was, ‘I want to see Métis stories.'”
As Nations at War tells, for the majority of human history, North America’s population was entirely Indigenous. Then, in the early 1600s, Europeans began to establish colonies along the Atlantic coast. These settlements became gateways through which millions of people would eventually flow west, creating demand for new land.
Europeans weren’t the only people creating chaos as they settled across North America. The Ojibwe and Lakota were already on the move, and their migration created a domino effect which provoked conflict and cultural change, as peoples who already called the west home fought to defend their territory.
“I want people to tune in and have those moments of, ‘Wow, I didn’t know that,’ Googling it and opening things up to conversation,” Friesen says. “People get certain ideas about what they’ve read or been told in the past, and the way we present it gives many different perspectives.”
Nations at War airs Saturdays at 7 p.m. Eastern on APTN.
Images courtesy of Athan Merrick.